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After nine months of ordeal, 16 Indian seafarers who were detained in Equatorial Guinea and later in Nigeria have finally been released. The Nigerian navy freed their ship, MV Heroic Idun, on Sunday. The Norwegian vessel is now en route to Cape Town, South Africa, where the men are expected to fly home on June 7.

For the families of three of the men from Kerala, the end of a harrowing wait has arrived. These men were among those detained on the ship since August of last year. Over the past months, the families have sought the release of their loved ones by appealing to both state and central governments.

The vessel was on its way to collect crude oil from Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria when it was intercepted by a naval ship off Equatorial Guinea in international waters on August 12. The ship had a total of 26 sailors, including 16 from India, as well as sailors from Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Poland.

Nigerian authorities accused the crew of stealing crude oil from their terminal. The MV Heroic Idun failed to stop when a Navy patrol boat pursued it, mistaking it for sea pirates. The ship eventually reached Equatorial Guinea but was intercepted following a warning from Nigeria. In November of last year, Guinea handed over the ship and its crew to Nigerian authorities. The crew was charged with conspiracy, evasion of lawful interception, and unlawful export of crude oil.

On April 28, a federal court in Nigeria acquitted the sailors of all charges. However, their release was delayed until the ship owner, Norway’s OSM Maritime Group, paid a fine for unauthorized entry into Nigerian waters. This matter was settled out of court to avoid a prolonged legal process.

The wife of one of the Indian sailors, Sheethal Milton, described the difficult nine months of uncertainty. The sailors were transferred between countries with little communication, causing anxiety for their families. Despite the court’s acquittal in April, concerns about their release lingered.

While under the custody of the Nigerian navy in Bonny Port, the sailors had limited contact with their families. They were allowed brief phone calls every 15 days, with naval personnel monitoring their conversations in English. In Equatorial Guinea, the sailors were confined in cramped conditions and faced food and water shortages.

The allegation of crude oil theft led to the sailors’ detention, but investigations revealed their documents were valid and the voyage was legal. The sailors cooperated with authorities, leading to their continued stay on the ship instead of in jail. The Indian High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria provided support, with the High Commissioner ensuring assistance for the sailors’ release.

In Kollam, Trivikraman Nair, the father of another sailor, Vijith V Nair, expressed relief over their release. The High Commission’s efforts and support were greatly appreciated by the families.

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