Sixteen Indian sailors, who are part of a 26-member crew of a Norwegian oil vessel, have requested the government for help in releasing them from “unlawful” detention by Equatorial Guinea, the Hindustan Times reported on Monday.

The team of sailors, including eight Sri Lankans and a national each of Poland and Philippines, was detained on August 14 by an Equatorial Guinea naval ship in international waters based on a request made by Nigeria, reported The Quint.

The Norwegian ship, MT Heroic Idun, was brought to Luba port in Equatorial Guinea under naval escort. A statement released by the sailors alleged that the crew was threatened with lethal action if they did not comply with the orders of the authorities.

On August 8, the vessel was scheduled to load cargo of crude oil in Nigeria’s Akpo Oilfield terminal, but the operation had been delayed due to port instructions and subsequently failed, reported The Quint.

Soon after that, the ship was approached by an hovercraft claiming to be the Nigerian Navy. The sailors were asked to proceed with them and to follow their instructions.

“We could not identify the craft as it was night, no moonlight was there, and the craft did not have its Automatic Identification System switched on,” the detained sailors said in the statement, reported the Hindustan Times.

The Heroic Idun ship sailed out of the location as it failed to identify the hovercraft. “The next day on August 9, 2022, it was informed to us that the unidentified craft was a Nigerian Naval vessel,” the sailors said.

On August 14, the Equatorial Guinean naval vessel arrested the Heroic Idun and 15 crew members, including nine Indians, were taken ashore. They have been held in detention in the capital of Malabo since then, reported the Hindustan Times. The remaining 11 crew members, including six Indians, were left on the ship.

The crew has been interrogated by the Nigerian authorities on multiple occasions since their detention, reported The Quint. The owners of the vessel also paid a fine within a week to facilitate an early release of the crew from captivity.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Navy said that Heroic Idun entered the country’s maritime region without a clearance and then tried to evade detention, reported the Leadership.

Nigerian Navy’s Chief of Policy and Plans Rear Admiral Seidu Garba claimed the captain of Heroic Idun refused to cooperate with the naval authorities, saying that they had been told not to take orders from the country’s vessel.

“Thereafter, the vessel [Heroic Idun] engaged full speed southwards towards the Sao Tome and Principe maritime area in a bid to evade arrest,” Garba said.