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Nigerian, Beninese navies rescue 11 crew members aboard hijacked Portuguese vessel

A combined Naval operation under the auspices of ECOWAS Maritime Zone E has led to the rescue of 11 crew men onboard a Portuguese flagged container ship, MV TOMMI RITSCHER in Benin Territorial Waters.

The ECOWAS Maritime Zone E consists of Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo and the Gendarmerie of Republic of Niger and the rescue was led by Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service (NN SBS) operatives and Beninese Navy.

The vessel was reportedly attacked by unknown number of gunmen at Zone 3 anchorage in Cotonou waters at about 2300 on 18 Apr 20.

At the time of the attack, there were 19 crew members comprising Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Filipinos.

In 2013, Gulf of Guinea Heads of State and Government met in Yaounde, Cameroon and adopted the Yaoundé Declaration on the Gulf of Guinea Security which led to the creation of the inter-regional Coordination Centre on Maritime Safety and Security for Central and West Africa, with headquarters in Yaoundé.

This also led to the implementation of a new Code of Conduct Concerning the Prevention and Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships and Illegal Maritime Activities in West and Central Africa, paving way for the creation and organisation of Gulf of Guinea Navies into maritime zones with Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo and Gendarmerie of the Republic of Niger forming the ECOWAS Maritime Zone E.

According to a statement by Coordinator of the Defence Media Operations, Major General John Enenche, “following the pirate attack, the Nigerian Navy (NN) received a request for assistance from the Benin Navy under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of ECOWAS Zone E.  Consequently, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) OSE embarked 10 NN SBS operatives and proceeded to the objective area. NNS OSE and the SBS boarding team arrived the objective area on 19 Apr 20 to join 2 other vessels (P110 QUEME and ZOU) from the Benin Navy already in the Area.

“Consequently, NNS OSE and the other 2 Benin Navy patrol boats adopted a patrol plan around the MV TOMMI RITSCHER throughout the night of 19 Apr 20 to ensure that the pirates, if still onboard would not have any room to escape. Accordingly, after the necessary briefings, the boarding operations commenced at about 1730 on 20 Apr 20, with the NN SBS elements in the lead. After the successful boarding of the Ship, which eventually was to be unopposed. 

“11 crew members were rescued from different parts of the ship. However, 8 crew members of the Ship and the pirates could not be located onboard the ship. The SBS remained onboard to ensure security of the vessel and the crew. MV TOMMI RITSCHER came alongside to Cotonou Port for a more comprehensive search of the ship on 21 Apr 20.”

The Defence Spokesperson stated that “the feat achieved by the Nigerian and Benin Republic Navies represents a concrete step towards the operationalization of the ECOWAS Maritime Zone E framework.”

General Enenche said that the team was received by the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) of the Benin Navy as well as the Defence Attache and Deputy Defence Attache of the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou.

The CNS of Benin addressed the ship’s company of NNS OSE and the NN SBS team and gave them a letter of commendation for a job well done.

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