Nigerian Navy Foils Hijack of Maersk Ship, Rescues 25 Sailors

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Twenty-five foreigners including Britons, South Africans, Indians, Filipinos and Thais were rescued as the Nigerian Navy foiled an attempt by suspected sea pirates to hijack and abduct the 25 foreign nationals aboard a Maersk merchant ship which was carrying general cargo to Nigeria.

Pirates boarded the Safmarine Kuramo, registered in Singapore, on Feb. 6 as it headed to Port Onne in Rivers state from Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo, according to Olusegun Soyemi, a captain in the Nigerian navy.

“On Jan. 5 at about 08:00 hours; Sufmarine Kuramo was attacked by sea pirates about 60 nautical miles off the coast of Bonny Island (in Rivers) Fairway Bouy. We got may-day distress call that the ship was boarded by unconfirmed number of sea pirates after entering the nation’s territorial waters.

“We immediately dispatched a warship (NNS Centenary) and attack gunboats led by Navy Capt. Chiedozie Okehie of the Eastern Naval Command to rescue the situation. The sea pirates apparently on sighting advancing naval troops fled the scene for fear of being arrested by our operatives.

“The operation was largely successful as all 25 foreign crew members, including the captain, are safe and unhurt, while cargo onboard the ship is intact,” he said.

Capt. Soyemi said the pirates had fired several gunshots at the ships control room apparently to scare and subdue any resistance from the captain and crew members.

Also, the Commanding Officer of NNS Centenary, Capt. Chiedozie Okehie, who led the operation, said the crew members locked and hid themselves in the ship’s citadel (engine room).

He said the rescue was successful partly due to the courage and bravery exhibited by the ship’s captain – a woman.

According to him, in spite all odds, she covertly gave navy operatives briefs while pirates on board the ship made several attempt to break into the citadel.

“Immediately we got to the ship, we carried out thorough searches of the compartments and cabins to check if any pirate remained onboard. Investigations are ongoing to ascertain what happened and who carried out the attack,” he assured.

Capt. Okehie said the navy under the command of Vice Adm. Ibok-Ete Ibas remained fully committed to safety of the nation’s waterways and maritime environment.

Speaking, the Captain of Safamarine Kuramo, Ms Zetta Gous-Conradie, a South African, described the experience as horrific.

Gous-Conradie hailed the Nigerian Navy for its prompt response to her distress call.

“We are very grateful when the navy came onboard because at some point we had thought the pirates would take us hostage. The heat was stifling because the temperature was very hot at the citadel, and at some point my crew members and I had thought we would suffocate and die,” she said.

None of the crew members, including the South African captain, were hurt and all the cargo was intact, Soyemi said. Officials didn’t provide specifics of the ship’s cargo.

The southern Niger River delta region has been a target for former militants, who have recently threatened to restart a rebellion that cut oil output in Africa’s biggest producer by about a quarter between 2006 and 2009. Three pipelines were bombed last month.

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