Monday, August 6, 2012

Pirate Groups Attack Another Merchant Vessel off Nigeria

When Does Freedom Fighting Become Extortion and Murder?
Shipping News Feature

NIGERIA –It has been confirmed there has been another attack on merchant shipping in the Niger Delta, this time a vessel or vessels belonging to the Dutch-based, offshore oil and gas company, Sea Trucks Group (STG). The accommodation barge, Jascon 33, was attacked outside the mouth of the Bonny River which flows down from the refineries at Port Harcourt. Twenty seven people were reportedly on the barge, of which seven were expatriate workers. STG confirmed that four nationals from Indonesia, Iran, Thailand and Malaysia on its staff had been kidnapped and that two security guards were wounded in the attack whilst two Nigerian sailors were killed.

At this time no responsibility has been claimed for the assault which occurred on Saturday, but many previous attacks have been the actions of Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) which has claimed continually that Government figures have been bribed to sell off the rights to Nigeria’s energy resources cheaply to overseas companies. Speaking of the recent attack Colonel Kabir Aliyu a Nigerian Navy spokesman commented:

“We have not made any arrest yet. We are still trying to ascertain the true identities of the attackers and their motive. We are still searching. We have deployed a boat and a helicopter to the area where the attack took place. We have not established any contact with the attackers or the foreigners abducted.”

Colonel Aliyu also stated that they have intensified the search for the kidnappers and another naval officer confirmed the search has continued in the creeks and waterways in the region. A spokeswoman for STG, Corrie van Kessel, released a statement saying the company are focussed on getting the crew back safely and making every effort to find out the current location of the kidnappers. She added that the injured security personnel are now in Port Harcourt Hospital for treatment.

STG, originally a Nigerian registered operation, are heavily involved in the oil and gas sector in the Delta but the company declined any further comment on the specific activities of the Jascon 33. There is further confusion as STG claimed that two ships had been attacked whilst the Nigerian navy insist that only one vessel was involved.

The latest figures available from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) which monitors pirate attacks worldwide show a 25% rise in such attacks locally against 2011 whilst Somali based incidents have sharply declined. We have warned of the dangers of increasing incidents in the waters off Nigeria’s coasts on several previous occasions over the past three years and urged precautions whilst MEND personnel say they remain determined to fight for reparation after seeing the obliteration of the regions fishing and farming industry due to pollution by the oil companies.

The ten attacks on bulk freight, container and energy vessels which occurred in the first three months of 2012 equalled the total for the whole of the previous year and it may well be that the tenuous line between aggrieved local freedom fighters battling against the perceived theft of their resources and out and out pirates determined to simply earn their fortunes through kidnap, murder and extortion, is blurring progressively as the seasons pass.

Photo: Jascon 33 under tow