Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
A combined naval operation under the auspices of ECOWAS Maritime Zone E, involving Nigerian and Benin Republic Navies, stormed a vessel attacked by unknown gunmen in Cotonou waters and rescued 11 crew members on board a Portuguese-flagged container.
The vessel, MV Tommi Ritscher, which was anchored in Benin territorial waters, was attacked by some gunmen at Zone 3 Anchorage in Cotonou waters on April 18.
A statement signed by the Coordinator of the Directorate of the Defence Media Operations, Major General John Enenche, said at the time of the attack, there were 19-crew members, comprising Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Filipinos.
Following the pirate attack, the Nigerian Navy received a request for assistance from the Benin Navy under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of ECOWAS Zone E.
“Consequently, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) OSE embarked 10 NN SBS operatives and proceeded to the objective area. NNS OSE and the SBS boarding team arrived the objective area on 19 April 20 to join two other vessels (P110 QUEME and ZOU) from the Benin Navy already in the area.
“The NNS OSE and the other two Benin Navy patrol boats adopted a patrol plan around the MV Tommi Ritscher throughout the night of 19 April 20 to ensure that the pirates, if still onboard would not have any room to escape”, it said.
The statement said the boarding operations commenced at about 1730 hours on April 20 with the NN SBS elements in the lead.
“After the successful boarding of the ship, which eventually was to be unopposed, eleven crew members were rescued from different parts of the ship.
“However, eight crew members of the ship and the pirates could not be located onboard the ship. The SBS remained onboard to ensure security of the vessel and the crew.
The vessel later sailed to Cotonou Port for a more comprehensive search of the ship on Tuesday.
“The rescue team was received by the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Captain Albert Ezin Badou, of the Benin Navy as well as the Defence Attache and Deputy Defence Attache of the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou.
“The CNS of Benin addressed the ship’s company of NNS OSE and the NN SBS team and gave them a letter of commendation for a job well done,” it added.
In 2013, Gulf of Guinea heads of state and government had met in Yaounde, Cameroon, to adopt the Yaoundé Declaration on the Gulf of Guinea Security.
Two key resolutions contained in the declaration are on the creation of an inter-regional Coordination Centre on Maritime Safety and Security for Central and West Africa, to be headquartered in Yaoundé, and the implementation of a new code of conduct concerning the Prevention and Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships and Illegal Maritime Activities in West and Central Africa.
The declaration also paved the way for the creation and organisation of Gulf of Guinea Navies into maritime zones.
Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo and Gendarmerie of the Republic of Niger formed the ECOWAS Maritime Zone E under the Yaoundé Declaration.