Nigerian Navy rescues oil tanker hijacked off Ivory Coast; 1 pirate killed, 5 others held

Nigerian Navy rescues oil tanker hijacked off Ivory Coast; 1 pirate killed, 5 others held

Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. PTI

Lagos, Nigeria: The Nigerian Navy on Monday rescued an oil tanker, Genco Maximus, which was hijacked by pirates with 11 Indian crew members on board off the Ivory Coast on 11 February, as it escorted the tanker safely into Port Lagos on Monday. The Nigerian sailors killed one pirate and arrested five others during the rescue operation, the navy said.

Although External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday said that 10 of the 11 Indian crew members have been rescued, whereabouts of an eleventh crew member, Mumbai-based 27-year-old Rohan Ruparelia who is being held captive along with a Pakistani national by two hijackers who escaped in a pirate vessel, are still unknown.

Zankhana Ruparelia, Rohan’s sister, who has been in constant touch with the Ministry of External Affairs and the High Commission of India in Nigeria since the abduction, said: “The Indian defense attache and in charge of the rescue operation, Captain Gautam Marwaha, put me in touch with the rescued crew members. They said that they were neither physically assaulted nor mentally harassed. They took my brother and the other Pakistani national as hostage because they were the youngest and fittest of the lot and they wanted someone from the crew to help them navigate through the African waters effortlessly.”

“The last conversation I had with Rohan was on 5 February when they were at the shore of Ivory Coast and could communicate with people. Captain of Maximus ship, Pillai, assured us that no harm would be done to my brother and there are looking out for the two captives. The authorities have been very supportive,” she added.
Marwaha said that they have not yet received any ransom demand or an offer for barter as they have five pirates in custody.

The Panama-flagged Maximus, owned by a company in the United Arab Emirates and on lease to a South Korean shipping company, steamed in with four captured hijackers from Nigeria and Ghana and the crew of 18 from India, Pakistan, China, South Korea, Sudan and Ghana, said Rear Admiral Henry Babalola.

The bandits were after the tanker’s 4,700 tons of diesel fuel when they seized it on 11 February off the coast of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the navy said.

Babalola, who commanded Saturday’s rescue, described a tense standoff as the pirates denied the ship was the Maximus, calling it instead the MT Elvis 3, as they had hand-painted over the name in white. “We tried diplomacy, but they refused to surrender,” Babalola said. Sailors stormed the ship when one pirate opened fire, taking special care because the vessel is highly flammable, he said.

It’s the third time in five years that the ship has been hijacked in the Gulf of Guinea area, according to two maritime ship-tracking websites. The last time, in 2014 when it was called the SP Brussels, one crew member and two pirates were killed and six captured after a shootout with the Nigerian Navy just outside anchorage in Lagos, Nigeria’s Atlantic Ocean-side commercial center.
With inputs from Agencies

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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2016 11:56:03 IST

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