Close on the heels of the kidnap of four foreigners working at a construction site onshore- believed to be South Koreans working for Hyundai construction- heavily armed pirates have ransacked a tanker in the Niger Delta and kidnapped five Indians from amongst its crew. Media reports say that Medallion Marine of Mumbai has confirmed that the 7,654 DWT product tanker SP Brussels was attacked on 17 December about 40 miles off the Niger Delta. The ship was ransacked before the crew were taken ashore. Medallion is a ship management company that sourced the crew aboard the ill-fated tanker.
The SP Brussels is reported to be safe in Lagos with the remaining crew. “Everything possible is being done to ensure the safe return of those crew members taken from the vessel,” Medallion said in a statement. “Nigerian naval vessels are assisting with this process.”
In the absence of pirate ‘safe havens’ where hijacked vessels can be taken, pirates in the region usually loot the ships they board and steal its cargo. There are also reports of rising violence against crew, an increasing number of whom are being taken as hostages to be released after a ransom is paid. A week earlier in the same area, a fire-fight between gunmen and armed private security guards on the offshore support vessel PM Salem ended with one security guard dead, killed by pirate machine gun fire, and another two wounded. Security experts say that the same pirate group could be behind this spate of recent attacks.
Nigerian officials have declined to comment on the incident so far, but it is an open secret that foreign companies operating in Nigeria's troubled oil rich Niger Delta- an area the size of Portugal- often pay ransom to free kidnapped employees. The taking of foreigners for ransom, a crime hitherto confined mainly to land, has expanded in recent times to include maritime kidnapping. About two months ago, seven seafarers- six Russians and an Estonian- were kidnapped from aboard a ship belonging to a French company; they were later released presumably after a ransom had been paid.
Maritime security experts AKE say that the risks of maritime kidnapping are now high off the Niger Delta. The West African country ranks in the top ten countries that export crude oil. It also imports more than three quarters of its fuel requirements, thanks to the fact that it has a woefully inadequate refining capacity at home. It also has, in the Niger Delta, appalling poverty that, combined with powerful and shadowy figures in Nigeria, fuels this kind of crime.