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Friday, November 4, 2011

Nigerian Pirates hijack M T Halifax off Port Harcourt….

Rivers State is one of the 36 states of Nigeria. Its capital is Port Harcourt.  It is so named after the many rivers that border its territory.  The state was formed in 1967 with the split of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin, Chad, Cameroon  and Niger.  Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, the seventh most populous country in the world.  Nigeria is in news – for wrong reasons !!
In recent years, the incidence of Piracy has gone up and capture of vessels are frequently reported.  The area  located in Arabian sea between Yemen on South coast of Arabian Peninsula and Somalia in the Horn of Africa was reportedly the hotbed of such criminal activities. This  very important shipping route between the Mediterranean sea and the Arabian sea with tens of thousands of ship crossing the gulf annually literally became the ‘Pirate alley’.   But if one thinks, that such incidents occur only in that bay with the involvement of Somalis alone, then one is sadly mistaken.  Besides the Gulf of Aden, there have been incidents of piracy at many other places.  I had posted in Aug 2011  one on the decision of the London Joint War Committee (JWC) to add Benin in West Africa to its list, permitting insurers to charge more for cover if vessels travel through the waters off the country.
Prompted by the surge in incidents of piracy in the Bight of Benin in recent months, Marine insurers extended a war-risk zone for Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, and included waters off neighboring Benin for the first time as piracy attacks increase. Going by this Underwriters were to charge additional premium based on the value of ships entering this area..
The river Niger deposits organic sediments out to sea over millions of year, which reportedly became crude oil.  The Niger, Volta and many rivers drain into the Gulf of Guinea and the coastline in this area includes the Bight of Benin.  The Gulf of Guinea is the northeasternmost part of the tropical Atlantic Ocean between Cape Lopez in Gabon, north and west to Cape Palmas in Liberia.   There has been a marked increase in the no. of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea waters which prompted a group of London Underwriters to rate this part of the coast in the same high-risk category as Somalia.  IMB states that there have been 19 attacks off Benin’s coast this year.  There exists joint patrols involving Nigerian ships and helicopters of Benin
Pirates have seized an oil products tanker off southern Nigeria.  It is reported that gunmen boarded the tanker vessel  MT Halifax off Port Harcourt, the main city in the oil-rich Niger Delta.  According to  International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the  owners of the vessel have  lost contact with the tanker on 30 October; and that the crew of 25 are being held by the Pirates.  It is perceived more to be an act of stealing the oil in ship’s hold rather than piracy !  Citing incidents of the past, it is hoped that crew are generally released unharmed after the crude oil is stolen unlike Somalia, where crew and ships are held for several months  for ransom.  The nationalities of those onboard are thought to be Filipino and Indian, with an Italian ship master.  The pirates are thought to have sailed into the Gulf of Guinea, according to security officials.  Gunmen are believed to have  boarded the  tanker as it sat in waters off the coast of Port Harcourt; they took control of the vessel and sailed off in to the waters of Gulf of Guinea.  The details of the captive vessel are provided as : 
Vessel's name: MT Halifax  (Ex-name(s):  Star Dust / Hawk / Maritime Purdence) IMO number: 8810932  ; Flag: Malta ;  Call sign: 9HMH5;  Port of Registry:  Valletta ; Type of vessel: Oil Tanker Built: Feb 26, 1992; Summer DWT: 29752.95 MT; Type of Hull – Double Bottom.  The vessel was Lloyds classed,  reportedly owned by Trust A Maritime and operated by Ancora Investment  Trust Inc.    
File photo of the vessel from : Marinetraffic.com
They call themselves ‘Reliable Oil products transporters’ and took management of their first vessel in 1986, a handy sized bulk carrier and have grown into operating more panamax sized bulk carriers.  From 1996, they have moved onto tanker market focussing on the transportation of petroleum products.  There is no message about the hijack posted on the website of the Company, when checked.  
Sure it is a harrowing time for the owners, operators, crew and all others interests in this particular voyage of tanker MT Halifax, which calls for more concerted action by various agencies in fighting the piracy acts
With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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