Very little information is available about the circumstances surrounding the capture of the two Americans from the platform supply vessel, C-Retriever on Wednesday, yet Automatic Identification System (AIS) track data of the vessel may provide a clue.
As the above picture shows, the vessel had been tracking back and forth between Port Harcourt and the Pacific Bora, a drilling rig working at the Chevron Agbami FPSO oil field. On it’s last trip offshore however, it strayed north, out of sight from any fixed or floating platform in the area.
In a conversation with an individual working in Nigeria who is close the matter, he notes that in many cases offshore Nigeria, “the reason that ships take different routes, is because of fuel theft. When operating in and around the platform, they can be seen, so there’s no opportunity to steal fuel. Around the ports, they can be seen, so there’s no opportunity there either.” Our source, who has to remain confidential due to safety reasons, speculates that the Nigerian crew of the vessel may have forced the ship’s captain to sail north in order to facilitate the theft of the fuel, or whatever else might have been on board the vessel.
“What I had seen,” our source notes, “is that the crews have put massive pressure on the captains to do the deviation.” He adds that if the captain or expat crew resisted in this transfer, it may have resulted in the kidnapping situation they are now faced with. “This is speculation, but this is a situation that I’ve seen before and have had to personally deal with myself.”
A gCaptain source working in the Agbami field commented for us today noting that there have easily been 10 to 15 pirate attacks within 30 miles of Agbami so far this year. He notes that there are security vessels around the Chevron-owned FPSO that maintain a 10-mile perimeter, however while the vessels transit from Port Harcourt to the facility, “they are totally vulnerable to attack.”
Our source notes that it’s quite possible there were “leaks” inside the shore-based logistics chain vessel that might have tipped off the pirates before the C-Retriever headed toward the Agbami field, and the vessel was likely boarded somewhere in between the port and the field, then diverted north for the fuel transfer.
On the topic of fuel theft, our source notes that it’s a fairly frequent occurrence and that normally the whole crew is involved in the theft. “If one person isn’t ‘on-board’,” our source notes, “the deals typically don’t happen.” He notes that these attacks typically occur when the vessel is on its way in to port. In this case however, it was heading out to the field when it was attacked.
One of our sources in the Niger Delta notes that although the kidnappers may put you up in a hotel, give you beer and marijuana, the business of fuel theft is no joke. “My friend did a sting for an [oil] major and they had to back down due to death threats, it is that big and highly organized and they will kill you without a doubt.”
The political landscape
Our source in Nigeria explained that Nigeria is getting ready for a new presidential election in 2015 and that the government itself is increasingly focusing itself on the upcoming election, while at the same time, “their eyes are coming off the ball” with regard to running the country. “Individuals, organizations, states… they are starting to do things their own way. It’s reasonable to say that whether it’s with MEND, organized crime, or Boko Haram, there ‘is more opportunity for adventure’ so-to-speak.”
Our source adds that there’s nothing substantial behind MEND’s claim that they hold the kidnapped American.