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International spat Switzerland to sue Nigeria over seized oil tanker


The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, in Hamburg, Germany.

(Keystone / Christian Charisius)

Authorities in Bern are considering legal proceedings after failed diplomatic efforts to secure the release of a Swiss-flag-carrying oil tanker, blocked in the bay of Biafra for over a year.

The San Padre Pio oil tanker, registered with canton Vaud shipping company ABC Maritime, was seized by Nigerian authorities in January 2018, who accused the ship and its crew of violating territorial waters and diesel smuggling.

Over a year later, with diplomatic efforts to release the ship proven futile, Swiss authorities are now planning legal action, reports the SonntagsZeitung newspaper. The case is set to come before the UN-affiliated International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, it writes.

“Switzerland should make full use of all means to safeguard its interests. The country considers that the seizure of the vessel constitutes a violation of international law,” the foreign ministry told the newspaper.

Though details remain scarce, the foreign ministry confirmed that four Ukrainian crew members remain stranded on the ship in “difficult conditions”. The rest of the crew was allowed to leave the ship around a month and a half after the initial incident.

As for the Swiss authorities, the SonntagsZeitung reports, motivations for the liberation of the vessel are not just patriotic or humanitarian: the state, as underwriter of the tanker and its company, stands to lose millions of francs if the cargo goes undelivered.

“The amount of the guarantee of the ABC shipping company and the San Padre Pio is not specified,” the newspaper writes. But it does say that the government still has open guarantees of some CHF550 million ($552 million).


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