With no Prosecutions of Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, Business is Booming
Several countries in the Gulf of Guinea lack the legal framework and will to prosecute pirates. Transparency relating to pirates arrested and prosecution of pirates is also lacking and information is not readily available.
Open Source Piracy Networks: Gulf of Guinea 2011-2017
Currently there is no domestic piracy legislation in Nigeria and no piracy prosecutions were instituted in Nigeria in recent years. Very few pirates are identified and information when available is riddled with fake names, aliases and half-truths. It is also not clear what happens to pirates once arrested. Penalties under existing laws do not deter pirates. Arrested pirates are often implicated in more piracy related crimes after their arrest.
Arrests presented in the press are mostly related to low level robbers operating in the creeks, robbing small passenger boats than major piracy incidents. In cases where pirates responsible for hijacking small coastal tankers in territorial waters are arrested, the piracy incidents are often not reflected in IMO or ICC data. Preservation of evidence and time limits on detention periods are a challenge, often leading to the release of pirates. Two cases were reported where stolen product allegedly disappeared while investigations were ongoing.
According to the Nigerian criminal code Act, piracy is currently treated as armed robbery. The Nigerian Maritime and Safety Administration Agency (NIMASA) “Bill for an Act to make provision for the suppression of piracy and to provide for punishment for the offence of piracy” passed it second reading in the Nigerian Senate on 5 April 2017. A public hearing and a possible third reading will follow before the senate will pass the bill.
Since 2011 pirates have only been arrested in eleven cases related to the hijacking of commercial vessels in the Gulf of Guinea. If arrests were made in cases where crew were kidnapped from vessels, it was never mentioned.
On 8 October 2011 the Product Tanker Cape Bird was hijacked 90nm South of Lagos, Nigeria. The vessel was released on 14 October 2011 after 8 tonnes of automated gas oil (AGO) were transferred to two barges. According to the Deputy Director Public Relations, Marilyn Ogar, the group responsible for the hijacking was the same group that was responsible for the hijacking of the Rosa Tomasos on 3 September 2011.
According to Nigerian authorities the Rosa Tomasos was hijacked on two occasions - on 3 November 2011 and again in early September 2012. None of these incidents appeared in IMB or IMO Records.
In the first incident on 3 November 2011 the tanker, Rosa Tomasos was hijacked en route from the Niger Delta to Lagos, Nigeria. The vessel was recovered with its cargo intact. Five suspects were arrested by the State Security Service in Lagos. It included a retired naval officer Lieutenant Commander Lawrence Adesanya. Two suspects, Abenego Abaka aka Captain Abedi and a lawyer, Felix aka FNU escaped arrest.
The second hijacking took place in September 2012. The pirate leader Aseluwa Oluwariokami aka Wazobia and 13 others were arrested in connection with this incident late in September 2012. Wazobia was also involved in the hijacking on the Energy Centurion and the Anuket Emerald in August 2012. He named senior government officials, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) members, oil marketers and three paramount rulers as piracy sponsors. He claimed that the group has hijacked almost 20 tankers in the preceding 10 months, which seems unlikely. Although it is clear that hijackings often go unreported in Nigeria, ten hijackings in total were reported for the whole of 2012, which would mean that his group was the only active group over this time.
On 18 August 2012, 16 robbers armed with machine guns, hijacked the product tanker Anuket Emerald from the Lome anchorage, Togo. The attack was carried out with the vessel, MV Ejenavi, a safety vessel converted from an old fishing vessel. The Ejenavi is owned by Great Eagle Maritime, Lagos, Nigeria, with Capt. Nicholas Okotie as Managing Director. The pirates damaged the tanker’s communication equipment, speed boats, rescue boat, engines and its loading computer. The funnel was repainted, and the name was changed to read Rald. The IMO number was also removed. The second officer noticed that the ship-to-ship transfer vessel had a distinctive orange hull with a round funnel. 3 000 metric tonnes of AGO were transferred to the vessel.
The Anuket Emerald was released on 23 August 2012. With the help of AIS, the intelligence firm, Gray Page worked with the owners to identify a likely pirate vessel. A suspect vessel, MT Grace was found discharging oil at a jetty at an oil storage facility at Apapa, Lagos. The tank farm belongs to Integrated Oil and Gas Ltd managed by the former Minister of the Interior, Emmanuel Iheanacho. The documents submitted to the harbourmaster indicated that the cargo was loaded from a vessel named Rald. Nigerian authorities seized the cargo.
The chartered vessel, MT Grace was operated by Akoto Ventures Nigeria. The company is owned by Prince Akoto. The vessel was chartered by Moses Olugbenga Fubunmi aka Gbenga Olagoke of PVR Ventures. According to Olagoke he bought the stolen AGO allegedly from a woman Chinwe Agaga, MD of AEGIS Energy Limited. No record could be found to substantiate this claim.
Five days after the release of the Anuket Emerald the Wazobia Group hijacked the Energy Centurion.
On 28 August 2012 the Product Tanker, Energy Centurion was hijacked at the Lome Anchorage, Togo. The Togo Navy was unable to intercept the Energy Centurion before it left Togolese territorial waters.
Security cameras on board the Energy Centurion as well as telephone calls made while the vessel was under pirate control led to the identification of Blessing Nube. He was arrested in a hotel in Lagos along with other pirates while planning another hijacking.
One of the arrested, Sola Sama was an oil marketer before he became a pirate. He worked with the security authorities and made a telephone call to a pirate identified as Capt Mike. This led to the arrest of Capt Mike. Capt Mike’s confession led to the arrest of a further two pirates. Capt Mike was also involved in the hijacking of the Anuket Emerald and the MT Mariam. It is not clear if Capt Mike is Mike Ogboroma involved in the Maximus hijacking. Sola Sama’s confession led to the arrest of Adeolu which claimed to be forced into the gang after he did engine repairs for the gang.
Investigations indicated that the coastal town of Igbokoda in Oda State was a key point for pirate operations and that a training camp for pirates was located there. At the end of October 2012 the Special Task Force set up by NIMASA launched an attack on the base and a firefight ensued. Wazobia was identified as the leader of the group. As a pirate with the name Wazobia was identified in the hijacking of the Rosa Tomasos the assumption is made that his real name is Aseluwa Oluwariokami. Thirteen other members of the syndicate were arrested and a cache of 16 automatic weapons and ammunition was confiscated. The gang members comprised of Nigerian, Ghanaian and Togolese nationals. Some members managed to escape.
Blessing Nube also implicated members of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, NNPC members, oil marketers and traditional leaders in the hijackings. According to him these members are sponsors and recipients of the stolen product and provided pirates with basic operational intelligence.
Both Blessing and Wazobia identified three oil facilities receiving stolen oil. This included the facility of Integrated Oil and Gas Limited, Ibafo, Apapa, Lagos. The fuel stolen from Anuket Emerald was traced to Tank 7 of their tank farm. The rest of the tank farm was reopened end of September 2012 while tank 7 was sealed while investigations were ongoing. By March 2013, 2 500 tons of the stolen product allegedly disappeared from tank 7 at the tank farm.
The Tanker, MV Cotton was hijacked on 16 July 2013 from Port Gentil, Gabon by 12 to 15 gunmen. The pirates sailed the Cotton to Nigeria where the 3 500 tons of fuel were transferred to the MT Mustard. The ship was released by the pirates on 22 July 2013.
The MT Mustard berthed at Tema after entering Ghana’s waters after which she left for Saltpond Offshore Terminal, Takoradi, Ghana. On 1 August 2013 the Ghanaian Navy intercepted MT Mustard as she was leaving Saltpond.
Captain Olabisi Olaniawo plus 13 crew members were taken into custody by Ghanaian security personnel.
On the surface the transaction looked legit. According to the owners of the MT Mustard, Omaroil Agency Limited, they were contracted by a Ghanaian company, Kare and Kare Limited, to provide a vessel to transport 3 000MT of High Pour Fuel Oil (HPFO) from Tema offshore to discharge at Tema Port. The agreement between the two companies was signed by Alhaji omar Suleiman, MD of Omaroil and Richard King Atipko, from Kare and Kare. On 19 July 2013 the MT Mustard sailed from Tema Anchorage and proceeded to a point 60nm offshore Tema for a ship to ship transfer with a motor tanker AKA1. According to Capt Olaniawo Olabisi he requested that the surveyor of MT Mustard board the AKA1 for inspection, but it was refused. The representative on MT Mustard ordered him to go ahead with the operation. He also indicated that his crew saw the name of the MV Cotton on a liferaft. He allegedly reported the incident to Ghanaian authorities a day later.
As ownership of the oil was in dispute, the MT Mustard laid off Ghana while the investigation was finalized. According to Omaroil the crew were forced to load stolen cargo. In September 2013 the court ruled in favour of Omaroil to have the oil removed in order for Omaroil to regain use of their tanker. The court instructed that the stolen oil should be offloaded from the tanker. The oil was evacuated into the underground tanker of Glasbrown Ltd. Unconfirmed sources indicated that the oil was gradually siphoned from these tanks.
In October 2016 an article appeared in the Nigerian Voice by Augustine Avornyo, the 4th engineer onboard the MT Mustard in 2013. He claimed that the MT Mustard was the victim of a hijacking incident prior to the MT Cotton hijacking on 19 February 2013 while in transit through Bayelsa, Nigeria. A speedboat with six armed pirates boarded and hijacked the vessel. Onboard the pirate speed boat were two European hostages kidnapped in a prior incident. The Greek captain Omiros Kazaniatoras went in hiding and the crew were assaulted to force them to reveal his location. On approach of a Nigerian Naval Vessel the pirates robbed the crew and kidnapped the captain.
The incident was allegedly logged into the MT Mustard’s logbook after which they sailed to Tema port, Ghana. On arrival they learned that the pirates’ speed boat capsized in a storm and that one of the European hostages was the only survivor. The crew was under strict order not to speak to the media or report the incident to authorities. After a meeting with Alhaji Suleman from Omaroil the crew was promised compensation. The crew disembarked on 12 April 2013 and reported the incident to iMarine LTD, the representatives of Omaroil in Tema. The crew only received wages for March. This incident was not recorded in IMO or IMB statistics.
The last AIS for MT Mustard was received on 14 March 2014 off Tema. In August 2014 Omaroil announced their “New Pride”, MT Redemption, which seems to have a striking resemblance to the MT Mustard. No IMO number or AIS data could be found for this ship. In early 2015 the Nigerian Navy arrested the crew of the MT Redemption in Brass, Nigeria for possession of 1 000 metric tons of stolen crude. The captain claimed that it was bitumen in the tanks, but laboratory tests at Nigeria Agip Oil Company laboratory confirmed that it was crude oil. They could also not provide relevant documents.
MT Redemption vs MT Mustard
The MV Crow, a barge carrying 200 metric tonnes of AGO, was hijacked on the Escravos River on 14 August 2013. According to the Nigerian Navy the pirates responsible, were also responsible for the hijacking of the MT Norte.
On 15 August 2013 the MT Norte, carrying 17,000 metric tonnes of gasoline was hijacked at an undisclosed location in the Gulf of Guinea. The Notre sent an emergency signal. The Nigerian Navy intercepted the vessel on 17 August. The pirates escaped in a speed boat with the Navy in pursuit. During a gun battle 12 pirates were killed and four arrested.
On 17 January 2015 the Product Tanker, MT Mariam was hijacked 63nm SW off Bayelsa, Nigeria in international waters. The vessel was en route to Togo. The Ghana Navy intercepted the vessel in Ghanaian waters and arrested eight Nigerian pirates. The leader of the group and two others, Marcus Olaide Oladapo and Abaiyi managed to get away. Two Ghanaians, George Opata Okrah, a freight forwarder, and Joel Yaw Attah, a shipping agent were also arrested in connection with the incident. They were later acquitted by the Adjabeng District Magistrate's Court. Atta was to receive $75,000 for the use of the M.T. Invictus the transfer vessel. The Adjabeng District Magistrate's Court in Ghana deported the eight Nigerians to Nigeria on 7 January 2016 to stand trial in Nigeria.
On 11 April 2015 the tanker MT Imas, was boarded by ten men off Lagos, Nigeria. The Nigerian Navy responded to the vessel’s distress call. One suspect was arrested by the Navy. The suspect identified as Shola Shama is most likely Sola Sama aka Michael Babalola or Père John involved in the Energy Centurion and Anuket Emerald hijackings.
On 11 February 2016 MT Maximus was hijacked off Abidjan, Ivory Coast. After ten days the vessel was finally intercepted by the Nigerian Navy in Sao Tome. The Nigerian Navy arrested six pirates. It is not clear if they were ever prosecuted. Satellite phone communications as well as the pirate vessel Dejikun let back to Charles Ekpemefumor aka Charles Parker or Captain Charles Agaba. He was declared wanted, but no conformation for his arrest could be found. The owner of the Dejikun,Mustapha Gani, was arrested on the Seme border in June 2016.
With no reported prosecutions, pirates in the Gulf of Aden operate with impunity….and business is booming.
With no Prosecutions of Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, Business is Booming
Independent Global Incident Analysis