Navy arrests pirates, recovers oil tanker

Suspected-pirates-3

Nigerian Navy (NN) yesterday paraded six suspected pirates, who hijacked an oil tanker off the Coast of Cote D’Ivoire on February 11.

They are Captain Mike Ugborama,  Ayo Joshua, Macus Adesoji,  Adeyemi, Paul, Oluwafemi Samuel and Colins Friday.

The pirates, who were nabbed in the Island of Sao Tome on February 20, were said to be part of a nine-man gang that hijacked a Saudi Arabian oil tanker, MT Maximus, chartered by a South Korean company.

One of the suspects was killed during a fierce gun battle with naval operatives onboard NNS Okpabana. Two others were said to have earlier fled the vessel with two crew members as hostages.

It was learnt that the vessel, which was renamed MT Elvis-5 by the hijackers to conceal it, was loaded with 4700 metric tons of AGO.

The vessel hijacked an oil boat, Dejikun, at the Lagos Port, sacked its crew members before using it for their illicit operation.

Dejikun is said to be a popular oil boat at the Apapa port, owned by one Charles, who resides in Lekki.

The Nation gathered that an American vessel, which witnessed the hijack, initially chased the ship until it turned Southwest towards Togo.

Unable to continue the chase, the American ship was said to have radioed Togolese Navy to take over.

The Togolese Navy, it was learnt, notified the Nigerian Navy, which deployed three naval ships – NNS Okpabana, NNS Centenary and NNS Sagbama.

Okpabana and Sagbama were deployed from Lagos. Centenary went through the nation’s central waters, thereby smoking the hijackers at a corner on international waters, off Sao Tome.

Before the security forces could get to the hijacked vessel, it was learnt that two crew members, including an Indian, were kidnapped and taken away by two of the gang members.

Upon sighting the naval ships, the hijackers, who allegedly refused to surrender, shut down the oil tanker and opened fire on the security agents.

But the Naval operatives were said to have forcefully boarded the tanker.

The Nation gathered that it was at that point that the deceased pirate was gunned down because he allegedly came out of the ship to confront the boarding party.

Parading the suspects at the Naval Dockyard, Victoria Island, Chief of Naval Training and Operations Rear Admiral Henry Babalola said the naval team was highly professional and was cautious to avoid fire outbreak.

Babalola, who added that the operation was coordinated from the naval headquarters in Abuja, hailed the cooperation by neighbouring navies.

He stated that the two crew members were “not necessarily missing”, adding that a mother rogue vessel was sighted by the naval team that went to rescue the tanker.

“The team that went for the operation sighted a mother rogue vessel with the two pirates and two kidnapped crew members. The rogue vessel is not in Nigeria at the moment. It is somewhere around Equitorial Guinea and contacts have been established with the authorities there to ensure their release.

“The hijackers opposed boarding and were armed, but our men were able to overpower them. When they realised that naval men had gunned one of them, others went into hiding in the engine room of the vessel, but were later arrested,” he said.

The captain of the rescued tanker, Krisna Pillea, who said he had a crew of 18 persons, including two persons from the South Korean firm, added that his abducted men were an Indian and a Pakistani.

Pillea, who was frightened to look at the pirates when he was called to identify them, said that they beat him and his crew severely.

“I am afraid to look at them. I am still very scarred of them. It was a horrifying experience, but the Nigerian Navy saved us,” he said.

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