Court orders release of nine Asteris crewmembers

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ordered the release of nine seafarers that were held by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) since the arrest of their ship in March 2015.

The ship ‘Melilli’, also known as ‘Asteris’, was arrested in March 2015 on charges of illegal oil trading. Some of the seafarers were imprisoned, and others left on board the ship at anchorage under armed guard.

On 9th February 2016, the nine seafarers were released and repatriated, the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) said. Four of the seafarers are from Ghana, four from Benin and one from Bangladesh. Three Filipino seafarers had already been repatriated the previous week.

The owner and agent were not in contact with the crew and did not provide supplies to the vessel, nor did the Nigerian authorities, ISWAN said, adding that it had provided funding for two separate deliveries of food and water to the crew left on board, in September and November 2015.

According to EFCC, in December 2015, the court found four Filipinos and four Bangladeshi crew members of the ship guilty of oil smuggling and gave them an option to choose between jail and paying a hefty fine of USD100,000.

They were each convicted of four counts of illegally storing crude oil, each count carrying five years in prison. The vessel was seized and cargo on board forfeited to the Federal Government.

MT Asteris and the crew members were intercepted by Nigerian Navy ship Beecroft during a routine operation in the Nigeria waters on March 28, 2015 with 3423.097 Metric Tons of crude oil without lawful authority or appropriate license. Upon interception, Captain of the vessel claimed that the vessel was not carrying any product but further investigation by the Commission revealed that the vessel was carrying petroleum product without the relevant documents indicating where the product was lifted and its destination.  

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