The Nigerian Navy has arrested nine people including one American for possession of firearms in what the Navy claimed was Nigerian waters.
The suspects were part of a maritime security team providing anti-piracy services in the Gulf of Guinea region.
A spokesperson for the maritime security firm, confirmed as U.S.-based Trident Group, said the team was located well into international waters when their vessel was boarded and the weapons found were all licensed and permitted.
The nine suspects were arrested during a joint operation called Junction Rain, a combined maritime law enforcement operation involving the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy in support of African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership.
West African media reports that the suspects were arrested on board the Sea Angels 3. They are comprised of three Greek nationals, one American, and five Nigerians.
A Nigerian Navy official told local media that the suspect’s boat was boarded after the captain apparently lied about how many people were on board. Upon boarding the vessel, the boarding team discovered that there were more people on board and a subsequent search of the vessel turned up weapons, including four semi-automatic rifles, as well as ammunition and other military-style gear.
The official also indicated that the Sea Angels 3’s tracking and communication equipment had been turned off and the vessel was painted in navy colors, adding to suspicions of the vessel.
“What they are doing on our waters, we do not know,” the official said.
Nigeria’s The Nation identified the American as Zanski Michael-Anderson. Zanski is listed as an employee on the LinkedIn page of the Virginia-based Trident Group, which specializes in anti-piracy security.
A spokesperson Trident confirmed the incident to gCaptain and denied the team was operating in Nigeria’s territorial waters.
Piracy off the coast of Nigeria and in parts of the Gulf of Guinea continues to pose an extreme threat to ships and their crews operating in the region. According to data from the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, reports of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea more than doubled in 2018, accounting for all six hijackings worldwide, 13 of the 18 ships fired upon, 130 of the 141 hostages taken globally, and 78 of 83 seafarers kidnapped for ransom.
Despite the extreme threat, however, Nigeria prohibits ships from entering its territorial waters with armed maritime security details similar to those that help stop the scourge of piracy off the Horn of Africa earlier this decade. The situation is so bad, in fact, that the shipping association BIMCO has called for naval action to combat piracy in the region.
In February, the Nigerian Navy was recognized for its efforts in curbing the activities of illegal maritime security outfits in its waters.