The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt on Monday, remanded 16 foreign nationals who allegedly attempted to illegally lift crude oil from the Akpo field, offshore Bonny Island, on board the oil tanker, MT Heroic Idun.
The 16 foreigners, who are from Poland, India, Sri-Lanka and Pakistan were charged alongside their vessel, MT Heroic Idun, on a three-court charge bothering on conspiracy, attempt to deal in crude oil theft without approvals within Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and forceful pretence to become victims of maritime offence in order to resist arrest by the Nigerian Navy Ship Gongola.
The oil tanker and its 26-man crew had entered Nigerian waters on August 7, 2022 to lift crude oil in Akpo field, operated by TotalEnergies EP Nigeria Limited, without prerequisite approvals, and fled towards Equatorial Guinea when accosted by the Nigerian Navy.
At Equatorial Guinea, the vessel was arrested and detained on August 10, 2022 and was handed over to the Nigerian Navy on November 6, 2022 in Malabo, with the Nigerian Navy bringing the vessel back to the country on Friday, November 11, 2022.
When the matter came up in court on Monday, only 16 out of the 26 crew members of MT Heroic Idun were arraigned and they all pleaded ‘not guilty’ to all three-count charges.
When the case was called, the Prosecuting Counsel, Abidemi Adewumi-Aluko, said they had challenges in producing other 10 defendants in court, noting that they have already filed an amended charge to substitute the earlier charge.
Adewumi-Aluko requested that the other 10 defendants be produced in court, while the 16 defendants and the vessel take their plea and be remanded on board the vessel, pending when the other 10 take their plea.
Also, counsel to the defendants, Udoka Ezeobi, who did not oppose the request, urged the court to allow the defendants access to their lawyers and medical needs.
The judge, Justice Turaki Muhammed, after listening to the both counsels, ruled that the defendants be allowed to access their medicals and remanded them on board the oil tanker.
Muhammed adjourned the case to Tuesday November 15 for the other 10 defendants to be produced in court for their plea.