By Chris RICHARDS
The Nigerian Navy has foiled an attempt by suspected sea pirates to hijack and abduct 25 foreign nationals aboard a Maersk merchant ship carrying general cargo to Nigeria.
Briefing journalists on Sunday at Onne Sea Port, Rivers, Olusegun Soyemi, the Executive Officer of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Pathfinder, said the vessel berth safely with the rescued crew members unharmed.
Mr. Soyemi said the crew members, including the ship’s captain, were of mixed nationalities consisting of eight Philippines, eight South Africans, five Indians, two Britons and two from Thailand.
According to him, Safmarine Kuramo, a Maersk merchant ship registered in Singapore, was transporting general cargo from Port-Noire, Congo, to Onne Sea Port in Rivers.
“On Jan. 5 at about 08:00 hours; Safmarine 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.
Mr. Soyemi,a Navy Captain, 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, 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 had remained onboard.
“Investigations are ongoing to ascertain what happened and who carried out the attack,” he assured.
Mr. Okehie said the navy under the command of Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas remained fully committed to safety of the nation’s waterways and maritime environment.
Speaking, the Captain of Safmarine Kuramo, Zetta Gous-Conradie, a South African, described the experience as horrific.
Ms. 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.