On 28 February, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that armed pirates opened fire on a cargo ship off the Nigerian coast, kidnapped the captain and chief engineer, and robbed the crew before fleeing. The attack also left one of the 14 crew members missing and another injured.
Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said about eight gunmen attacked the Dutch-owned, Curacao-flagged refrigerated cargo ship near the coast. He said he had received no word yet on any ransom demands.
The IMB said this incident is a continuation of serial piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. In September 2011, the group had warned that the seas off the Republic of Benin, Nigeria’s neighbour to the west, were becoming a new piracy “hotspot”, partly due to the deficiencies of maritime security arrangements in the region.
Choong said: “The attacks off the Nigerian coast are very violent and they are increasing, So far we have seen seven attacks off Nigeria this year and one off Benin. So that makes eight since the beginning of the year and we believe many more attacks may have gone unreported”.
However, in one of the recent incidents in which a tanker was hijacked, the IMB said Nigerian security vessels intercepted the ship and rescued its crew.
On 10 November, the State Security Service (SSS) paraded five men, arrested for allegedly hijacking a Lagos-bound vessel, Roasa Tomasos. The men were led by a former naval officer, Lawrence Adesanya, who retired as a Lieutenant Commander (equivalent to Major in the Nigerian Army).
Briefing newsmen at the agency’s state headquarters in Lagos, the SSS’ Deputy Director, Public Relations, Mrs. Marilyn Ogar, said: “On November 3, 2011, a Lagos-bound vessel named Roasa Tomasos, containing 26,000 metric tonnes of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol), was hijacked by suspected sea pirates while approaching Lagos”.
“However, on November 6, 2011, we (SSS) successfully recovered the vessel and its content intact, while the suspects, who are members of a notorious gang of pirates, were apprehended. They include: Lawrence Adesanya (the retired Lt. Cmdr.), Teke Abaka, Lucky Momoh and Philip Kokoh. Two other suspects – Abenego Abaka and a lawyer, referred to simply as Felix – are still at large. They have been declared wanted”.
The SSS spokesperson said further investigations revealed that the suspects, led by Adesanya, were also “responsible for the hijack of a vessel named Cape Bird, carrying 32,000 metric tonnes of Automated Gas Oil (diesel), belonging to Sahara Energy Resources on October 7, 2011. It is suspected that the gang escaped with eight metric tonnes of the product”. She said the suspects usually hijacked vessels around the Niger Delta and diverted them to a location near Lagos where they had ready buyers.
Ogar said investigations were still ongoing and that the suspects would soon be charged to court. She also urged citizens to avoid any acts that could harm the Nigeria’s image, but rather to be security-conscious and assist law enforcement agencies with information that could aid them in enhancing security.
On 11 August, President Goodluck Jonathan received his counterpart from neighbouring Republic of Benin, President Boni Yayi, and discussed proposals towards fighting growing piracy in the waters of their two countries. The meeting follows the recent alert issued by the Benin president, that pirates were threatening the security of his country’s waters and operations at its port.
Before leaving his country’s capital, Cotonou, for the Abuja meeting, Yayi had indicated that the meeting would be part of preparations for a larger summit of Gulf of Guinea countries to deal with the menace of piracy along the West African coast. He had said: “I am going to Nigeria to sort out this piracy issue. I have contacted the United Nations Secretary-General for the holding of a large summit of the countries of the Gulf, at the end of which a formal request will be sent to the Security Council”.
At the end of the meeting between the two leaders in Abuja, a statement from Jonathan’s office said: “Boni Yayi had informed.…Jonathan that pirates and bandits were threatening the security of ports in that country and the Gulf of Guinea coastline”. The statement also said that Yayi had, during the meeting, “called for concerted action, led by Nigeria, to check this menace”.
In his reply, Jonathan said Nigeria would cooperate with neighbouring countries to fight cross-border security challenges, including banditry, terrorism and piracy.
The statement quoted the Nigerian president as saying that: “Criminals don’t respect political boundaries in their nefarious activities, so we will cooperate with one another to find lasting solutions to the problems they pose”. He also assured Yayi that, in due course, relevant Nigerian officials will be in contact with their Benin counterparts, to find appropriate ways to deal with the piracy challenge.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports that Benin and Nigeria recorded 18 pirate attacks in the first half of 2011. About 15 of these occurred off the waters of Republic of Benin, where there had been no incidents in 2010. Most of the recent attacks were thwarted by the Benin navy, but they are already taking a toll on port activities and revenue earnings in Cotonou. And there are fears that the situation could grow worse.
On 20 June, gunmen suspected to be pirates shot dead two patrol policemen along a waterway used by vessels servicing oil and gas companies off Bayelsa State.
According to the Public Relations Officer of the Police in Bayelsa State, Mr Eguavoen Emokpae, the suspected sea pirates laid ambush for the marine policemen in the waterways of Swali in Yenagoa, and killed two of them.
While an amnesty programme introduced by the Federal Government in 2009 had virtually ended the armed insurgency waged by militant groups in the region, there are continuing concerns over incidents of criminal violence in the maritime environment.
For the first quarter of this year, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded five incidents of piracy and armed robbery in Nigerian waters. Although IMB said three of these occurred against vessels in the Lagos area, it also noted that “information from the Norwegian-based Bergen Risks Solutions suggests that a further six unconfirmed incidents took place in the Niger Delta”.
On 4 March, the Nigerian Navy reported that it had foiled an attempt by pirates to steal the petroleum cargo of an oil tanker, after they had attacked and hijacked the vessel. It also said it seized 3 vessels – a motor tanker, MT Ocean Mariner, and two ships, MT B. Cupid and MT Bekkie – in the course of the operation.
At a press briefing in Lagos, the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogbor, gave details of the operation.
He said about 12 pirates armed with two rocket-propelled grenades, one general purpose machine-gun and 10 AK-47 rifles hijacked the MT Ocean Mariner at 60 nautical miles off Lagos. The oil tanker, which was on its way to Qua Iboe terminal to service a large crude carrier, was carrying 10,000 metric tonnes of low pour fuel oil and 1,000 metric tonnes of automated gasoline oil.
Ogbor said: ”Following the attack, the owners of the products and chatterer of the oil tanker, Monjasa A/S Denmark, lost communication with the vessel. They informed their associates in Nigeria who reported the matter to the Nigerian Navy. Consequently, all naval bases and their intelligence cells were mobilized to locate the oil tanker and hunt down the criminals”.
‘While these efforts were on, the pirates took over command of the vessel, carted away all the valuables and paralysed all communication equipment, making it impossible for the ship to get assistance”.
“They also made frantic efforts to look for buyers of the products. Two failed attempts were made until Mr. Adebanji Agbebi, managing director, Hepa Global Limited sent two oil tankers – MT B. Cupid and MT Bekkie – to transship the products without due approval. He said he was contacted by two brokers, Mr. Grant Idiaka and Emeka Steve of Grant and Steve Associates”.
The FOC further explained that when the pirates disembarked from the ship, the crew re-established communication with the its chatterers and passed the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) numbers of the reciever ships to them. He said that once the Navy was given the identities of the two receiver ships, its intelligence operatives were able to locate and arrest the two vessels.
Ogbor said when the pirates, who had already fled to Cotonou in Benin Republic, heard that the ships had been arrested by the Navy, they sailed back to Lagos harbour in a frantic attempt to recover the petroleum products.
He said while the pirates escaped arrest, the Navy nabbed Agbebi, and took the MT Ocean Mariner, MT Cupid and MT Bekkie into custody for preliminary investigations. He said his men are still looking for the pirates, the purported brokers and their accomplices.
In his defence, Agbebi said he thought those who contacted him were the real owners of the oil. He said he had asked them to produce relevant documents before any transaction could be sealed; and that it was at that point that the naval personnel came to apprehend him. He said he was a legitimate businessman and that it never occurred to him that those he was discussing with were pirates.
While investigations continue, Admiral Ogbor has warned perpetrators of illegalities within the nation’s waters and oil industry not to take the Nigerian Navy for granted, as the force is fully committed to ensuring a safe maritime environment for legitimate economic activity.
On 3 March, armed pirates terrorized passengers that were sailing on boats, on the Nembe Creek in Bayelsa East senatorial district, taking away their cash and other valuables.
The victims were sailing from the Ogbia jetty to Nembe for a wake-keeping and a burial ceremony. Time was between 6 and 7 pm, and they were just about 10 nautical miles away from their destination when they came under attack from the pirates.
A source said one of the speedboats attacked by the pirates was alleged to be conveying cash, running into millions of naira, which was meant for the payment of some workers. It is not yet confirmed whether the pirates made away with the money, but they snatched and carted away the empty new casket the victims were conveying to Nembe for the burial. They also forced their victims to run into the mangroves, before fleeing with their boat and booty, into the winding creeks. No life was lost.