Conflicting Reports in Nigerian Separatist Hijacking
Intelligence and maritime information firm Clearwater Vessel Tracking has confirmed the hijacking of the product tanker Leon Dias in the Gulf of Guinea. However, it remains unclear whether the Dias was the vessel recently attacked by Biafran separatists from Nigeria, with sources asserting that either one or two attacks took place late last week.
“A tanker [the Dias] was underway from Lome to Bata when the owners lost contact with their vessel . . . since [initial] reports were released the pirates have disembarked, kidnapping five crew members,” Clearwater told maritime media.
The captured crew of the Dias reportedly included the captain and chief engineer. One crewmember was shot and another wounded, but specifics of the injuries were not immediately available.
An unnamed Nigerian official informed local media and the Associated Press Tuesday that the Leon Dias was not the vessel attacked by Biafran separatists, and that she was hijacked in an unrelated attack and diverted to an oil terminal off Cotonou, Benin – a location confirmed by her stationary AIS signal on Tuesday afternoon, and in conflict with Clearwater’s understanding that the Dias was under way to Lagos.
The time of attack on the Leon Dias has been reported as the early hours of Sunday morning, differing with accounts of the Biafran separatist hijacking, which reportedly occurred Friday.
Nigerian officials told the Associated Press Tuesday that they were still in pursuit of the vessel being held by Biafran separatists.
Whether or not two unrelated attacks occurred, all accounts agree that last week, at least one tanker was hijacked off Nigeria by militants demanding the release of separatist movement leader Nnamdi Kanu, the director of Radio Biafra and head of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The organizational affiliation of the militants was not explicitly reported by Nigerian media, but some observers in the country have suggested that they could be affiliated with Niger Delta militants suspected in a string of recent pipeline bombings.
A spokesman, known only as General Ben and reportedly not a member of IPOB, said that the hijackers would take drastic action if their demands were not met swiftly. “We cannot wait till the end of the 31 days [deadline] to tell the federal government that we are serious. The vessel and the crew are in our custody . . . Any noise, any delay from government, we will blow up everything. We will blow the vessel and everybody in the vessel will go down,” he said, suggesting that the group intended to retain possession of the ship until negotiations were concluded.
General Ben added that the attack was for purposes of furthering the movement only.