“The Business” Offshore Nigeria Has American Roots

platform supply vessel boat ship offshore osv
File image of a typical platform supply vessel, image (c) Shutterstock/am70

Two American seafarers are currently being held against their will somewhere in Nigeria tonight, kidnapped from the Edison Chouest-owned supply vessel C-Retriever last Wednesday.

Our sources close to the situation have shown us that this predicament is far different from the situation that the crew of the Maersk Alabama, or really any other vessel pirated off of Somalia over the past few years.

Nigerian Militant groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have claimed involvement, but sources indicate that blaming MEND for the attacks is essentially the same as blaming southern Nigeria for the attacks. The organization itself appears headless, very loosely organized, and primarily a tool to further the political ambitions of various members.

Money is undoubtably THE motivating factor in the kidnapping, but as we noted last week, the use of locals on board the vessels is also of significant importance.

It’s all tied together however

It’s not about the Ijaw community’s threat to Edison Chouest about hiring locals so that they can earn hourly wages, the locals want to work on board these vessels so that more of them can get a cut of the money from the illegal fuel theft trade. Make no mistake; although the fuel theft trade may be technically illegal, our sources note that it is most definitely the way business is done in Nigeria.

If you’re working on a supply vessel or anchor handler out of Port Harcourt or Onne and you’re not involved in the fuel theft trade, one source we spoke with today notes that you will be soon, or you’ll be packing your bags home because EVERYONE expects to be paid.

It’s absolutely possible however that the two kidnapped Americans were not involved in the fuel theft scheme and that their crew turned on them because of that reason.

The fuel theft industry is a massive business involving many of the terminal managers, locals, expats, and military in the area. According to our sources, 100 tons of fuel is a typical transfer. One of the militants in the area even just bought himself a personal jet according to a source.

Oddly enough however, the fuel theft business seems to have been born in America.

Our sources note that years ago, supply boats coming in and out of Louisiana fudged their numbers and sold fuel under the radar. This business has now spread to Nigeria, and truly all around the world.

Sources speculate on the kidnapping

gCaptain sources note that the vessel’s crew did not have enough time to send out a distress call before they had to evacuate to the engineroom and hope for the best.

One source speculates that the vessel’s captain purposely brought the vessel to the area just north of the Agbami field in order to conduct a fuel transfer, where they were then hijacked.

“As you can see in the AIS track history, the vessel always approaches the field from the south, which is a requirement for security reasons. In this case, he went north,” our source points out.

Our sources appear in agreement that the best way to calm down the situation, on the part of the captain and engineer, would have been to been as helpful as possible with the pirates.

“Rest assured, if pirates board your ship, they are taking the white guys, especially the Americans,” notes our source. “And the more you prolong their mission, the more angry and aggressive they become. And at the end of it all you will still be kidnapped and robbed. Its just a matter of if you want to walk of the ship, or be carried off after they beat you for not cooperating.”

One source we spoke to today notes that if it looks like you’re going to get boarded by pirates, especially at night, you can shut down the ship, go completely dark, and hope that after the pirates stumble around in the dark for a while, they decide to go home.

They usually don’t give up though he notes.

Piracy on the Rise

A gCaptain source notes that piracy tends to be seasonal in Nigeria.  School fees are a driving force that makes some to turn to piracy. If the children’s parents are unable to pay the school teachers, our source notes that the children “are shamed and thrown out of school” Watch for piracy to spike over the next few months in Nigeria.

Following the Money

Earlier in our investigation into the “business” of fuel theft, we assumed it involved a cash transaction, which is still true in some cases, but considering the volumes of cash involved now, and the dangers that go along with having stacks of cash, most of the transactions are now conducted electronically according to our sources.

Once the money is in a Nigerian bank, the fuel is transferred. The trick for expats is getting it back to wherever they came from, which is not so simple, but of course some find solutions. Others however, leave their cash in Nigeria. One source notes:

“All my crew members drove nice cars. I did all I could to do good with my money and leave it there, sent more then a few guys to maritime schools, buried crews family members and those boys ate very well.”

Whether my source is totally bullshitting me or not on that last quote, it’s impossible to say, but another source comments, “they all take it home.”

The fate of the two American hostages is still up in the air, however there are indications that a financial transaction may be being negotiated at the moment between Edison Chouest and the kidnappers.

Our sources all agree that it’s unlikely the Americans will be seriously harmed. Doing so would certainly shine a very bright spotlight on the region and “Jungle Justice” as one source notes, might prevail.

None of which is good for The Business.