The Federal Government on Saturday handed over an impounded vessel, MT San Padre Pio, to the Switzerland’s government three years after it was seized.
The Nigerian Navy had on January 23, 2018 impounded the vessel and its 16 Ukrainian nationals for illegal entry and transport of gas and oil through Nigeria’s waters without a permit.
Dr Francis Oni, an official in the Federal Ministry of Justice, handed over the vessel and cargo to the representatives of the Swiss government at a brief ceremony in Onne, Rivers State. He noted that after the seizure of the vessel, its crew were charged to the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt for trial.
“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.
“The Swiss government sought the prescription of provisional measures at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, Germany.
“Thereafter, the court made a provisional ruling requesting Switzerland to issue in favour of Nigeria, a bond of 14 million US Dollars.
“The court also requested Switzerland to enter into an undertaking that is binding under international law, to produce the suspects wherever their presence was required by the court.”
Francis explained that based on the ruling of the ITLOS, Nigeria was required to release the vessel, pending final determination of the tribunal. The federal government later discharged and acquitted the sailors while some members of the crew stayed onboard to maintain the vessel.
He said in spite of Nigeria’s willingness to comply fully with the ruling of the court, Switzerland could not fulfil the condition of the tribunal hence further detention of the ship.
“Subsequently, the then Vice President and now President of Switzerland, Guy Parmelin, and Nigeria Vice President Osinbajo entered into high level talks.
“Both vice presidents held talks for the two countries to amicably settle the matter through the diplomatic channel.
“The talks culminated in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on May 20 for the unconditional release of MT San Padre Pio to the Swiss government.
“The MoU also stated that after its release, the vessel would depart Nigeria’s maritime space, while the Swiss government would proceed to withdraw the suit from the tribunal,” he explained.
The Swiss government went to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Germany, on the matter, before Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and his Switzerland counterpart met and agreed that the case should be resolved diplomatically.
“While the Ministry of Justice was deliberating how to release the vessel unconditionally due to the diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and Switzerland, the Swiss government went to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Germany, on the matter.
“The tribunal ordered Switzerland to enter a bail bond of $14million in favour of Nigeria for the crew members to be released in line with Nigerian laws.
“During this time, the case was also going on at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.
“During this process, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and his Switzerland counterpart met and agreed that the case should be resolved diplomatically due to the bilateral relationship between both countries.
“Negotiations went ahead and on May 20, 2021 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Federal Government and Swiss government to release MT San Padre Pio unconditionally and allow it to depart Nigeria without hindrance and that the case at the International Tribunal should be withdrawn and the one in the Nigerian court should be closed.
“All these have been achieved and that is why we are here to officially release the vessel to the Swiss government.” Oni said.