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Maritime Information Warfare Conference 2019 -London -November 18-19

November 18th 2019
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October 31st 2019
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CYPnaval Conference - October 2nd - Cyprus

October 2nd 2019

The Dangers of the Delta

By David Rider 
February 5th 2016
By David Rider
To explain many of the issues in Nigeria, it’s necessary to understand that the Niger Delta still has deep-seated tribal roots. Following the election of President Buhari in Nigeria last year, a number of former militants in the Niger Delta expressed concerns that he (as a Northerner) was a threat to their amnesty payments system. Their concerns were realised in December 2015, when amnesty payments stopped. Threats of violence soon followed, but there was very little in the way of action.


Earlier this year, Government Tompolo, a former Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) commander, found himself in a spot of legal trouble. Tompolo (Ijaw tribe) had been fortunate enough to land a contract with NIMASA to provide them with patrol boats and protective services for oil pipelines through his company, Global West Vessel Specialists Ltd. The contract, worth over $100 million, was awarded by President Goodluck Jonathan (Ijaw) in conjunction with the-then Director General of NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi (Ijaw).


Amid many rumours about the original contract (you can Google pictures of Tompolo’s private Lear jet), dodgy deals involving ex-Norwegian Navy patrol boats and suggestions of collusion between pirates and the security services, Tompolo had always managed to talk his way out of trouble. However, in January this year, the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission accused Tompolo and the now ex-Director General of NIMASA of defrauding the country of close to $6 million.


While Akpobolokemi faced the court, Tompolo remains in hiding in the Delta.


Within days, militants had blown up an oil pipeline. Fingers were pointed. Tompolo issued denials through his media advisors. More bombings. More denials. Then the abductions began.


In the space of nine days, 32 people were kidnapped from vessels transiting creeks in the Delta.


While under-reporting of maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea is widespread, CSO Alliance noted a sudden spike in incidents during January, with 12 incidents reported for the region. Many more crimes were anecdotal or reported in the local media and therefore couldn’t be added to our reports. For example, one media outlet reported seven incidents between January 14th and February 3rd against fishing vessels and boats working for Chevron. Few if any of these have been officially reported by the IMB and MTISC-GoG.


January saw aggressive attacks by militants/pirates against vehicle carrier, Silver Sky and culminated in the attack against the MT Leon Dias, no stranger to violence in these waters. In April 2013, the Leon Dias was attacked by armed pirates and robbed.


This time, on Friday 29th, the ship was again attacked. 14 armed pirates in two speedboats attacked and boarded the chemical tanker as it steamed from Lome to Bata, Equatorial Guinea. They took five crew hostage and, during the incident, a crewman was shot and badly wounded. His condition remains uncertain.


What marked this incident out, however, was the fact that local media in Nigeria began reporting that ‘officials’ had stated that ‘a tanker’ had been hijacked by militants loyal to Biafran separatists and were holding the crew hostage. They had threatened to blow up the ship unless a well known political leader, Nnamdi Kanu, was released from custody.


For several days, CSO Alliance investigated the incident, drawing on sources in the region as well as the official reporting bodies. Yet no-one could confirm a second incident. The media began reporting the hijacking as fact, and Nigerian media published an article which claimed the militants had released a grainy image of the hostages, repeating their demands. In reality, the image showed the crew of the Baco-Liner 2, taken hostage in 2007. The MT Leon Dias, meanwhile, is now in the hands of the Benin Navy and is off Cotonou under guard.


With no ship, no incident report and no confirmation, we have to conclude that there was no second hijacking and that the MT Leon Dias incident had been talked up or confused by spokespeople and the media.


What is fact, however, is that the withdrawal of amnesty payments to former militants and Tompolo’s ongoing row with the government is having a significant impact in the Delta. Violence has escalated and shipping, oil and gas are all at an increased risk as a result.


Until the Nigerian government deals with the situation, CSO Alliance anticipates attacks will continue and we advise CSOs to take the appropriate measures to ensure the safety of their crew, cargoes and vessels.