Police in Cyprus were yesterday forced to release three men - suspected of attempting to purchase illegal crude oil from a mysterious renegade tanker - from custody after it emerged that investigators did not have the right to arrest them.
According to Larnaca District Court Judge, Tonia Nicolaou, the alleged crime was committed ten nautical miles off Cyprus’ jurisdiction and their request was therefore inadmissible within a court of Cypriot law.
The suspects, who investigators said found ten passports between them, are said to be two Israeli nationals and a Senegalese man.
On Friday, North Korean flag ship ‘Morning Glory’ - which was suspected of transporting the illegal cargo from Libya’s Sidra port was located off Cyprus just four days after the Cypriot government and other neighbouring nations received a call for help by the Libyan government to assist in retrieving the stolen goods.
According to the current legislation, cases may only be brought before a Cypriot court if the alleged offence occurred within 12 nautical miles off Cyprus shores while the vessel in question was some 22 nautical miles away.
In some rare cases, the court can rule on alleged crimes which can occur up to 24 nautical miles off shore but theft is not one of them. Judge Nicolaou, therefore ruled that no offence had taken place within the judicial boundaries of Cyprus.
During the remand hearing, a Larnaca CID official said that ‘Morning Glory’ appeared to drop anchor off Larnaca without sending a request to the port to dock after arriving on Friday morning.
Later that evening, according to the investigator, a private jet arrived at Larnaca Airport carrying the two Israelis and the Senegalese national and they immediately went to Larnaca Marina where they rented a boat.
Under the watchful eye of CID, they sailed out to the tanker where a man was seen climbing on board the boat from the Morning Glory. The four men were observed engaged in discussions. Upon their return to the marina, police and the coast guard moved in to arrest them. The foreign ministry had been kept in the loop of the ongoing surveillance the entire time according to the investigator.
The three men were officially released in the early hours of yesterday morning and it is believed that they had already left the island. According to Libyan media, the vessel is not only carrying the illegal shipment of oil but is believed to be sailing without being registered to any country – a requirement for merchant vessels under international maritime law.
The Morning Glory was stripped of its right to sail under the North Korean flag after taking on the crude from eastern oil ports blockaded by federalists. North Korea said this breached the terms of the contract, made through an Egyptian shipping logistics firm.
Mystery continues to surround who owns and operates the vessel, which reportedly changed its name, owner and flag of convenience some three weeks ago.