…Nigerian Navy Denies Involvement
BEVERLY HILLS, July 28, (THEWILL) – Indications have emerged that the Ondo State Command of the Nigerian Navy was allegedly hoodwinked by sea pirates to release 11 naval personnel in March to purportedly escort MV-GARE allegedly arrested in a messy piracy scandal in Escravos, Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State.
The revelation, THEWILL gathered, is contrary to claims that the Naval personnel were allegedly involved in the alleged piracy incident which happened in January on an international ship, MT KERALA , allegedly hijacked by sea pirates in Angola.
Investigations by our correspondent revealed that MV-GARE had allegedly ‘committed the crime’ in January when it apparently applied for the Naval personnel in March to ferry the tug-boat back to Warri before it was arrested by men of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Delta in Escravos following intelligence report.
The Commanding Officer, NNS Delta, Captain Musa Gemu, who dismissed allegations that naval personnel from the Warri naval-base were allegedly fingered in the MV-GARE scandal, told our correspondent that the navy personnel onboard the vessel when it was arrested in Escrovos by his men were only ‘deceived’ in Ondo State where the tug-boat was operating after the January incident.
He said his men were deceived into escorting the vessel back to Warri under the pretext of avoiding pirates attack unknowing to them (Naval personnel) that the vessel was already allegedly involved in a sea piracy incident in January.
THEWILL learnt that the clarification followed the controversy which trailed the detention and subsequent transfer of the crew members of the vessel, including the ship engineer and captain who were arrested in Escravos, to the Interpol.
A human right lawyer, Oghenejabor Ikimi, had few months ago, after taking brief from the father of the engineer/captain of the vessel, petitioned the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin, over the continuous detention of the suspects without transfer to the police.
He alleged that the vessel which was arrested on the suspicion that it was involved in sea piracy, reportedly had armed Naval personnel from the Nigerian Navy, NNS Delta, Warri on board when the incident in which it was arrested happened.
But reacting to the allegations that naval personnel were purportedly involved in the voyage which led to the arrest of the vessel, the naval boss said the naval personnel were not onboard the ship when the vessel sailed near Angola in January where it was allegedly involved in the some scandalous piracy activities.
According to him, the naval personnel only came into the picture in March when the vessel was intercepted and had allegedly committed the ‘crime’ three months ago.
Captain Gemu said the vessel had reportedly sailed to Igbokoda, Ondo State instead of returning to Warri in January and continued its operations from there after its crew members claimed they were seriously attacked by sea pirate, a claim which fueled suspicion on why the crew members had to wait for three month to report such incident.
He said that the vessel had continued its operation in Ondo State and had requested for naval personnel in March to embark on another trip unknowing to the naval authority in Ondo that the vessel was already involved in a piracy incident in January.
The naval chief said it took his Command high-tech intelligence gathering technique to discover that the same vessel, MV GARE, which was then in operation in Igbokoda, Ondo State in March was the same vessel that was sighted three months ago conducting a ship-to-ship product transfer near a ‘missing’ vessel MT KERALA which was hijacked off the coast of Luanda in the Gulf of Guinea by sea pirates, thus fueling the suspicion of its complicity in the sea piracy.
Sources alleged that MV-GARE which was allegedly on a mission to deliver products to clients on the high sea was attacked repeatedly by suspected sea pirates in January and March, as claimed by the crew members but their claims have further fueled more suspicion that an insider may be feeding the attackers with information about the location of the vessel while on the high sea.
It was not however clear if the said ‘attack’ by sea pirates was just a ploy to hoodwink the public and the naval authorities that the vessel came under attack when in actual sense it was a decor to siphon crude from the ‘missing’ ship MT KERALA which, according to security sources, was laden with about 75, 000, 000 metric tonnes of fuel but was left with only 12, 000,000 metrics tonnes by the time it was recovered by the authorities.
Security sources had alleged that products worth over $10million were reportedly carted away from the ship after it was attacked by sea pirates.
Reliable sources said that after MT KERALA which is a gigantic tankers laden about 75,000,000 metric tonnes, was hijacked by sea pirates, smaller ships came and started siphoning from it for close to three days. On one of the days, according to our source, MV-GARE was also sighted conducting a ship-to-ship transfer around the ‘missing’ ship.
Investigation revealed that there could be high profile international conspiracy for the ship to be waylaid and hijacked by gunmen who reportedly laid ambush awaiting its arrival at the point it was attacked off the Nigerian coast.
It is still a mystery how the sea pirates were able to spot the location the vessel had anchored and attacked it consecutively and overpower the Naval personnel whom they claimed were onboard the vessel in January on escort duty without fierce resistance but a security source who craved anonymity said it was not possible for the Nigerian Navy to sail into Angola’s territorial waters ,saying the naval men were not on the tug-boat during the January incident when the vessel came under serious piracy attack.
Authoritative source said that Interpol are already investigating the incident to unravel many unanswered posers, including who-and-who were involved in the sea piracy incident, how and why the vessel was attacked, as well as how the crew members of MV GARE were about to know where they were being taken to while being locked up in the kitchen cabin.
A reliable source said the captain/engineer of the vessel had claimed that during the attack, he reportedly sent a text message from the cabin of the ship where they were locked up to his employer, Chief Bernard Edewor, owner of the maritime firm, Bentech Nigeria Limited, who owned the vessel and to his wife, saying they were under attack by pirates and were being taken to Angola.
But this claim has punctured more holes in the story on how he was able to know that the vessel was being taken to Angola if he had no script of the incident before hand.
One of the earlier arrested suspects, who confided on our correspondent on condition of anonymity said, they arrived at the location at about 11:45 00hrs but find no rigs in the location but was directed to standby and call another vessel, MV GRACE, but it didn’t respond.
After a while, MV-GARE called the vessel and said they were coming to pick the goods about 11:55 00 hrs but suddenly two speedboats carrying armed men came and rounded up the vessel, pushing the crew members into the kitchen cabin and lock it up after collecting their mobile phone.
But luckily , the captain/engineer had his own phone in an inner knoicker from where he sent a text message to his boss and wife on January 16 while they were on the voyage.
The source said that the attackers after a long sail left the vessel about 200miles away from Angola after disposing them of all the valuables in the ship but couldn’t tell what further happened during the voyage since they were locked up.
A reliable source close to the Navy in Warri revealed that the day MV GARE was arrested in Escravos was different from the day of the ‘crime’ stressing that the day the vessel was involved in the alleged ‘crime’, the ship and crew members were on their own without any naval personnel.
“Please get this straight; the day of the arrest was different from the day of the crime. The crime happened in January and the vessel was arrested in March, three months after. The vessel and its crew members, unknowing to them that the incident in Angola was already in the news, went to Igbokoda in Ondo State and presented themselves innocently as if nothing happened and they applied for naval personnel over there to continue their operations back to Warri under the guise that they are trying to wage off attack by sea pirates but unfortunately for them, personnel of the Naval-base in Warri were already aware of the January incident and were searching from the vessel; so they arrested them in Escravos with some naval personnel from Ondo State aboard the vessel.
“The naval personnel were not part of the voyage in January in which the ship was arrested. The crew members had only hoodwinked the naval authority in Ondo State to give them personnel to take them back to Warri unknowing to them that Warri-naval base was already aware of the January incident and were on the look out for them,” the source said.
Human rights lawyer, Ikimi , had petitioned the Chief of Navy Staff, Jibrin, alleging that the vessel which was arrested on suspicion that it was involved in sea piracy, reportedly had armed Naval personnel from the Nigerian Navy, NNS Delta, Warri on board it when the incident in which it was arrested happened.
Ikimi, who is the executive Director of Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged, alleged that the crew members of the vessel had remained in detention since April 1 when the vessel was arrested for complicity in the loss of goods in a ship.
The petition is demanding the immediate release of one Ovakpor, an engineer in the vessel who was reportedly arrested alongside others.
The petition alleged that Ovakpor, the captain of the vessel, was arrested on their return to Warri after they were attacked on the high sea and have remained in the custody of the Nigerian Navy, NNS Delta in Warri.
According to the petition which was obtained by our correspondent, the said Ovakpor and others were arrested on ground of allegation by their employer that the crew was engaged in sea piracy, an allegation which they had vehemently denied.
“It is curious how a vessel which always has eleven armed naval personnel onboard it as escort each time it is going on a journey of that nature could be involve in sea piracy. In the two cases when the ship was attacked, armed naval personnel from the Nigerian Navy, NNS Delta, Warri were on board”.
“Each time the vessel and the crew embarked on such journeys as in the instant case, Bentech Nigeria Limited often applied for eleven armed Naval personnel as escorts to accompany the crew on board, and such was granted by the Naval authorities. In the two instant cases, armed naval personnel from the Nigerian Navy, NNS Delta, Warri were on board the vessel as escorts when it was attacked by sea pirates.
“Upon the return of the vessel and her crew to Warri, the Captain of the vessel and her engineer, including Osagada, were arrested by the same Naval Personnel on the 1st day of April, 2014 and till date, the trio have remained in the custody of the Nigerian Navy, NNS Delta, Warri on the pretext that the crew were engaged in sea piracy; an allegation the crew members have vehemently denied.
‘’We hereby demand the unconditional release of Mr. Ovakpor Osagada or in the alternative hand him and the remaining crew members to the police for proper investigation and possible trial if found culpable. The continual detention of Mr. Ovakpor Osagada and his fellow crew members by the Navy is a violation of their fundamental rights to liberty, hence this petition to your office.
“We shall not hesitate to enforce same and claim damages at large against the naval authorities in the event that the above demand of our client is not heeded, as we shall not hesitate to enforce same and claim damages at large against the Naval authorities in the event that the above demand of our client is not heeded, “the petition added.
Meanwhile, whilst the three suspected crew members of MV-GARE who were said to be involved in the voyage to deliver food items on the high sea have been formally handed over to the Interpol by the Commanding Officer, NNS Delta, Captain Musa Gemu, the whereabouts of the person who hired the tug-boat, and reportedly gave the food items to be delivered on the high sea, remain unknown as sources said that he had gone underground since the incident.