Early in the hours of Monday February 21 2016, this reporter with a group of other selected journalists boarded one of Nigeria’s fast moving war ships, NNS BENIN at the Apapa Naval base for a ride on the Atlantic. After some nautical miles into the sea from the entrance of the harbor, we spotted NNS OPABENA standing heroically on the waters of the high sea. On board OPABBENA we could see from our war ship as we circled it the six subdued pirates looking sad, dejected and melancholic.
Ironically, a few days earlier, the six men had been Lords on MT MAXIMUS, an oil vessel containing a large quantity of fuel which they violently seized from its Captain, Pillai Chrishtna and his hapless crew of 18. As the ship sailed on the West African Coastal waters, a band of 8 dare devil pirates overpowered the crew and took control of the oil vessel. Distress calls went out immediately to Ivory Coast under whose territorial waters the crime was committed and to Ghana and Togo the neighboring sister African countries.
When it became clear that Navies of these countries could not confront the maritime criminals, Nigeria was called upon. According to H. A. Babalola, “we moved gladly and in strength.” Babalola, an Admiral and Chief of training and operations at the headquarters of the Nigerian Navy in Abuja told us that the move was in line with international law even though the crime took place outside Nigeria’s territorial waters. He said the International Maritime Bureau sanctions such rescue operations.
“We have recently signed an agreement with Sao Tome which grants us the permission to patrol the common corridor between the two countries”, Babalola told us. He said in line with international best practices, the Nigeria Navy is playing a leading role in making sure that the West African coastline is safe for international trade. He said the role Nigeria is playing today in ensuring maritime safety on our coasts is comparable to what the US did to ensure the Gulf of Eden was secured from the menace of Somali pirates some years back.
He said the Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral I E Ibas had on assumption of office given his pledge to Nigerians that his mission and vision is;
“To develop a credible naval power in fulfillment of the Nigerian Navy’s constitutional roles towards enhancing national prosperity and security” and “To deploy a naval force that is well trained, organised and highly motivated to discharge its constitutional roles professionally and efficiently for the defence of Nigeria in ensuring her economic prosperity”
According to him, the message has resonated well with the rank and file of the Nigerian Navy who are very committed to ensuring that Nigeria and its neighboring countries enjoys maritime security.
“Our Chief of Naval Staff has updated our platforms, enhanced our communication gadgets and provided the necessary instruments like boats to ensure the timely interception of criminal elements on our high seas”, Admiral Babalola revealed. According to him the pirates were unaware of the new enhanced communication gadgets at the Naval Headquarters and had thought they could not be traced once they switched off the communication gadgets on the hijacked ship.
He said having seized the ship about 70 nautical miles off the Ivory Coast, the criminals quite aware that Nigeria might be in hot pursuit sailed into international waters and were making their way to South Africa. They even changed the name of the ship from MT Maximus to Mt Evis-5. By the time the Nigerian Navy caught up with them, they were over three hundred nautical miles from the Nigerian coast. There then followed a fire fight with the heavily armed pirates and in the process one of them was gunned down. The brave men of the Nigerian Navy however boarded the ship, overpowered the six surviving criminals and freed the kidnapped men. Two pirates however succeeded in making away with two hostages, one an Indian and the other a Pakistani national.
It was an operation that was “professionally and competently executed by the Nigerian Navy” according to Captain Guatam Marwaha, the Indian Defence Adviser in Nigeria, himself a Naval officer. The Captain of the rescued vessel, 53 year old Pillai Chrishtna told this reporter that he never believed he could get out alive. He said as bullets were flying over his head in the exchange of gunfire, the Nigerian leader of the rescue team kept assuring him that he would give his own life to save him, the marooned captain.
The leader of the Nigerian crime busting team, Captain E O Ferreira himself told this reporter that he was inspired to carry out the suicidal rescue mission by the mission and vision statement of I E Ibas, head of the Nigerian Navy.
As we left the ports that evening, all the reporters held their heads high that the Nigerian Navy has demonstrated to the world that it is capable of battling the menace of piracy in our territorial waters and even beyond.

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