Court remands 16 foreigners over alleged oil theft in Rivers State
A Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Monday (November 14th) took 16 foreign nationals into custody on a 3-court charge on the borderline of oil theft in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.
The 16 foreigners from Poland, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan were arrested with their vessel Mt. Heroic Idun in August 2022 at Akpo Oilfield in Rivers State.
Their offences, according to the indictment, include “conspiracy to commit a maritime offense and thereby committed an offense contrary to section 10 of the Suppression of Piracy and Others Act 2019 maritime offenses and punishable under Article 12 of the same law.
The suspects were also charged with having, in August 2022, at Akpo Oil Field, Rivers State, in the exclusive economic zone under the jurisdiction of the court, with having committed an offense of “false pretense of be the victim of a maritime crime in order to evade lawful interception by the Nigerian Navy”. Gongola Ship (NNS Gongola) and the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offenses Act 2019 and punishable under Section 12 of the same Act.
The third charge against the suspects states that they “attempted to deal in crude oil within the exclusive economic zone of Nigeria without lawful authority and thereby committed an offense contrary to Section 1 (17) of the Act of 2004 on miscellaneous offences”.
Sixteen of the defendants who were present in court, including the ship’s captain, Mehta Tanuj, an Indian, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Lead prosecution attorney Abidemi Adewumi-Aluko, a deputy attorney general, pleaded for the case to be adjourned until Tuesday to allow the other 10 defendants to face trial and plead on their own. .
Defense attorney Udoka Ezeobi, while not objecting to the prosecution attorney’s request, pleaded that they be returned to the ship and be granted “unfettered access interference with their medical needs”.
The presiding judge, Judge Adamu Turaki Mohammed granted the prosecution lawyer’s requests that the men be remanded in custody with security personnel and granted access for their medical needs.
It adjourned its meeting on the matter until Tuesday, November 15, 2022.
About 26 people were on board the crude oil vessel MT HEROIC IDUN at Akpo Oilfield in Rivers State waters when it was arrested by the Nigerian Navy.
A Navy surveillance facility reportedly tracked and constantly updated the Equatorial Guinea Navy on the location of the alleged thief currently being held at Luba Anchorage on Equatorial Guinea’s Bioko Island, where the country conducts its own investigations.
The ship’s captain, Metha Tanuj, shortly after the court appearance, told reporters that “we arrived in Nigeria on August 8th. We have a misunderstanding regarding our documents which were to be filed by the ship’s agent.
“Overnight, we had an incident with a vessel which we did not know at the time as the Nigerian Navy. As a company, we have managed to take all the measures recommended by our higher authorities”,
He admitted that they had been stopped for the first time by an Equatorial Guinean navy vessel.
“We arrived in Equatorial Guinea and were still there being handed over to the Nigerian Navy,”