9-month ordeal of Heroic Idun crew approaching resolution after a plea bargain

The protracted ordeal endured by the crew members of the 300,000 dwt very large crude carrier (VLCC) Heroic Idun, who were detained in Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea since August last year, seems to be nearing a resolution.

Illustration; Image credit euronav

At the end of April, a Nigerian court approved a plea bargain between the ship owners, their insurers Gard, and the authorities, paving the way for the 26 seafarers, employed by ship manager OSM, to depart Nigeria later this month.

The vessel was arrested by the Equatorial Guinean authorities based on a formal request by the Nigerian Navy in August 2022 after the vessel entered the Nigerian Maritime Environment and headed for Akpo Field without clearance, according to the Nigerian Navy. The VLCC failed to comply with the navy’s order to proceed to Bonny Anchorage which resulted in the arrest.

The vessel and its crew were charged with oil theft and have been subjected to an 8-month-long judicial proceeding in Nigeria before a plea deal was hammered out.

“For the brazen act of defiance to constitutional authority as exhibited by MT Heroic Idun as well as the false pirate attack alarm she raised including the attempt to load crude oil without relevant approval, the Nigerian Navy approached the Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice and the ship and crew were charged to court at the Federal Court on January 10, 2023 in port Harcourt,” the navy said in a statement, adding that the captain and the 26 foreign crew pleaded guilty and elected to enter a voluntary plea agreement with the Federal Republic of Nigeria and pay restitution.

The 300,000 dwt vessel, constructed in 2020, was initially scheduled to load a cargo of crude oil at Nigeria’s Akpo terminal in line with the instructions from its charterer BP. However, the VLCC reportedly experienced a delay as it did not have all the relevant documentation to proceed. The master of the ship apparently decided to take to ship to a safe drifting position before being approached by a ship, claiming to be a Nigerian Navy vessel. As informed, the master said that it could not confirm that this was a navy vessel as it did not have its AIS on, causing the VLCC to proceed to international waters amid fears that it was targeted by a potential pirate group.

The VLCC decided not to comply after consulting with onshore agents and navigated its way out into international waters. The master reported the attack to IMP Piracy Reporting Centre after the vessel threatened to fire at the VLCC and attempted to board the ship.

Following the incident, the Nigerian Navy reached out to their counterparts in Equatorial Guinea, urging their assistance in apprehending Heroic Idun. Several days later, responding to the Nigerian navy’s request, a naval vessel from Equatorial Guinea successfully interdicted the 300,000 dwt vessel.

The arrest was followed by months of back-and-forth legal process and negotiations between the involved parties, which has taken a toll on the physical and mental health of the seafarers at the center of the debate. Finally, a plea bargain was agreed enabling the release of the affected crew.

The forthcoming release of the seafarers follows eight months of captivity in Malabo and Port Harcourt, a series of court adjournments, and the constant fear of incarceration.

According to local media reports, the owner was ordered to pay a fine of $11,000 as part of a multimillion-dollar deal.