In what can only be described as a shocking development, the Nigerian Navy has announced that the crew of Motor Tanker (MT) Heroic Idun have pleaded guilty to charges of crude oil theft. The vessel and its 26 foreign crew were charged to court at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on January 10, 2023, and have since entered into a plea bargain with the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

According to the Navy, the Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) had entered the Nigerian Maritime Environment (NME) on August 7, 2022, without any form of authorization or clearance, and headed for Akpo Field. Despite orders from Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) GONGOLA to proceed to Bonny Anchorage and await her NNPCL papers, the vessel’s captain refused and proceeded at top speed towards the Nigeria/Sao Tome Joint Development Zone.

The crew of MT Heroic Idun raised a false alarm by reporting a pirate attack to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which was refuted. The Nigerian Navy tracked the vessel through its Maritime Domain Awareness system, and it was eventually arrested by the Equatorial Guinean authorities based on a formal request by the Nigerian Navy under the Yaoundé code of conduct. The vessel was later transferred back to Nigeria on November 12, 2022.

Director of Information Naval Headquarters, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, disclosed that the crew and the vessel’s owners had made a plea agreement after due consultations in line with Section 270 (5) (a) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. Both parties agreed to fulfill the conditions of the plea bargain, including payment of fines to the Federal Government and making an apology in print and electronic media, as well as Llyod’s List.

The release of MT Heroic Idun is subject to the fulfillment of all the conditions of the plea bargain to the satisfaction of the Federal High Court. The Federal Government of Nigeria, in turn, agreed not to further criminally prosecute and/or investigate the vessel, her owners, charterers, or her crew in the matter of her crime against the State.

The Nigerian Navy dismissed reports that the vessel had been released and assured Nigerians that it will continue to work in synergy with other maritime stakeholders, navies of the Gulf of Guinea states, and strategic partners of Nigeria to ensure that Nigeria derives maximum benefit from its natural resources in the maritime area. The Navy will sustain a posture of zero tolerance to crude oil theft and other criminal activities in NME.