Seized ship: Tribunal begins hearing on Switzerland’s case against Nigeria

Switzerland plans legal action against Nigeria over detained ship, crew
San Padre Pio. PHOTO: Ship Spotting

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has held a public hearing over the arrest and detention of a Swiss ship named San Padre Pio, its crew and cargo by the Nigerian Navy.

The public hearing was held on Friday and Saturday based on a request by Switzerland asking the tribunal to order the release of the tanker and its crew detained in Nigeria since early 2018.

The Nigerian Navy intercepted and arrested the 7,600 dwt ship while it was engaged in ship-to-ship transfers of gasoil in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Nigeria in January 2018.

The navy said the tanker, operated by Switzerland’s ABC Maritime, was arrested due to “unauthorized entry into Nigerian waters and illegal fuel trading”, although the ship’s captain claimed that San Padre Pio had permission to ship the fuel.

The tanker was arrested on its fifth visit to Nigeria.

The 2012-built ship was then ordered to proceed to Port Harcourt in Nigeria where it is still being detained.

Switzerland began arbitral proceedings under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), submitting a request for the prescription of provisional measures.

Switzerland said Nigeria “breached its obligations owed to Switzerland in regard to its freedom of navigation and its right to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the San Padre Pio”.

Switzerland therefore requested that “Nigeria shall immediately take all measures necessary to ensure that the restrictions on the liberty, security and movement of the San Padre Pio, her crew and cargo are immediately lifted to allow them to leave Nigeria”.

It asked Nigeria to allow the seized ship to be resupplied and crewed in order to be able to leave the country with its cargo and exercise the freedom of navigation.

Switzerland also requested the tribunal to order the release of the Master and the three other officers of San Padre Pio and permission for them to leave the territory and maritime areas under the jurisdiction of Nigeria.

The Central European country also demanded that Nigeria be ordered to suspend all court and administrative proceedings and refrain from initiating new ones.

Nigeria, in its submission, however, requested that the tribunal rejects all of the Swiss requests for provisional measures.

The tribunal said it would begin deliberation on the case.

In April 2019, the seized tanker was attacked by four armed pirates while under navy detention off Bonny. Two perpetrators managed to board the tanker and open fire towards the accommodation.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre, the onboard Nigerian naval guards returned fire resulting in the attackers retreating into their boat and escaping.

One guard was reportedly injured during the shooting and was given first aid by the detained crew.