The Defence Headquarters on Tuesday made a solemn promise to see to it that the pro-Biafra militants who hijacked a merchant oil vessel on Nigeria’s coast were handled like criminals and saboteurs for being a threat to the peace of the South-east and South-south people.
Defence sources, who asserted that the story of the hijack which took place on Friday was true, also revealed that agents of the Nigerian Navy were trailing the captured vessel and the hijackers.
According to PUNCH, one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity considering the sensitivity of the issue, said the hijackers had threatened to blow up the ship and its crew members after 31 days, if the government fails to heed to their call for the release of Nnamdi Kanu, who is currently being detained and undergoing prosecution for treasonable felony.
The ultimatum was issued during the the weekend by a militant known as General Ben of whom Uchena Madu, one of the leaders of the Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), said,
Ben is not a separatist but some Niger Delta militants have shown interest in working with us.
Brig. Gen. Rabe Abubakar, the Director of Defence Information, established on Tuesday that some militants illegally seized a vessel on Friday off the Nigerian coast, but stated the intention of the military to take hostile action against the militants who he described as criminals and saboteurs.
According to Abubakar,
Well, I can confirm to you that a vessel, a tanker with the name MT LEON DIAS with number 9279927, was hijacked 7.5 nautical miles off Cotonou port. The ship is presently in Benin Republic. It is a merchant ship.
I must add that on this issue of militancy, there are no more militants now, what we have are criminals. The Amnesty programme has taken care of the militants.
He also asserted,
The military will treat those behind such acts as criminal and saboteurs; the law will take its course; the security agencies will do their job.
The country’s interest is above any other person’s interest. We have to work towards the enthronement of peace and stability because development can only take place in an atmosphere of peace.
The Defence spokesperson also waved off reports that the ship was hijacked by militants, saying there were no militants in the country as the Amnesty Programme had phased off militancy in the Niger Delta.
According to him,
What exists now are criminal elements masquerading as militants. There is no militant, because the Amnesty Programme has taken care of our brothers. Therefore anybody who engages or is engaging in sabotage is engaging in an act of criminality and the law of the land will take its course.
As reported by Washington Post, Dirk Steffen, Maritime Security Director of Denmark-based risk intelligence told Association Press that the ship sailed to Cotonou after the hijackers left the ship taking along with them the captain, chief engineer, third engineer, the electrician and a fitter.
Sources in the Maritime industry in a report on Tuesday, pointed out that “The group boarded the tanker from two fast boats and took control over the vessel and locked the crew in the mess room” before heading for the Niger Delta.
However, Nigerian Navy director of information, Commodore Kabir Aliyu, made it known to Daily Trust that the ship and crew had been freed. Via a text message, he said
The name of the ship is MT LEON DIAS (9279927). An oil tanker [sic], the ship is presently in Benin waters . . . off Cotonou Port and she is under the watch of the Benin Republic Navy.
The Defence Spokesperson, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar, also confirmed that the vessel was being guarded by Benin Republic Navy.