Equatorial Guinea reports crackdown on fraudulent ships

Equatorial Guinea announces that it will crack down on fraudulent use of its flag

Posted on 29 April 2022 17:53 by

The Maritime Executive

Equatorial Guinea will crack down on ships that illegally use its flag, government officials have said following the loss earlier this month of a tanker off Tunisia. The decision comes as Tunisia continues to raise doubts about the 45-year-old bunker tug Xeloregistered in Equatorial Guinea, and the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the vessel on April 16.

Speaking on state television yesterday (April 28), Transport Minister Rufino Ovono Ondo said: “From now on, all ships that fraudulently fly our flag must be boarded. He was speaking after officials in Equatorial Guinea claimed that the Xelo “fraudulently” displayed the flag of the Central African nation.

Experts have frequently questioned the enforcement policies of many emerging countries that operate registries. The maritime intelligence consulting firms TM Tracking and IR Consilium published a report specifically saying that underfunded African coastal states are tempting targets for unscrupulous shipowners, especially with fishing vessels that profit from African flag registries.

“There are more than 300 ships around the world working illegally under our flag,” Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue said in a recent statement on Twitter. Affirming that his country was putting in place a mechanism that would solve this problem and avoid it in the future, the Vice President wrote: “The flag of Equatorial Guinea cannot be the face of international fraud”.

Tunisia which rescued the seven crew members shipwreck Xelo accused the vessel of illegal activities or of being intentionally sunk in its waters. When the Xelo sank, the crew told their Tunisian Navy rescuers they were sailing from Egypt to Malta carrying a cargo of 750 tonnes of diesel fuel but were diverted due to bad weather. The ship was about four miles out to sea when the crew reported that the hull had been breached and the engine room was flooded.

After the sailors were rescued, an international effort began to prevent a potential environmental disaster from the ship. Specialist divers were brought in and after diving the vessel reported that the hull appeared to be intact and there was no oil leak. The Tunisian, however, placed containment barriers as a precaution while the investigation was underway.

Tunisian government officials are now reporting that they believe the ship’s tanks were in fact empty, heightening suspicions that the vessel was lost. Xelo. On April 27, a Tunisian magistrate ordered the detention of the ship’s seven crew members as part of the investigation.

Equatorial Guinea now says it has suspended 395 vessels and plans to also sue the owners of the supply vessel for fraudulent use of its flag. They said that a commission had been formed and that they were sending representatives to Tunisia to participate in the investigation. At the same time, the Vice President requested international assistance to detect and report vessels illegally flying the Equatoguinean flag.