Photo: ABC Maritime

ITLOS: Switzerland, Nigeria resolve tanker arrest dispute

A case involving a Swiss tanker previously detained by Nigeria has been removed from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea’s (ITLOS) list of cases.

ITLOS
Image Courtesy: ABC Maritime

On 29 December 2021, by order of the president of the tribunal, judge Albert Hoffmann, the M/T San Padre Pio case was removed from the tribunal’s list of cases.

To remind, in late January 2018, the Nigerian Navy intercepted and arrested the 7,600 dwt vessel while it was engaged in ship-to-ship transfers of gasoil in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Nigeria.

The tanker, operated by Swiss ABC Maritime, was arrested due to “unauthorized entry into Nigerian waters and illegal fuel trading” although the ship’s captain claimed that San Padre Pio had permission to ship the fuel to this country. The 2012-built vessel was then ordered to proceed to Nigerian Port Harcourt and to remain there under detention.

In June 2019, Switzerland requested ITLOS to order the release of the tanker. A month later, the tribunal ordered Nigeria to free the ship.

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The proceedings in the M/T San Padre Pio case were instituted on 17 December 2019 by a special agreement concluded between Switzerland and Nigeria to submit to the tribunal their dispute concerning the arrest and detention of the M/T San Padre Pio, its crew and cargo.

In May 2021, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Justice of Nigeria signed an agreement for the release of the vessel, according to data provided by VesselsValue.

By letter addressed to the Registrar dated 10 December 2021, the Agent of Switzerland informed the tribunal that, in accordance with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by Switzerland and Nigeria on 20 May 2021, the proceedings of the M/T San Padre Pio case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea shall be discontinued from the moment that the vessel enters the high seas, or the territorial sea or Exclusive Economic Zone of another State.

In the said letter, the Agent of Switzerland also informed the tribunal that “as of 10 December 2021, the vessel M/T ‘San Padre Pio’ exited the exclusive economic zone of Nigeria, and entered the exclusive economic zone of Bénin”, and that, in accordance with the terms of the MOU, Switzerland requests the tribunal to record the discontinuance of the case and to remove it from tribunal’s list of cases.

By letter addressed to the Registrar dated 24 December 2021, filed in the Registry on 27 December 2021, the Agent of Nigeria indicated that, “on the 10th of December, 2021, San Padre Pio was released and departed the Maritime space of Nigeria and entered the Exclusive Economic Zone of Benin Republic” and that “[o]n this basis therefore, Nigeria has no objection whatsoever to the discontinuance of the case by the tribunal as already notified by Switzerland.”