*Three convicted over hijack of Equatorial Guinea-flagged vessel
Lagos — The Federal High Court in Port Harcourt has convicted three persons accused of involvement in the hijack of an Equatorial Guinean-flagged vessel, MV Elobey VI, off Equatorial Guinea’s coast on March 21.
It is the first convictions under Nigeria’s new anti-piracy law, known as the Anti-piracy Act 2019.
Delivering judgement, Justice Mohammed Sani, summarily convicted Binaebi Johnson, Daniel Lemmar and Ghane Gordon on Counts 1 and 2. He ordered the convicts to pay a fine of N20 million each.
The Nigerian Navy had arrested nine persons, namely, Binaebi Johnson, Daniel Lemmar, Ghane Gordon, Hassan Hakeem, Gregory Smith, Ofem Uket, John Mark, Chidi Amadi and Eze Amadi, who were suspected to be members of a kidnapping syndicate.
They were said to have demanded a $2 million ransom for the crew of the hijacked vessel, out of which $200,000 was eventually paid.
During the proceedings in the court on August 10, Binaebi Johnson, Daniel Lemmar and Ghane Gordon pleaded guilty to counts 1 and 2 and not guilty to counts 3 – 5 while the remaining 6 accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
The trial of the other six, who pleaded not guilty to all the charges, continues.
Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, described the conviction as a signal that Nigeria is in the right path in the war against piracy and other crimes on the nation’s waterways.
Jamoh said NIMASA, as an interested party, will continue to work closely with other agencies of government, the international community, and other stakeholders to achieve improved security in the Gulf of Guinea.
The Director-General stated: “This will serve as a deterrent to other criminal elements who are still engaged in the nefarious activities on our waterways. On our part as an agency, we will not relent on our efforts to ensure a safe and secure maritime domain in line with our mandate.
“The Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Crimes (SPOMO) Act 2019 has come to stay and it is victory for Nigeria as a whole as we are determined more than ever before to take our rightful place in the comity of maritime nations.”
The prosecution counsel, Labaran Magaji, who spoke to newsmen outside the court, said the judgement was a landmark victory for the anti-piracy law. “They were charged under Section 16 (4) of the anti-piracy law and once the charge was read to them, they pleaded guilty and the prosecution actually applied to the court to summarily convict them to pay a fine of N20 million each and only three of the defendants were actually sentenced,” Magaji said.
The conviction is the first since the signing into law of the SPOMO Act in June last year by President Muhammadu Buhari.
y was not illegal under Nigerian law.
A total of 49 crew were kidnapped in the Gulf in the first half of this year, compared with 27 last year, according to IMB figures. It said attackers were also going further out to sea.
“We need to change the risk-to-reward ratio…,” IMB Director Michael Howlett said last month. “Without an appropriate and proportionate deterrent, pirates and robbers will get more ruthless and more ambitious.”