Equatorial Guinea says it will crackdown on fake-flag ships

Equatorial Guinea has said that it will be prosecuting the owner of sunken oil tanker Xelo for allegedly ‘fraudulently’ flying the country’s flag.

Vice president Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue said on Thursday April 28th that the country had also requested international collaboration to detect vessels illegally flying Equatorial Guinea’s flag.

Equatorial Guinea’s Transport Minister Rufino Ovono Ondo has said that the country planned to crack down on ships that were using the Equatorial Guinea flag fraudulently, stating that “from now on, all vessels that fraudulently fly our flag must be boarded”.

The announcement followed the recent sinking of tanker “Xelo” (which also appeared to be registered under different names) off Tunisia. The move comes as Tunisia raised doubts about the 45-year-old bunker tug, which appeared to be registered in Equatorial Guinea, but officials from that nation have said that Xelo was “fraudulently” flying the flag of Equatorial Guinea.

The vessel sank on April 16th, theoretically with a cargo of oil on board but, it later transpired, carrying no cargo at all.

Ondo said on Equatorial Guinea’s state-run television channel on April 28th that “from now on, all vessels that fraudulently fly our flag must be boarded.”

Maritime intelligence consultancies (specifically TM Tracking and I.R. Consilium) have warned that under-resourced African coastal states were tempting targets for unscrupulous vessel owners.

Equatorial Guinea vice-president Teodoro Nguema Obiang Manguesaid that his country was implementing a mechanism that would solve that problem, saying that “the flag of Equatorial Guinea cannot be the face of international fraud.” At the same time, the vice president asked for international assistance to detect and report vessels illegally flying the Equatorial Guinea flag.

Tunisia saved the seven crewmembers from the sinking Xelo, but has since accused the vessel of illegal activity, or possibly being intentionally sunk. When the Xelo went down the crew told its rescuers from the Tunisian Navy that they have been sailing from Egypt to Malta transporting a cargo of 750 tons of diesel fuel, but they had diverted due to bad weather. The vessel was approximately four miles offshore when the crew reported that the hull had been breached and the engine room was flooding.

Facing the leak of 750 tons, a full-scale international environmental catastrophe prevention response kicked in. Specialized divers were brought in. They reported that the hull seemed intact and that there was no leak of oil. Tunisian, however, as a precaution placed containment booms while the investigation was ongoing.

Government officials in Tunisia are now reporting that they believe the vessel’s tanks were in fact empty. On April 27th a magistrate in Tunisia ordered the seven crewmembers of the vessel to be held as part of the investigation.

Equatorial Guinea said that a commission had been formed and they were sending representatives to Tunisia to participate in the investigation.