The Nigerian government is cracking down on oil theft from its pipelines and refineries that cost the country billions of dollars. Apparently, the West African nation is in no mood to loosen its grip on Heroic Idun, which is charged with attempting to oil theft and entering a restricted zone around an oilfield without authorization.

On Aug. 8, the Heroic Idun, registered in Marshall Island and its 26 crew members, reached Akpo offshore terminal operated by Total Energies. Upon arrival, it turned out that clearances by the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) were not in order. 

According to Rear Admiral Saidu Garba, the offences committed by the vessel include attempt to deal in export crude oil without a license; entering a restricted zone without authorization and falsely accusing a Nigerian Navy ship of piracy on International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre.

The Navy further alleged that the mischievous act by the ship, managed by Norway's OSM Maritime Group, was aimed at tarnishing the image of Nigeria.

The vessel has been repatriated back to Nigeria from Equatorial Guinea, which detained it on Aug. 12 after fleeing Nigeria on the fake alarm that it was being followed by pirates.

According to the Nigerian Navy, the captain was possibly concocting an alibi for the vessel's desperate action. The navy alleged that the super tanker disobeyed a directive from the Nigerian Navy to return to Bonny anchorage for interrogation and thus it was detained in the Equatoria Guinea waters at the request of the Nigerian Navy.

The crew members, who are from Poland, India, Sri-Lanka, and Pakistan were held in prison and were quizzed in Equatorial Guinea, where the ship was held for three months before being transferred to Nigeria.

Nigeria has informed the IMO's maritime safety committee that it should exercise caution as the dispute is connected to national security.

Nigeria's Federal Ministry of Justice, on Nov. 21 arraigned the 27 crew members of MT Heroic Idun at the Federal High Court Five, Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.

At a media briefing at the headquarters of the Nigerian Navy in Abuja, a senior official, Nkeiruka Jones-Nebo, said 17 crew members of the vessel were arraigned on Nov. 21 while 10 were put on trial on Nov. 20.

The offence could attract life imprisonment and potential forfeiture of the ship. The crewmen are due to stand trial in January.

The Nigerian government has deployed the newly enacted Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act 2019 (SPOMO) Act to prosecute the 27 crew onboard the rogue vessel.

The crew's representatives say the vessel failed to identify the Nigerian Navy ship and adopted established industry practice to avoid a potential threat by pirates. 

The ship was sub-chartered to oil major BP, which has said that the tanker had been cleared to load at the Bonny oil terminal, adding to the pressure on the Nigerian authorities.

However, the Nigerian-owned Akpo platform - without whose help the alleged oil transfer to the tanker, legal or otherwise, will take place -- faces no accusations and likewise, the oilfield's operating owner, Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC, is not accused of any wrongdoing.

The vessel has 16 Indians, 8 Sri Lankans, 1 Polish, and 1 Filipino national onboard.  The embassies of India and Poland are in touch with the Nigerian government, which has promised consular access. 

During a visit to India, Nigerian Minister of Interior Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola said on Nov. 19 that his government was doing its best to resolve the issue of the detention of 16 Indian sailors.

"We assure all Indians that we are doing our best to resolve the situation," Aregbesola told reporters on the sidelines of the two-day 'No Money for Terror' conference in New Delhi.

Given the length of time, the physical and mental well-being of crewmen have declined significantly and the sailors' families remain concerned about their well-being.

But for Nigeria, it is a matter of looting the nation's wealth. So, it is in no mood to relent.