Eleven Indian seafarers have been reunited with their families after being imprisoned in Nigeria for two years.
The tanker Maro was arrested in July 2014, when its engine failed and the vessel drifted into Nigerian waters. Authorities detained the vessel for entering national waters without the requisite permissions.
The eleven Indian seafarers (pictured with their lawyer Sandeep Singh) onboard were imprisoned and charged with oil smuggling and trespassing illegally, and court proceedings began against them.
Joyful Rongmei, one of the seafarers, told Indian press the crew were asked to pay $2,000 to the navy as a fine for entering Nigeria’s territory without valid permission.
He said they could have paid the amount but their Nigerian captain told them not to, which resulted in the crew being detained at a naval base for a week before being jailed in the African country.
Rongmei said the Nigerian court kept deferring every hearing but Nitin Sandesara, an Indian businessman, helped them prove their innocence.
A court ruling on June 30 freed the seafarers, who were able to secure emergency travel documents and fly home to Delhi on July 3.
The crew had had no communication with their families from the time of the ship’s arrest until August 2015.
During their detention, the seafarers received support from Revd Boet van Schalkwyk, a chaplain for international maritime charity the Sailors’ Society and the National Seafarers’ Welfare Board of Nigeria (NSWBN).
When van Schalkwyk first met the crew in September 2015, it was the first interaction the crew had had with the outside world since their arrest.
“We were able to provide them with friendship and a listening ear, as well as practical items such as books and money for toiletries,” said Boet. “The horror was still there and frustration was high. We wanted to give them hope.”