Contrary to the widely held belief that last week’s rumoured release of a Nigerian tug boat MT Yenagoa Ocean and her 10-man crew may have been made possible as result of the intervention by the federal government, Shipping Position Weekly can authouritatively reveal that the ship’s crew actually fooled their Somali captors to escape. The tug boat was hijacked by Somali pirates on August 4, 2008.
The media was awash with the purported release of the ill-fated tug boat last week, but investigations revealed that MT Yenagoa fate was not as result of any intervention on the part of any Nigerian government delegation, but due to the bravery and smartness of the Captain Graham Egbegi-led crew.
Members of the crew include: Engineer David Akpoguma, Namo Musa, Usman Ochoche Agida, Lucky Edoja, John Nkanu, Effiong Joseph Bassey, Emma Okon Timothy, Okuns Kalikio and Bassey Etim.
And after about 10 months in the captivity of Somali pirates, the Senate had in April summoned the minister of defence, Dr. Shettima Mustapha, his foreign affairs counterpart; Chief Ojo Maduekwe and their counterpart in the ministry of Interior, Major General Godwin Abbe (retd) explain what the government has done to free the Nigerian seamen.
A similar invitation was extended to the National Security Adviser, General Sarki Muktar (retd) and the chief executive officer of ESL Integrated Services Limited (owners of the ship), Mr. George Onokpite.
On the strength of the Senate’s motion, President Umar Yar’ Adua had set up a security committee headed by national security adviser to ensure that the ship was released.
Shipping Position Weekly confirmed that the ship’s release last week may not have been as a result of the intervention of the committee.
MT Yenegoa Ocean’s troubles had started last August when she docked in a port in Mogadishu to seek medical attention for some crew members who were sick. The ship was on her way from Dubai when it was hijacked. The captain had earlier obtained a clearance to head for Mogadishu for the treatment.
Agency reports that were sent to Shipping Position Weekly shortly after the escape of the ship from captivity confirmed that “the captain of the vessel used an unobserved moment, when only one guard was on board to fool his captors, start up the engines and escaped. The lone Somali guard was reported to have reached the shore by swimming. The vessel with her unharmed crew then disappeared from the coast and due to nightfall a short while later, she could not be followed by her captors”.
Our source lamented that Nigerian government was keeping quiet over the real story of the escape of MT Yenagoa Ocean and disclosed that “during the earlier times when the vessel was commandeered by the Somali sea pirates, the Nigerian owned, Panama-flagged AHTS YENEGOA was also identified as a pirate "mother ship" operating under the calls "SEA OCEAN" or "PUMA OCEAN" and several times fooled naval forces as a vessel in distress, thereby attracting the attention of naval forces, while the pirates did strike at other places.
Having radio communication, the nearest naval vessels were informed. The Royal Netherlands Navy ship De Seven Provinces received the call at 21h00 and could catch up with the tug the next morning at around 5h00 local time. The Dutch Navy then was providing medical and other assistance to the 10 men all-Nigerian crew.
Captain Egbegi’s refusal to disclose how the crew regained their freedom further fuelled speculations that they were not released by the pirates.
Egbegi told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in a telephone interview from Yemen mid last week that his crew was confined to the cabin without seeing sunlight for the first three months. “But the kind of experience we faced, I mean anytime you wakeup in the morning you see barrels of guns, it was worse than physical torture.”
When asked to comment on what led to their freedom, Capt Egbegi who confirmed the crew were in Yemen said: “let us not go into other details for now. But all I am saying is that my crew and myself are safe together with the vessel. When I come back to Nigeria, we will talk. “I will not want to make so much comment on that for now, until I am back in the country.”
(Please read the full story on page 4)