By Kingsley Omonobi
A combined naval operation, under the auspices of ECOWAS Maritime Zone E (Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo and the Gendarmerie of Republic of Niger) involving Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service (NN SBS) operatives and Benin Navy has led to the rescue of 11 crew men onboard a Portuguese flagged container ship, MV Tommi Ritscher in Benin Territorial Waters.
Major General John Enenche, Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, said the vessel was reportedly attacked by gunmen at Zone 3 anchorage in Cotonou waters at about 11pm on 18 April 2020.
“At the time of the attack, there were 19 crew members, comprising Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Filipinos.
“Following the pirate attack, the Nigerian Navy (NN) received a request for assistance from Benin Navy under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of ECOWAS Zone E.
“Consequently, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) OSE embarked 10 NN SBS operatives and proceeded to the objective area.
“NNS OSE and the SBS boarding team arrived the objective area on 19 April 2020 to join 2 other vessels (P110 Queme and Zou) from the Benin Navy already in the Area.
“Consequently, NNS OSE and the other 2 Benin Navy patrol boats adopted a patrol plan around the MV Tommi Ritscher throughout the night of 19 Apr 20 to ensure that the pirates, if still onboard would not have any room to escape.
Accordingly, after the necessary briefings, the boarding operations commenced at about 5.30pm on 20 Apr 20, with the NN SBS elements in the lead.
After the successful boarding of the Ship, which eventually was to be unopposed, 11 crew members were rescued from different parts of the ship.
However, eight crew members of the Ship and the pirates could not be located onboard the ship. The SBS remained onboard to ensure security of the vessel and the crew.
MV Tommi Ritscher came alongside to Cotonou Port for a more comprehensive search of the ship on 21 April 2020.
“The team was received by the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) of the Benin Navy as well as the Defence Attache and Deputy Defence Attache of the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou.
“The CNS of Benin addressed the ship’s company of NNS OSE and the NN SBS team and gave them a letter of commendation for a job well done.
Recalling that in 2013, Gulf of Guinea Heads of State and Government met in Yaounde, Cameroon to adopt the Yaoundé Declaration on the Gulf of Guinea Security, Enenche said, “Two key resolutions contained in the Declaration are on the creation of an inter-regional Coordination Centre on Maritime Safety and Security for Central and West Africa, to be headquartered in Yaoundé.
, and the implementation of a new Code of Conduct Concerning the Prevention and Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships and Illegal Maritime Activities in West and Central Africa.
“This declaration also paved way for the creation and organisation of Gulf of Guinea Navies into maritime zones.
“Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo and Gendarmerie of the Republic of Niger form the ECOWAS Maritime Zone E under the Yaoundé Declaration.
“It is against this background that the feat achieved by the Nigerian and Benin Republic Navies represents a concrete step towards the operationalization of the ECOWAS Maritime Zone E framework.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Naval Staff Benin Navy, Captain Albert Ezin Badou after the operation commended the personnel of Nigerian Navy Ship OSE for their show of gallantry and high level of professionalism during the rescue of the 11 crew members onboard the Portuguese flagged container ship, MV Tommi Ritscher.
The NN and Benin Navy jointly rescued the 11 crew members on 20 April 2020. However, the remaining 8 members of the ship and the pirates could not be found during the rescue operation.
In recognition of the role that the Nigerian Navy played in the successful rescue operation, Captain Badou expressed his gratitude to the Nigerian Navy Ship OSE’s ship company under the command of the Officer-in-Charge of the ship, Lieutenant Bilyaminu Umar Abubakar for their prompt response to the incident.
He was also appreciative of their efforts which contributed to the success recorded.
He said: “From the moment you arrived Benin territorial waters on 19 April 2020, you demonstrated good seamanship and security awareness in jointly patrolling the sea around the vessel with our Benin Navy patrol boats.
“This effort prevented further insecurity incidences relating to the vessel and helped build confidence in our maritime security response against piracy in the ECOWAS Zone ‘E’ maritime domain”.
He further applauded the NN Special Boat Service team that participated in the rescue for display of exceptional bravery and tactics in boarding the hijacked vessel to rescue the 11 crew members without any casualty.
Captain Badou noted with delight the great success achieved by the joint operation which has further cemented the brotherly ties shared by the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Republic of Benin.
He also specifically thanked the Nigerian Navy for its huge support towards this successful operation and urged the crew of Nigerian Navy Ship OSE to keep up the good work.
The Chief of the Naval Staff of Benin Navy conveyed the appreciations through a letter of commendation forwarded to the Nigerian Navy.