In line with its zero tolerance to illegalities in the maritime domain, operatives of the Nigerian Navy (NN) has arrested six suspected pirates, of Ghanaian and Nigerian nationalities, who hijacked an oil vessel off the Coast of Cote D’Ivoire.
This is just as two of the pirates escaped from the stolen vessel by using two crew members, a Pakistani and an Indian, as hostage bait.
After the vessel was hijacked, the 18-man crew members were locked up in a citadel for eight days, with torture and pain being the order of the day.
The pirates were later arrested off the Coast of Sao Tome after a gun exchange with naval forces, that left one of the pirates dead, hijacked a Saudi Arabian tanker, MT MAXIMUS, chartered by a South Korean company.
The arrested suspects were identified as Captain Mike Ogboroma, Ayo Joshua, Marcus Adesoji, Adeyemi Paul, Oluwafemi Samuel and Collins Friday.
It was learnt that the vessel, which was renamed MT ELVIS-5 by the pirates, was loaded with 4700 metric tons of AGO.
Although an American vessel had witnessed the hijack, their initial attempt to chase the ship proved abortive as it turned and fled Southwest towards Togo.
Unable to continue the chase of the vessel which had left its route completely, the American ship was said to have radioed Togolese Navy to take over.
The Togolese Navy was said to have however notified the Nigerian Navy, which deployed three naval ships, NNS Okpabana, NNS Centenary and NNS Sagbama to the rescue.
While Okpabana and Sagbama were deployed from Lagos, Centenary was deployed from the Central Naval Command, thereby smoking the hijackers at a corner on the international waters, off Sao Tome.
Upon sighting the naval ships, the hijackers who allegedly refused to surrender, shut down the oil tanker and opened fire on the navy.
However, the naval personnel braved the odds and forcibly boarded the vessel and rescued the crew members, but not before one of pirates was gunned down.
Confirming the arrest, the Chief of Naval Training and Operations (CTOP), Rear Admiral Henry Babalola, said the naval team was highly professional and was cautious to avoid fire outbreak.
Babalola, who visited the Naval Dockyard, Victoria Island, where the recovered vessel was berthed, was in the company of the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Raphael Osondu; the Director Naval Information, Commodore Chris Ezekobe and the Commanding Officer, NNS Beecroft, Commodore Adaji.
Babalola, who disclosed that the operation was coordinated from the naval headquarters in Abuja, commended the cooperation of neighbouring navies.
He also said the success of the operations was with the help of the Falcon Eye, a technology that increases the reach of the navy at sea.
Speaking to journalists, the captain of the oil vessel, Pillai Krishna, said the pirates were highly sophisticated as they came onboard with grenades and other weaponry.
He said: “It was unexpected and they were obviously prepared for the operation. This is my 10th year as a seaman and I haven’t experienced anything like this before.
“I want to commend the men of the Nigerian Navy. They swore to give their lives for us. But I want to plead that our two colleagues who were taken hostage to be released.”