Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Seized Vessel Finally Released After Two Governments Seemingly Settle for a No Score Draw

Once Again Such a Case Goes to Extra Time - but the Penalties Are Paid by the Crew
Shipping News Feature

NIGERIA – SWITZERLAND – Be grateful if you never get caught in a row between governments. That is the message as the MT San Padre Pio sailed forth from Nigerian waters after spending over three years in custody, detained by the country's authorities.

This case illustrates what is wrong with justice, or rather the speed at which it is decided upon. There is of course a certain irony that the case was put before the Courts by a country with no maritime border, yet regarding a vessel flying under its nation’s flag.

The facts of the case are still in dispute, but this week both vessel, and cargo, were handed over to Swiss government representatives by Mr Francis Oni from the Nigerian Ministry of Justice at a ceremony in the oil and gas exploration port of Onne-Eleme after the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two. He commented:

“The MoU states after its release, the vessel will depart Nigeria’s maritime space, while the Swiss government would proceed to withdraw the suit from the tribunal.”

At the time of the seizure the same official was quoted as saying:

”MT San Padre Pio was caught transferring gas oil into another ship on Nigerian waters in the middle of the night without permission from relevant authorities. Unfortunately, the Swiss government, probably not understanding how the system of Nigeria works, instituted a court action.”

So, despite some sort of settlement, the dispute seemingly remains an unresolved no-score draw. This despite the four officers from the ship who, up till now, had been held in Nigeria on bail and forbidden to leave the country for three and a half years.

Following unsuccessful protracted discussions Switzerland had brought claims and sought reparation-in respect of alleged violations of its rights as the flag holder under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and quoted several precedents. The Nigerians retorted that the ship had been under surveillance due to clear indications that it was likely involved in the illegal theft, refinement and bunkering of oil from Nigeria’s EEZ and was, in fact, bunkering illegally in the dead of night.

They went onto claim that the fuel the San Padre Pio was supplying to Nigeria’s offshore oil and gas operations was substandard, a typical characteristic of stolen Nigerian crude oil that has been clandestinely refined. The upshot was the entire 16 man Ukrainian crew were held in less than salubrious circumstances until the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg ordered their release on 6 July 2019, the officers remaining in custody.

Once again this case illustrates the lamentable delays in resolving cases in which involve foreign governments disagreeing, to the cost of the crews serving aboard merchant vessels.

Photo: The handover ceremony between Nigerian and Swiss Officials.