The story of the vessel known as C-Retriever is an amazing one. For the benefit of those who might not have followed the story, C-Retriever is a 221-foot oilfield supply ship owned by an American company known as Edison Chouest Offshore, based in Louisiana, USA. Before I delve into the story proper which might sound like a typical storyline out of Hollywood, it is important to point out that C-Retriever was operating illegally on Nigerian waters. It was in total breach of the nation’s Cabotage Law which requires vessels, including offshore supply ships, carrying out business on Nigerian waters to be owned by Nigerians, registered in Nigeria, maintained in Nigeria and crewed by Nigerians.
To the best of my knowledge – and I made enquiries at the appropriate quarters – C-Retriever did not comply with any provision of this law. First breach; it was flying American flag. Next, it is owned by an American company operating from America. The ship, according to my findings does not undergo serious maintenance checks of any sort in Nigeria and to make matters worse, its Captain and Chief Engineer are Americans. And it did not obtain waiver as required by law to trade on the nation’s territorial waters. So I think the first thing for NIMASA to do with regard to this ship is to apprehend it and prosecute the owners or their agents.
Now to the story: C-Retriever was said to have been hijacked near Brass, Bayelsa State on 23rd October, 2013. It was the Cable News Network (CNN) that broke the story. Every Nigerian newspaper that reported it subsequently only mouthed what CNN and other western media reported.
It was the western media that also claimed that two American sailors, the ship Captain and Chief Engineer, were kidnapped and taken hostage. No any other detail. No mention of the names of the Americans, no mention of other crew members; no nothing. And to make matters worse, the Nigerian Navy which maintains regular patrol on the nation’s waters said it was not aware of the hijack. Neither the American authorities nor the US Embassy nor the owners of the vessel nor family members of the kidnapped sailors deemed it fit to make any report to any Nigerian authority. All we got on the hijack and kidnap was the usual arrogantly terse statement from the US authorities. The US State Department said it was “closely monitoring” the reports and was “seeking additional information about the incident.” And that was all. No mention of working with Nigerian authorities to rescue the ship.
The Nigerian Navy had no clue of what was going on. The Director of Naval Information, Commodore Kabiru Aliyu, said shortly after the alleged hijack and kidnap that despite the fact that the incident was not reported, Nigerian Naval officials were doing all they could to find the vessel and rescue the two sailors. He said the Central Naval Command, Yenagoa, had been instructed to take over the search for the vessel and the sailors.
The Central Naval Command in Bayelsa also said it had been combing the creeks around the area to track the vessel. The Commanding Officer, Forward Operating Base, Brass, Bayelsa State, Capt. Aniedi Ibok, said that it was curious that the company where the two sailors were working before their alleged abduction did not report the matter to naval authorities.
He said the only report they heard about the entire incident was on CNN. He said while the Navy was working round the clock to find the vessel that was conveying the Americans, information from other crew members on board the C-Retriever could be of vital importance. “We are still searching our waters to see if we can get the vessel since it was not reported to have been kidnapped. Apart from reported abducted two Americans, there were other people in the ship. They should be able to talk. They should be able to tell us where they are. They have not made any report. They have not called the Navy, neither have they called the Joint (military) Task Force. The only report anybody has heard regarding the abduction is from the CNN and nobody can work with that. The company they are working with should be able to give us information. They cannot be working in Nigeria from America. At least, somebody should be able to tell us what happened,” Ibok said.
He said it would be impossible to have taken the vessel to the creeks.
“They could not have taken the vessel to creeks. The vessel is too big to be taken to the creeks. They did not say they kidnapped the vessel. They only said they kidnapped the Captain and the Chief Engineer,” he said.
But despite the lamentation from Navy, the Americans won’t budge.
The next thing we heard about the vessel was that it had been sighted somewhere around the creeks of Onne. Recall that Ibok had stated above that the vessel was too large to enter into a creek! But the Americans said they found it in the creek. And it was reportedly found by, wait a minute; NBC News. Not by the Nigerian Navy. Not by NIMASA. Not by the Marine Police or any security agency in Nigeria but by a press crew made up of an Asian and an American which flew in from America (and headed straight to where the ship was lying, I suppose!). That happened on Monday last week and by Wednesday (two days after), CNN again reported that the two American sailors had been released.
The cable news network quoted the US State Department as having confirmed the release. “We welcome the release of the two U.S. citizens who were kidnapped from the M/V C-Retriever. For privacy reasons, we will not provide any additional information,” a State Department official reportedly said in a statement.
“It is the policy of the United States not to pay ransom or encourage the payment of ransom money,” the statement added although other reports claimed the men were released unharmed after a ransom was paid.
And no one in Nigeria saw the men. They were said to have been flown “home”.
Really I am beginning to doubt the integrity of all these. If truly this happened on Nigerian waters and the Nigerian authorities were not involved in it, then something is definitely wrong somewhere and the Nigerian government will do well to lodge formal complaints with the US authorities. I wonder if another country could have acted on US waters, the way the Americans did in Nigeria with regards to the C-Retriever case, and get away with it.
And if it truly happened and the two sailors have been flown out of Nigeria, the government should demand their repatriation to Nigeria to face prosecution for breaking the Cabotage Law.