Switzerland has requested the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to order the release of a Swiss tanker and its crew detained in Nigeria since early 2018.

The public hearing concerning the arrest and detention of the tanker San Padre Pio, its crew and cargo took place on June 21 and 22, 2019.

Back in January 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.

The tanker, operated by Swiss 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 to this country. It was reportedly the tanker’s fifth visit to Nigeria.

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

Switzerland began arbitral proceedings under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, submitting a request for the prescription of provisional measures. According to Switzerland, Nigeria “has 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.”

In its request, Switzerland said 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.”

In particular, Nigeria has been asked to enable the San Padre Pio to be resupplied and crewed in order to be able to leave, with its cargo, the region and exercise the freedom of navigation.

What is more, Switzerland requests 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.

Finally, Switzerland demands the suspension of all court and administrative proceedings and refraining from initiating new ones.

On the other hand, in its final submission, Nigeria requested that the tribunal rejects all of the Swiss requests for provisional measures.

The tribunal said it would now deliberate on the case.

In April 2019, the same tanker was attacked by four armed pirates while anchored off Bonny. Two perpetrators managed to board the tanker and open fire towards the accommodation. According to the IMB, the onboard Nigerian naval guards returned fire resulting in the persons retreating into their boat and escaping. One guard was injured during the shooting and was given first aid by the crew.

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