By Godwin Oritse
FOLLOWING the seizure of a Malta flagged vessel by pirates in Nigeria, the International Maritime Organisation, (IMO) has warned vessels owners on the danger of sailing to Nigeria.
Confirming the development the influential International Maritime Bureau (IMB) stated, weekend, that gunmen boarded the Malta flagged tanker; MT Halifax as it sat in waters off the coast of Port Harcourt.
According to security report, the pirates took over control of the ship and sailed off into the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, and are holding onto the crew as they offload the crude oil in the ship’s hold.
According to GAC, “communication was reportedly lost with the vessel around 1100 local time on 1 November in an area around 175NM south of Lagos, and 243 NM west of Port Harcourt. The vessel’s last reported point of contact is near to where two vessels were boarded in October, one of which was successfully hijacked and held for five days before release.”
It remains unclear how many crew members were taken or if any have been injured. The Halifax, registered in Malta, is managed by Ancora Investment Trust Inc. of Greece. However, it is likely that the crew that were capture are: Filipinos, Indians and an Italian master.
But becoming more exact over the weekend, IMB confirmed that “suspected pirates seized an oil tanker with over 20 crew on board off the coast of Nigeria, we believe it’s been hijacked and we believe there are about 25 crew on board,” Cyrus Mody, a London-based manager with the world’s piracy watchdog told AFP on the phone.
Vanguard gathered that in August, the London-based Lloyd’s Market Association — an umbrella group of insurers listed Nigeria, neighboring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.
Experts however expressed conviction that the recent oil tanker attack appears to be committed by a single, sophisticated criminal gang.
According to the managing director of Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service, Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, “finding an oil ship in the ocean, then being able to offload the crude oil into another ship requires technical knowledge and experience”.
”This is a carbon copy of a crime at sea that we’re seeing on shore,” Gibbon-Brooks said.
Last week attack coincided with a confirmation that the United States of America has provided about$35 million in support for coastal radar, equipment, boats and associated maritime security training to Nigeria, Ghana and other West and Central African countries.
Similarly, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon also last week called for countries and regional organizations in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat maritime piracy, which he says threatens to hinder economic development and undermine security in the region.
“The threat is compounded because most Gulf States have limited capacity to ensure safe maritime trade, freedom of navigation, the protection of marine resources and the safety and security of lives and property,” Ban told the U.N. Security Council during a debate on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
Both spoke at the special meeting of the UN Council where a resolution was adopted to unanimously, encouraged the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) to develop a strategy against maritime piracy.
Recently, both NIMASA and the Presidential Implementation Committee on Mmaritime Safety and Security (PICOMSS) disagreed at a meeting with the Senate committee on mariner transport about piracy and sea robberies in Nigeria.
While NIMASA reportedly told the Senator Zynab Kure- led committee that Nigerian waters are now very safe, sources at the meeting confirmed that, PICOMSS argued that NIMASA had done little or nothing to secure Nigerian waters for ships, crew and cargo.