The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Piracy is the romanticised Somalian Pirates.
It may surprise many to know that the gulf of Guinea is now considered the most dangerous waterways on Earth; with hundreds of oil laden ships transiting the water ways along the gulf, it has become a magnet for Pirates.
Being the only capable Navy in the region, the Nigerian Navy is intensifying its role as the force that guarantees free passage of goods and services.
Patrolling the over 800km shoreline of Nigeria is no small feat. With a limited number of ships, the Navy compensates its shortfall of vessels with high tech surveillance and rapid response systems, utilising satelite imagery and a highly trained Elite SBS Commandos.
It was supposed to be a US-led naval training maneuver off the coast of West Africa when real-life drama intervened, with pirates taking over an oil tanker and turning the exercise into a rescue mission. Navies from the United States, Ghana, Togo and Nigeria tracked the hijacked tanker through waters off five countries before Nigerian naval forces stormed aboard on Feb. 20 amid a shootout that killed one of the pirates. It was the first big success in international maritime cooperation in the pirate-ridden Gulf of Guinea.
Captain Heidi Agle, the commodore, had been directing a training exercise against piracy with maritime agencies of Ghana when the hijacking provided a real-life lesson.
First word came from the French Embassy, which sent information to Agle’s USNS Spearhead via Ghanaian officials and U.S diplomats of a possible pirate ship loitering off Abidjan, Ivory Coast. There, pirates seized the Dubai-owned MT Maximus, on lease to a South Korean company and carrying 4,700 tons of diesel fuel, on Feb. 11, a rescued hijacked Panama-flagged Maximus vessel in Lagos, Nigeria Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. The Spearhead tracked down the hijacked Maximus, identified it and then monitored its progress for two days as it sailed from Ivorian into Ghanaian waters. Then Agle handed over to Ghana’s Navy, which continued to shadow the ship until it entered the waters of Togo, when that country’s navy took over.
As the pirates steamed across the gulf toward the tiny island nation of Sao Tome, the Principle officials there contacted the Nigerian government for help. The tanker had sailed nearly 800 miles (1,280 kilometers) before the Nigerian Navy SBS Commandos made the assault.
Dirk Steffen, maritime security director of Denmark-based Risk Intelligence, agreed the operation was “the first anti-piracy success in the region of this scale.”
He said, “Never has a West African navy carried out an opposed boarding before,” The rescue was directed by Rear Admiral Henry Babalola. it was made possible by a maritime agreement allowing Nigeria to patrol Sao Tome’s waters.
“When we challenged them (the pirates), they said that they were in international waters” with the law of the sea on their side.
But the agreement allowed the Nigerians to storm the ship after eight hours of attempted negotiations.
“International cooperation is the new mantra for maritime security,” Babalola said. “We cannot do it alone.”
Six pirates were captured and 18 crew members freed. Several pirates escaped with two crew members who remain hostages, Steffen said.Follow us on social media