Agreement between Switzerland and Nigeria ends 3-year tanker detention

The product tanker San Padre Pio has been detained since January 2018 (photo by Augusta Energy)

Posted on May 21, 2021 at 5:19 pm by The Maritime Executive

The Swiss authorities announced that they have entered into an agreement to release a Swiss product tanker that has been detained by Nigeria for over three years. The detention caused an international incident that the Swiss brought before the United Nations Maritime Tribunal.

According to a declaration by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, after extensive diplomatic efforts in cooperation with the Federal Department of Economics, Education and Research and the Federal Ministry of Finance, a Memorandum of Understanding was planned, which provided for the immediate release of the ship, signed on May 20, 2021. “It is now up to Nigeria to clear the ship and the companies involved in the operation of the San Padre Pio to take the necessary operational measures for the actual departure of the ship,” the statement said.

The product tanker MT San Padre Pio is registered in Switzerland and is operated by a Swiss shipping company ABC Maritime, which is owned by Augusta Energy. The 7,600 dwt ship was in the company’s bunkering business in West Africa when the ship was intercepted by the Nigerian Navy on January 23, 2018. The tanker, which was involved in the transfer of gas oil from ship to ship, was ordered by the Nigerians to sail to Port Harcourt, where he is still anchored in custody.

The Nigerian authorities accused the ship of smuggling diesel fuel and violating Nigeria’s exclusive economic zone. The owners and Switzerland denied all charges on the grounds that the ship was in use in international waters.

The company’s efforts and Switzerland’s diplomatic efforts failed to free the ship. The majority of the crew were allowed to leave, although four crew members remained on board to service the ship. Switzerland could not find a diplomatic solution and filed a lawsuit with the International Maritime Law Tribunal of the United Nations based in Hamburg.

Switzerland asked the tribunal to order the immediate release of the ship. Nigeria had kept the ship illegally and the ship and crew were in danger. They reported that the ship was attacked by pirates in the area in April 2019.

The Maritime Court said in July 2019, without ruling on Nigeria’s claims, that the ship should be released. They ordered a $ 14 million bond on deposit and the ship’s operators to agree to return to Nigeria for future legal proceedings. The tribunal left the question open for a later decision as to whether Nigeria had violated international law by seizing and arresting the tanker.

The ship operator ABC Maritime informed SWI swissinfo.ch that it had successfully defended itself before the Nigerian High Court. They said the ship and its crew were acquitted because the court found them not guilty.

On the grounds that the agreement between the governments of Switzerland and Nigeria provides for the immediate release of the tanker, the Swiss authorities said they would suspend the proceedings pending before the International Maritime Tribunal as soon as the ship returns to international waters.

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