An ongoing investigation into the January 18 disappearance of a Liberian-flagged product tanker offshore Angola has determined that the vessel was in fact hijacked by pirates, confirming suspicions held by almost everyone but the Angolan Navy.
As gCaptain reported previously, the MT KERALA mysteriously disappeared off Luanda, Angola on January 18, 2014 while carrying 60,000 metric tons of diesel, sparking fears that the tanker was hijacked by Nigerian pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea.
If confirmed, the hijacking would be southernmost piracy-related incident to date in the region and a “worrying development in West African maritime crime.”
FULL COVERAGE: MT KERALA Disappearance
In an effort to calm fears that pirates were extending their operations to Angolan waters, the Angolan Navy claimed that the hijacking was fabricated by crew, a claim the owners of the Kerala, Dynacom Tankers Management, called “ridiculous, unfounded, and laughable.”
But an investigation into the incident by an INTERPOL-led multinational Incident Response Team has now determined that, although the investigation is still ongoing, the evidence gathered so far has allowed the Liberian Registry to conclude that the vessel was hijacked by pirates.
A statement from the Liberian Registry on the investigation said that during the hijacking, the pirates disabled the vessel’s AIS and other communication equipment so that the vessel could not be tracked from shore or satellite. The statement added that during this period, the pirates painted over the identifying features of the vessel, including funnel, name and IMO number and undertook three separate ship-to-ship transfers of cargo amounting to the theft of approximately 12,271.5mt of cargo.
The owners of the KERALA regained contact with the vessel on January 26, 2014, shortly after the pirates had disembarked. The vessel then immediately set a course for the safety of the port of Tema, Ghana, as a port of refuge.
During the hijacking, one crew member was stabbed by the pirates and others were beaten, the investigation found.
The Liberian Registry said that they will continue working with the authorities in Ghana, Nigeria and Angola to bring the perpetrators to justice.