09 February 2014, Sweetcrude, Lagos – After about two weeks of her disappearance and subsequent accusations and denials between her owners and the Angolan government, the Nigerian Navy last weekend confirmed that it has intercepted a Greek-owned merchant tanker, MT KERALA, purportedly hijacked off the coast of Luanda in Angola.
This interception was confirmed in a statement issued on Friday in Abuja and signed by Director of Naval Information; Commodore Kabir Aliyu.
The statement added that the arrest was achieved, using the Nigerian Navy’s remote surveillance system and search patrols by her ships.
It further stated that MT KERALA was currently under Ghanaian custody in the Port of Tema and Interpol operatives were investigating the circumstances of the hijack of the ship.
Sharp disagreement had peaked last week over the actual fate that befell the Liberian-flagged tanker MT Kerala which was reportedly hijacked by pirates suspected to be Nigerians on January 18, 2014.
The Greek owners of the oil tanker that vanished off the Angolan coast had claimed; that pirates hijacked the vessel and stole a large quantity of cargo on board, contradicting the Angolan navy’s denial that such an assault took place.
The company said in a statement that the cargo was taken off the vessel via a ship-to-ship transfer, adding that, the pirates have now disembarked.
But the Angolan navy had alleged that the crew turned-off the ship’s communications to fake a pirate attack.
But giving an insight into how it got involved in the search, the Nigerian Navy said in the statement that on January 23, it received a report from the International Maritime Bureau, IMB, that MT KERALA had been hijacked off Luanda in Angola.
“Subsequent report from IMB on January 25 located her about 50nm South West of Pennington Oil Terminal in Nigeria.
“In a swift response, three patrol vessels were deployed to search for MT KERALA.
“Two other vessels, MT ITRI and a tug boat GARE were reportedly in the vicinity of MT KERALA conducting ship-to-ship transfer of products with KERALA in gross violation of existing regulations in Nigeria.”
It stated that MT ITRI was tracked to the Lagos Area and was arrested by a team of Nigerian Navy and NIMASA personnel.
The Navy said that the reported conduct of illegal ship-to ship transfer, if proven, constituted a violation of existing regulations in Nigeria.
It further stated that the uncooperative attitude of the ship’s crew and owners after the pirates released the ship as claimed,left much to be desired.
The navy said it was awaiting the outcome of the investigation by Interpol, Nigeria’s High Commission in Ghana, Angola and Ghana Navies.
“It is believed that the ship’s crew would be in a better position to provide useful information on possible collaborators in the purported hijack,” the statement added.