New Delhi: The Indian Mission responded to "humanitarian issues", engaged in "lengthy negotiations" and remained in regular touch with the 16 detained crew members in Nigeria, eventually facilitating their safe return home, sources told ANI.

The 16 Indian crew members aboard the oil tanker MT Heroic Idun, who had been detained since August 2022 in Equatorial Guinea and later, in Nigeria, were released and safely repatriated to India on Saturday night.

The ship and crew were accused of various crimes, including oil theft and "falsely accusing" the Nigerian Navy of piracy.

According to sources, the Indian government, through its Missions in Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, and in bilateral meetings, took up the matter with the respective foreign authorities at various levels. They were pressed for an early resolution of the issue and repatriation of the Indian crew members.

Following interventions of the Nigerian government, the crew were allowed to remain on board the ship with the provision of regular food, instead of being taken to a detention centre on land. They were also allowed periodic contact with their families. Indian Mission officials remained in regular touch with the crew and also provided consular access to the detainees on numerous occasions.

The Indian Mission worked with the shipping company for legal representation to be arranged for the crew. It was conveyed to the Nigerian authorities that there had been no oil theft, as necessary permissions had apparently been accorded; and the crew was not privy to the decisions of operations, sources told ANI, adding that humanitarian concerns around some of the detained Indian crew members were also underlined during the discussions.

Following lengthy negotiations, all charges against the crew were dropped and the ship was released on May 27 on the payment of fines. They arrived at Kochi Airport in Kerala on Saturday night after undergoing trials and reaching a settlement.

They were received with garlands by their family members and Indian authorities on arrival at the Kochi airport.

Sanu Jose, one of the freed sailors, thanked the government as he reached Kerala. "I am very happy to be home now with my children. There was a lot of uncertainty about what would happen to us. We feared for our lives in Nigeria but I thank everyone, including the Indian government as well as the Kerala government, for helping us get home," Sanu Jose told ANI.

Another sailor, V Vijith, said the Union government made a "tremendous effort" and "did a great job" in getting all the sailors released.

"It was a difficult experience for us but the Indian government undertook a tremendous effort and they did a great job in getting us home safe. The weight of our passports played a huge role in our release. I would like to thank the Ministry of External Affairs and G. Balasubramanian (Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria)," Vijith said.