India repatriates 16 sailors of MT Heroic Idun oil tanker after securing release from Nigeria
11 June, 2023 | Anupam Shrivastava
All accusations against the oil tanker crew were dropped after protracted discussions, and the ship was freed on May 27 in exchange for penalties.
The Indian Missions were engaged in ‘lengthy negotiations’, responded to ‘humanitarian issues’ and remained in regular touch of the 16 imprisoned crew members of a seized oil tanker in Nigeria, allowing for their safe return home, as per reports.
On Saturday night, the 16 Indian crew members of the oil tanker MT Heroic Idun, who had been held captive since August 2022 in Equatorial Guinea and subsequently in Nigeria, were freed and safely returned to India. The ship and its crew had faced allegations of multiple offences, such as oil theft and making false accusations against the Nigerian Navy regarding piracy.
As per the reports, the Indian government raised the issue with the relevant foreign authorities at multiple levels through its missions in Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, as well as bilateral discussions. They were pressured for a quick resolution to the problem and the repatriation of the Indian crew members.
The detained crew was able to get regular food on the ship instead of being taken to a prison facility on land post the intervention of Nigerian government that allowed all 16 sailors to remain onboard.
They were also permitted to communicate with their relatives on a regular basis. Officials from the Indian Mission maintained constant contact with the crew and offered consular access to the inmates on multiple occasions.
The Indian Mission collaborated with the shipping company to facilitate the provision of legal representation for the crew. Sources told that they communicated to the Nigerian authorities that no oil theft had taken place, as the crew allegedly had the required permissions.
Additionally, it was highlighted during the discussions that humanitarian concerns regarding certain detained Indian crew members were of utmost importance.
Sailors released after charges on oil tanker crew dropped post ‘lengthy discussions’
All accusations against the oil tanker crew were dropped after protracted discussions, and the ship was freed on May 27 in exchange for penalties. After going through trials and reaching an agreement, they arrived at Kochi Airport in Kerala on Saturday night. When they arrived at the Kochi airport, their family members and Indian officials greeted them with garlands.
Sanu Jose, one of the freed sailors from Kerala, said, “I am very happy to be home now with my children. There was a lot of uncertainty about what would happen to us. We feared for our lives in Nigeria but I thank everyone, including the Indian government as well as the Kerala government, for helping us get home.”
Another sailor who worked on oil tanker MT Heroic Idun, V Vijith told reporters that the Union government made a “tremendous effort” and “did a great job” in getting all the sailors of the oil tanker released.
“It was a difficult experience for us but the Indian government undertook a tremendous effort and they did a great job in getting us home safe. The weight of our passports played a huge role in our release. I would like to thank the Ministry of External Affairs and G. Balasubramanian (Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria),” Vijith further added.