Sixteen foreign Nationals suspected to be oil thieves were on Monday arraigned before a Federal High court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.
The expatriates are facing a three-count charge of conspiracy and for falsefully pretending to be victims of maritime offenses in order to evade lawful interception by Nigerian Navy Ship Gongola.
They are also charged for attempted deal with crude oil within Nigerian exclusive economic zone without lawful authority.
At the court session, the suspects pleaded not guilty after being read the charges.
The presiding judge, Justice Turaki Muhammed after listening to the application of the prosecution lawyers on the amended charges, ordered that they be remanded into the vessel.
Justice Muhammed who adjourned the case till Tuesday to enable the remaining ten expatriates to take their plea, advised that they be allowed to see their lawyers and be availed medical attention if the need arises.
Earlier, the Prosecution lawyer, Abidenmi Adewumi-Aluko applied that the court takes the amended charges and allow them to take back the suspects to the vessel which the defense lawyer, Udoka Ezeobi did not oppose and was subsequently granted by the court before the adjournment.
In the meantime, the Captain of the Vessel, Mehta Tanuj shortly after the court proceedings said they had a misunderstanding with the authorities, saying the documents that were supposed to file were also filed.
According to him, they are innocent of the charges.
TNC Correspondent gathered that it was twenty-six foreign nationals that were arrested onboard MT HEROIC IDUN crude oil vessel at Akpo oilfield within Rivers State on the 7th of August 2022 by the Nigerian Navy.
The Navy said the expatriates, who were mainly from Sri Lanka, India, and Poland, were arrested after an investigation showed that they entered the Akpo oilfield without authorization or clearance by relevant government agencies.
The Navy authorities said the brazen act of defiance to constituted authority by the Captain of the vessel necessitated the Nigerian Navy to invoke the collaboration of neighbouring Equatorial Guinea through the Yaoundé Architecture to arrest the vessel.
“A Navy surveillance facility was used to track and constantly update the Equatorian Guinea Navy on the location of the rogue vessel.
“MT. heroic vessel is currently being held at the Luba Anchorage in Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea where the country is conducting her own investigations while we await diplomatic procedures for handing over to the Nigerian Navy,” Naval authorities said.