As reported on this page yesterday Nigerian authorities have reported the arrest of six suspected pirates and recovered the product tanker MAXIMUS in a firefight that killed an alleged pirate. Ten Indian crewmembers of the Maximus were rescued by Nigerian forces. The operation now turns out to be an international effort supported by the USNS Spearhead and involving a cooperation between France, United States, Ghana, Togo, Sao Tome and Principe, and carried out by the Nigerian Navy. The US began training with African nations in the Gulf of Guinea in 2009.
The Guardian reports:
“It was supposed to be a US-led naval training manoeuvre 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 20 February 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, the commodore in charge of US operations in Africa and Europe told the Associated Press. Capt 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, she said in a telephone interview on Friday from her base in Italy. First word came from the French embassy, which sent information to Agle’s USNS SPEARHEAD via Ghanaian officials and US 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 11 February. The SPEARHEAD tracked down the hijacked Maximus, identified it and then monitored its progress for two days as it sailed from Ivorian waters into Ghanaian territory. 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 São Tomé and Principe, officials there contacted the Nigerian government for help. The tanker had sailed nearly 800 miles (1,280km) before the Nigerians made the assault. “Never has a west African navy carried out an opposed boarding before,” he said. Agle called it “a coordinated effort and the biggest piece in progress in the region” since the US began training with African nations in the Gulf of Guinea in 2009.The rescue was directed by Rear Admiral Henry Babalola of Nigeria, who told the AP that it was made possible by a maritime agreement allowing Nigeria to patrol São Tomé’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 go it alone. ”Six pirates were captured and 18 crew members freed. Several pirates escaped with two crew members who remain hostages, Steffen said. Babalola stressed the economic impact of piracy, pushing up the price of maritime insurance with costs ultimately passed on to consumers. One-fifth of all maritime crime in the world is committed in the Gulf of Guinea, but that is only the tip of the iceberg since an estimated two-thirds of piracy acts there are never reported, according to Ocean Beyond Piracy, a private, Colorado-based organization. The Gulf of Guinea is primed for economic growth, a major route for oil supplies shipped around the world with a mild climate that is ideal for commerce, docking and fishing.”
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN.