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 13 February, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that pirates had shot dead the captain and the chief engineer on a cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria.
A notice on the IMB website said: “Armed pirates chased and fired upon a drifting bulk carrier. Vessel raised alarm and headed towards Lagos. All crew except the bridge team took shelter in the citadel. Due to the continuous firing, the captain and the chief engineer were shot”.
The website notice said this incident, which occurred about 110 nautical miles (126 miles) south of Lagos, is the latest in a string of attacks on vessels off the Nigerian coast.
On 9 February, pirates hijacked a tanker about 80 nautical miles (92 miles) from Cotonou, capital of Nigeria’s westward neighbour, the Republic of Benin, the bureau said. Again on Saturday, 11 February, a cargo ship about 70 nautical miles (80 miles) from Lagos, was shot at by pirates on two boats, who chased it for 25 minutes before giving up.
Last year, the IMO reported a 28 percent increase in pirate attacks on vessels off the West African coast, compared to a year earlier. It said 64 attacks were reported in 2011, up from 46 in 2010.
The gunmen struck at night, near the company’s vast Agbami oil field, about 70 nautical miles offshore from Bayelsa State. Chevron company sources said eight gunmen boarded the ship, MV C-Endeavour, attacked the crew and seized three sailors. They said the ship belonged to a contractor company, Edison Chouest Offshore, based in Galliano, Louisiana, in the United States. One source reported that the abducted sailors were foreigners, but this was yet to be confirmed.
The Agbami field, with a production capacity of up to 250,000 barrels a day, is Nigeria’s biggest offshore oil field, according to Chevron.
The incident is the latest in a surge of attacks on ships in the Niger Delta and further afield in the Gulf of Guinea recently. On 30 September, a sailor was kidnapped from a ship supplying an Exxon oil platform in Akwa Ibom State. On 8 October, pirates seized an oil tanker, the MT Cape Bird, with its 20-member Eastern European crew, 90 nautical miles off the coast of Lagos; they released them unharmed after five days in captivity.
On 17 October, a 17-man armed gang attacked an ExxonMobil-chartered vessel, AHST Wilbert Tide, near the company’s Oso gas field offshore Bonny in Rivers State, abducting the master sailor, a Bangladeshi. Another vessel, Joan Chouest, was also attacked in the same area around the same time as the WIlbert Tide.
Analysts and maritime industry operators are concerned that these attacks may signify an increase in organized, oil-related criminality in the Niger Delta.
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.
On 4 February, gunmen attacked a riverside community, Ayama, in Ogbia local government area of Bayelsa State, killing a woman.
Local sources say the gunmen, believed to be pirates, had stormed the community apparently to steal speedboats. Challenged by community residents, they opened fire, shooting indiscriminately. The victim was reportedly hit by a flying bullet, before the invaders fled into the creeks. The police is yet to confirm the local reports of the incident.