x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai ship with 23 crew hijacked off Nigeria

Pioneer Ship Management, which operates the tanker and has offices in Dubai, said it lost radio contact with the Singapore-flagged tanker yesterday morning.

DUBAI // The MT Abu Dhabi Star oil tanker was yesterday hijacked by Nigerian pirates before being released.

The tanker was carrying 23 crew and about 40,000 tonnes of petrol, and sailing 30 nautical miles off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria en route to the United States when it was attacked.

Pioneer Ship Management, which operates the tanker and has offices in Dubai, said it lost radio contact with the Singapore-flagged tanker yesterday morning but the ship was released by evening.

"An investigation is under way to establish how much cargo was stolen by the pirates and if there was any damage sustained by the vessel," a spokesman said.

"Pioneer Ship Management is pleased to report that a Nigerian naval vessel came alongside the tanker which had earlier been boarded by the pirates, and command was restored to the master and crew.

"It is understood the pirates fled the scene. All the ship's crew are reported to be well and unharmed."

The crew had radioed for help from a safe room before the attack, said Andrew Mwangura, the coordinator for the Seafarers' Assistance Programme in Kenya.

Safe rooms are installed on vessels to guard crews in the event of pirate attacks. Crew can lock themselves in the rooms and keep control of the vessel and communications.

"The sailors sent out distress signals from the safe room and this was received by the Nigerian navy," Mr Mwangura said. "The Nigerian navy followed and monitored the tanker, but they could not use force because of crew onboard and also because it is an oil tanker."

Attacks off Nigeria's coast are increasing, according to statistics from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

Ten reports of pirate attacks were received from Nigeria in the first half of this year, equalling the number reported off Nigeria for the whole of last year.

Attacks off neighbouring Benin were also attributed to Nigerian pirates, IMB's global piracy report says.

A total of 102 incidents of piracy and armed robbery were reported across the world with dangerously increasing numbers in West African waters, the report said. Eleven vessels were hijacked worldwide, with four crew members killed among the 212 taken hostage.

Another 45 vessels were boarded with 32 attempted attacks and 14 vessels fired on. These attacks were attributed to either Somalis or Nigerians, the IMB said in its May report.

Unlike Somali piracy where hostages are held on vessels for more than two years until ransom amounts are paid, Nigerian pirates typically hold the ship for a few hours or days and release it after stripping it of cargo and equipment, experts say.

"West African criminal acts at sea are very different from Somalia," said Tim Stear, the director of maritime security at the crisis-management company Control Risks.

"It started off as robbery where they would board the ships and depart quickly after taking equipment, money, laptops … but that has evolved in recent months.

"They are stealing cargo and fuel off vessels and there have been cases in the past where crew have been taken off vessels for ransom demands. To offload cargo unprofessionally at sea is a dangerous procedure."

Nigerian pirates were also usually under pressure due to the quick response of the Nigerian navy, Mr Stear said.

Simon Osborne, sales director of maritime security company Protection Vessels International (PVI), said Nigerian pirate attacks could turn violent because of the short window of time in which the raiders operated.

"There is no safe anchorage in Nigeria so these attacks can be more violent and direct when they ransack the ship," Mr Osborne said. "It is an alarming trend and the increasing amount of attacks has concerned shipping companies who operate in the area."

rtalwar@thenational.ae