The Nigerian Navy has rescued 13 foreign nationals who were abducted in an attempted by some suspected sea pirates to hijack a merchant ship leaving the country for Cameroon.
The rescued foreigners, who were all crew members of the ship, were of mixed nationalities, consisting of seven Philippines, two Romanians, one Russian, one Polish, one Indian and one Croatian.
Commanding Officer of the Nigerian Navy Shop (NNS) Nwamba, Captain Mustapha Hassan, made this known while briefing newsmen in Port Harcourt, on Friday, adding that the hijack attempt was foiled the Navy Special Forces.
Hassan, who led the rescue operation, said the 13 foreigners were rescued u harmed, even as he disclosed that the merchant ship, (MT Vectis Osprey) registered in Britai,n came into Nigeria from Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on August 10, 2016, transporting general cargo.
He said the ship, after discharging its cargo, set sail for Douala, Cameroon, on August 17 but was attacked by nine heavily-armed sea pirates who boarded the vessel with intent to taking the 13 crew members hostage.
“On August 17, 2016, MT Vectis Osprey, a British ship, was attacked by sea pirates about 20 nautical miles off the coast of Bonny Island Fairway Bouy in Rivers.
“We got a distress alert from the operations centre at the naval headquarters which dispatched NNS Nwamba with NNS Okpabana to shadow the operation. On getting the ‘may-day’ distress call, we immediately set course to intercept and rescue the merchant ship from hijack by sea pirates.
“On arrival, Special Forces attacked the nine heavily armed pirates who jumped into the sea and escaped, apparently due to superior gunfire and tactical awareness of troops.
“The operation was largely successful as all the 13 foreign crew members, including the captain, are safe and unhurt, while cargo onboard the ship is intact”, he said.
Captain Hassan however said the naval troops were unable to apprehend the pirates due to poor visibility, partly caused by torrential rainstorm which fell on the day of the rescue.
He added that the rescue was successful due to ongoing operation code-named “Tsare Teku II”, set up to tackle oil theft, illegal bunkering and pirate attacks on the nation’s waterways.
“This operation, launched on July 23 by the Chief of Naval Staff, has drastically reduced spate of sea piracy and robbery attacks in our maritime environment while improving our response to distress calls”, he added.
He assured that the vessel would be released to the crew members on conclusion of preliminary investigation and advised ship owners, sea fearers and charterers to vet and profile their crew members before recruitment.
Also speaking, the Captain of MT Vectis Osprey, Mr Sobol Evgeny, a Russian national, said the pirates sailed on a “blue boat” and were fully armed with AK 47 assault rifles.
He said his crew members followed all procedure but could not prevent the pirates from boarding, adding, “On realising that we couldn’t stop the pirates from boarding our ship, we immediately locked ourselves inside the ship citadel (safe room) and thereafter sent distress calls to the Nigerian navy.
“The Navy responded promptly and rescued us. And if not for their (Navy) quick response, we would have been taken hostage or worse killed”, he said.
Evgeny urged the Navy to escort merchant ships to between 30 to 50 nautical miles away from shore, noting that pirates would be not be able to attack from such distance at sea.
In another development, the Nigerian Navy has disclosed that it had impounded and destroyed six large wooden barges laden with estimated 70,000 litres of diesel suspected to have been stolen from pipelines in Rivers State.
Commander of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Pathfinder, Commodore Kennedy Egbuchulam, made the disclosure while parading one suspect before newsmen at the destruction exercise in Isaka, Okirika Local Government Area.
He said the barges were seized during a routine patrol of waterways and creeks in Isaka general area, adding, “In-line with strategic directives from naval authorities, troops of NNS Pathfinder on routine patrol impounded six large wooden boats carrying suspected illegally refined diesel of about 70,000 litres.
“The barges were abandoned apparently because the hoodlums, on sighting advancing naval gunboats, fled the area to avoid arrest.
“However, one person was arrested and would provide useful information about operators of the barges and locations of illegal refineries in the area. The six barges were immediately set ablaze while investigation is currently ongoing.”
Egbuchulam, who spoke through NNS Pathfinder Base Operations Officer, Commodore Raphael Ekuma, said the formation destroyed five active illegal refineries in the area between July and August.
He said the formation had noticed that whenever it burned down illegal refineries equipped with metallic tanks, days after troops leave the scene, the operators would return and revive the refineries.
The development, he said, was posing a challenge to efforts by the Navy to stop sabotage on the nation’s oil and gas installations.
“However, efforts are currently being made to provide equipment that will completely crush and destroy illegal refineries making them impossible to be reactivated by the hoodlums”, he assured.