The Nigerian Navy has arrested nine people that were part of a maritime security team for the possession of firearms.
The Nigerian Navy said the suspects, comprising one American, three Greeks and five Nigerians, was apprehended aboard the Sea Angels 3 in the Gulf of Guinea. Whilst the Nigerian Navy claims the vessel was in Nigerian waters, the owners, US-based Trident Group, maintain the vessel was in international waters at the time and that all weapons were licensed. The weapons included four assault rifles and ammunition.
Nigeria has for some years made it illegal for private security guards to carry weapons on board merchant vessels operating in Nigeria’s territorial waters. This is in spite of continued pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea.
Nigerian officials claim the Sea Angels 3 was a suspicious vessel as its tracking and communication equipment had been turned off and it was painted in navy colours.
The suspects were arrested during operation Junction Rain between the US Coast Guard and Nigerian Navy in support of the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership. During the operation, over 100 vessels were interrogated and 40 boarded. An oil barge was apprehended over suspected oil theft.
The Gulf of Guinea remains dangerous for seafarers. Reports of attacks in waters between the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo more than doubled in 2018, accounting for six hijackings worldwide, 13 of 18 ships fired on, 130 of 141 hostages taken globally and 78 of 83 seafarers kidnapped for ransom in 2018, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
The region saw a significant spike in violence in the last quarter of 2018. Vessels were boarded by pirates well outside territorial waters with crew kidnapped and taken to Nigeria and held for ransom.
In a recent attack on 9 March, armed pirates kidnapped five crewmembers from a vessel off Nigeria and shot dead a member of the Nigerian Navy who was guarding the ship.