PANAJI: Sixteen Indian sailors, who are part of the 26-member crew of a ship detained in Equatorial Guinea on the west coast of central Africa, have appealed for help to be released from “unlawful” detention.

According to a statement released by the sailors, the Norwegian-flagged MT Heroic Idun “was arrested by the Equatorial Guinea naval ship in international waters on 12th August 2022”.

The ship was “brought to Luba port in Equatorial Guinea under naval escort and threat of lethal action against the vessel and crew if orders are not complied (with) on 14th August 2022”, the statement said.

“We, the crew of MT Heroic Idun would like to request for help and assistance to get us released and be brought back to India from Equatorial Guinea where we have been held unlawfully since 14th August 2022. The vessel has a total crew of 26 persons, and out of that we have 16 Indians, 8 Sri Lankans, 1 Polish and 1 Filipino national onboard,” the statement added.

Minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan said he was aware of the matter and his ministry is making efforts to bring the Indian nationals back home.

Fifteen crew members, including nine Indians, were taken ashore on August 14 and have been held in detention at Malabo since then. The remaining 11 crew members, including six Indians, were left on the ship.

“The owners, managers and crew of the vessel have fully cooperated with all the investigations carried out by the Equatorial Guinea authorities,” the statement said.

The crew members held on shore were interrogated by Nigerian officials three times during their stay, it added.

The crew members said they were detained by the Equatorial Guinean Navy based on a request made by Nigeria.

The ship was supposed to load a cargo of crude oil in Nigeria’s AKPO terminal on August 8, but the loading operation was delayed and the ship never had any operations in Nigeria.

On the evening of August 8, the ship was approached by an unidentified craft claiming to be the Nigerian Navy and asked to proceed with them and to follow instructions.

“We could not identify the craft as it was night, no moonlight was there, and the craft did not have its Automatic Identification System switched on. We tried our best to confirm the identity of the unidentified craft through the vessel agents in Nigeria, Inchcape Shipping Services, and through our ship managers, OSM Ship Management AS Norway, who also tried to confirm the presence of a naval vessel in the vicinity of our ship through various sources namely DNK war risk insurance, Ships local agent Inchcape Shipping Services Nigeria and ARC Security,” the sailors said in their statement.

“All parties informed us that this is not a normal course of action by the Nigerian Navy and that the vessel should not follow any orders unless clear instructions relating to the identity of the unidentified craft are received.”

The statement further said: “We also tried to confirm the same with the AKPO terminal security and they also could not positively identify the craft. Based on the information available and Nigeria being a High-Risk Area for security purposes, fearing a pirate attack we acted in good faith fearing for the safety and security of the ship and its crew and sailed out of the location at full speed. The next day on 9th August 2022 it was informed to us that the unidentified craft was a Nigerian Naval vessel.”

By Shadab

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