In an operation that was confirmed as the first direct confrontation between the men of the Nigerian Navy and pirates operating along the nation’s waterways in recent time, 12 pirates were feared killed by a naval team, during a rescue operation on a hijacked oil vessel in Forcados in Delta State.
It was gathered that pirates had hijacked the vessel, identified as MT NOTRE, which was carrying 17,000 metric tonnes of Kerosene and was heading for Nigeria in the Atlantic Ocean last Thursday.
However, a distress call to the naval authorities forced the deployment of a naval contingent in gunboats, to storm the ship, where the 12 pirates were arrested, after a gun battle.
Following the distress call, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral IE Ibas, was said to have dispatched the Nigerian Navy Ships NNS ANDONI and NNS IKOT ABASI to pursue the bandits, who had diverted the ship towards the Niger Delta coast.
Also on red alert, the Central Naval Command deployed six gun boats from its NNS Delta in Warri and the Navy Operation Base in Egweama, Brass, known as FORMOSO to intercept the ship before it entered any of the creeks and rivers in the Niger Delta.
Confirming the incident to journalists yesterday, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Central Naval Command, Rear Admiral Sidi-Ali Hassan, disclosed that eight naval war vessels were deployed to carry out the operation.
“Eight Nigerian Navy vessels were used in pursuit of the hijacked MT Norte with 16 suspected pirates on board. The ships eventually shadowed the hijacked vessel and forced it back into Nigerian waters.
“An agreed drop point was reached but the suspected pirates refused to disembark as earlier agreed. They obviously were playing for time and darkness to set in. They finally agreed to disembark from MT Norte at 2045hrs (8p.m) on August 17, on condition that only one NN vessel would remain in the vicinity of the MT Norte.
“A totalof 16 pirates disembarked from the MT Norte, instead of 20 who were earlier claimed to be on board. The captain also confirmed that no other person was left on board and no crew member from MT Norte was taken hostage. After disembarking from the ship, the hijackers made a fast move towards the coastline. Accordingly, NNS Badagry immediately engaged the boat in hot pursuit. Efforts to get the hijackers to stop and surrender proved abortive as they engaged the NNS Badagry in a gun battle.
“The gun battle lasted for about 30 minutes, after which they were overpowered by the Navy gunboat. On taking over the speed boat, four of the militants were alive and unhurt, while the rest of the pirates were killed in the cross fire. The four survivors, their belongings and three AK 47 rifles, were recovered and brought on board NNS Badagry base,” he said.
On the possible recovery of the bodies of the suspected pirates, Usman said the survivors, who were currently detained at the NNS Delta had made useful confessions, which were helping the navy in its investigation.
He said the bodies of the pirates killed could not be recovered as their boat sank because of the damage done to it.
Usman, however, commended the coordinated nature of the response by the various participating units, applauding the outstanding performance of the Maritime Patrol Aircraft from the Nigerian Air Force, which gave impetus to efforts to keep the hijacked vessel under constant watch
Information from This Day was used in this report.