The case of Heroic Idun

26 May 2023 Institute News

The February 2023 issue of Seaways looked in some detail at the news of a new outrage in criminalisation against the crew of an innocent ship, the tanker Heroic Idun, which was seized in August 2022.

Simon Daniels FNI

On 23 April we received intelligence that, after eight months, a Nigerian Court ordered the release of the crew, who were free to return to their respective homes in India, Pakistan, Poland and Sri Lanka. Trial proceedings had stumblingly commenced in December last year, after the Master and crew were indicted on obscure charges of conspiracy in the theft of oil and falsely claiming a piracy attack in order to escape, allegedly breaching Nigeria’s Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act. This was a blatant demonstration of criminalisation, without a shred of corroborative evidence to support the prosecution case – but it very nearly succeeded, as the trial was listed for hearing and then adjourned a number of times. The problem for the seafarers was that the case proceeded in accordance with the Rules of the Nigerian criminal process; other maritime States could protest and argue as much as they liked but, as a sovereign State, nobody else had any power to intervene.

Only on 21 April did the Court in Port Harcourt order the prosecution to be ended and the crew released. Had the case proceeded, it would have been difficult to establish how there could have been any conspiracy at all, as the operators of the Akpo terminal were not charged with any complicity, and neither were the owner, manager and charterer. But the decisions of Courts in many countries can be very capricious, and a convenient scapegoat in foreign crews is often irresistible to port states. In searching for a motive for the Heroic Idun prosecution, suspicions may be aroused by the fact that the case arose during the run-up to the 2023 Nigerian general elections, during which corruption surrounding the theft of crude oil in the country was a major issue, despite attempts to suppress it – attempts which had largely failed, amid allegation that senior political and military figures were actually key beneficiaries.

On 1 March 2023, a new leader, Bola Tinubu was declared the winner of the Presidency, on the promise of tackling Nigeria’s alleged corruption and economic fraud problems. Losing competitors promptly called for the vote to be cancelled. It is not clear yet whether they will refer their claim to the Court process; in any event, the crew of the Heroic Idun were freed.