The Nigerian Navy has foiled an attempt by suspected sea pirates to hijack and abduct 13 foreign nationals on board a merchant ship leaving Nigeria for Cameroon.
Briefing journalists on Friday at Bonny, Rivers, Capt. Mustapha Hassan, the Commanding Officer of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Nwamba, who led the rescue operation, said the 13 foreigners were rescued unharmed.
Hassan said the crew members, including the ship’s captain, were of mixed nationalities consisting of seven Philippinos, two Romanians, one Russian, one Polish, one Indian and one Croatian.
“On Aug. 17, 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 distress call, we immediately set course to intercept and rescue the merchant ship from hijack by sea pirates.
“On arrival, the 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 13 foreign crew members, including the captain, are safe and unhurt while cargo onboard the ship is intact,” he said.
Hassan said that troops were unable to apprehend the pirates due to poor visibility partly caused by torrential rain on the day of the rescue.
He said that the navy under the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Adm. Ibok-Ete Ibas, remained committed to the safety of the nation’s waterways and maritime environment.
Hassan added that the rescue was successful due to ongoing operation code-named “Tsare Teku II” which sought to tackle oil theft, illegal bunkering and pirate attacks on the waterways.
“This operation launched on July 23 by the CNS has drastically reduced the spate of sea piracy and robbery attacks in our maritime environment while improving our response to distress calls,’’ he said.
Also speaking, the Captain of MT Vectis Osprey, Mr Sobol Evgeny, a Russian, said the pirates sailed on a “blue boat” and were fully armed with AK-47 assault rifles.
Evgeny said that his crew members used every laid down procedure but couldn’t prevent the pirates from boarding their vessel.
“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 quick response, we would have been taken hostage or worse killed,” he said.
Evgeny urged the navy to escort merchant ships to between 30 nautical miles and 50 nautical miles away from shore, adding that the pirates would not be able to launch attack on such distance.
The merchant ship (MT Vectis Osprey) registered in Britain came into Nigeria from Malabo on Aug. 10 with general cargo.
After discharging its cargo, it set sail for Douala, Cameroon on Aug. 17 but was attacked by nine heavily-armed sea pirates who boarded it with the intent to take the crew members hostage.