West Africa: Indian Hostages Freed in Rescue Operation

Associated Press reports that the hostages seized during the hijacking of the Spanish-owned MV San Miguel off Equatorial Guinea on January 3rd have been freed.

The ship, owned by the Martinez Brothers, was carrying 150 tonnes of cargo and a crew of nine when it left Malabo on January 2nd. The following day, pirates approached the ship in a small boat. The Captain believed they were in distress and allowed them to board. At that point, the pirates hijacked the ship using automatic weapons. They robbed the crew and directed the Captain to look for other potential targets in the area. When none was found, they instructed the Captain to steam to Nigerian waters. Once there, the pirates kidnapped the Captain, a welder and an engineer and escaped. The incident was not confirmed by Spanish navy authorities until January 18th.

The three hostages, all Indian nationals, were apparently freed following an operation mounted by the Nigerian military with no ransom being paid. AP additionally reported that five kidnappers were arrested during the operation.

The released hostages have been handed over to the Indian representatives in Equatorial Guinea.

The kidnapping of senior crew is fast becoming a hallmark of piracy in the region. On October 23rd, the American Captain and Chief Engineer of the US-flagged C-Retriever were kidnapped by gunmen. They were freed in early November, amid rumours that a ransom had been paid to secure their release.

More recently, on January 10th, a local passenger craft was attacked and boarded by armed robbers near the town of Ekeowe, Bayelsa State, Nigeria. During the robbery, two passengers were reportedly killed and two senior staff from the Nigerian Agip Oil Company kidnapped.

On January 26th, a tug travelling from Port Harcourt to Brass was attacked and boarded by seven pirates who kidnapped the Captain and Chief Engineer. Similarly, on January 31st, an offshore support vessel was reported to have been attacked and boarded by pirates who also kidnapped the Captain and Chief Engineer. Unfortunately, neither of these reports has been officially confirmed by authorities in the region but, if true, they represent a worrying trend for crew transiting the Gulf of Guinea.