Pirates kidnap two U.S. sailors off Nigerian coast – sources
Thu, Oct 24 2013
By Joe Brock and Andrea Shalal-Esa
ABUJA/WASHINGTON | Fri Oct 25, 2013 1:04am BST
(Reuters) – Pirates attacked an oil supply vessel off the Nigerian coast and kidnapped the captain and chief engineer, both U.S. citizens, American officials said on Thursday as the Nigerian military ordered its Navy to rescue the men.
“We believe this was an act of piracy,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, adding that U.S. officials were closely monitoring the situation and seeking more information.
“At this point, we do not have information that would indicate this was an act of terrorism,” Harf told reporters in a briefing. “Obviously, our concern at this point is for the safe return of the two U.S. citizens.”
Pirate attacks off Nigeria’s coast have jumped by a third this year as ships passing through West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, a major commodities route, have come under threat from gangs wanting to snatch cargoes and crews.
The U.S.-flagged C-Retriever, a 222-foot (67 metre) vessel owned by U.S. marine transport group Edison Chouest Offshore, was attacked early Wednesday, UK-based security firm AKE and two security sources said. The company was not immediately available for comment.
My former line of work involved being a radar operator in the security division of a multinational oil company stationed in the Onne/Bonny River, located in the Niger-Delta heart of Nigeria. For those seeking to find it on a map, that’s the south, south part of the country. The history of the piratical activity now engulfing the region predates the country’s transition during the late nineties from a long period of military rule to that of democracy. Even then it was more like a fuse to a stash of dynamite simply waiting to be lit.
I can’t supply the history as to how or when such activity actually begun, however I do vividly recall the period when it did, and what led it toward becoming the ugliness it currently is.
During the country’s first democratic election, politicians from various factions supplied arms to the indigenous youth to maim their political opponents. After the election was concluded, these armed youths, seeing the large cache of weapons at their disposal, morphed into different factions of so-called militant freedom fighters seeking armed struggle against the Nigerian government’s betrayal toward selling out their oil-infested landscape to the multinational foreign oil companies. The militants protested against being neglected from the proceeds, as well the environmental endangerment the oil companies were wrecking upon their inhabitant. The militants, for the next decade, involved themselves in an apparent cat-and-mouse gunfight battle with the Nigerian military and navy. They as well proceeded toward sabotaging various oil installations and platforms located around the region.
* * * * *
Excerpt from my Book: The Rabbit’s Man
They were alone in the world, just the two of them, surrounded by the dark, eerie waters of the ocean, facing the daunting night with the moon above their heads. But it was the weight of the silence around them that was threatening as they waited. Oge had killed the engine and not a single light was on; water slapped perilously against the keel. Kingsley checked the time on his watch and saw it was past midnight. Both men leaned against the guardrail by the bow section, staring at the night, taking comfort in each other’s presence, listening to the sound of the water rocking against the boat. The wind was cold and biting, and a mist hung over the water; Kingsley wished he’d brought a thick jacket along, or a sweater. The night around them was impenetrable.
“Scared?” his friend asked him.
“Ever a time one shouldn’t be?”
Oge shook his head. “I doubt there’ll ever be.”
“I can’t thank you enough for this.”
His friend shook his head dismissively. “I’d die in my heart if I hadn’t.”
They fell silent. Kingsley checked his watch again, marking the time; he could barely make himself keep calm. “We’ll give him an hour. If he isn’t here by one-thirty, we head back home.”
“Won’t that be disappointing?”
“We can only pray for the best. Not my fault if the bastard pilot doesn’t show, is it? I’d feel a lot safer being on land than out here like this.”
“Reminds me of a run I had six years ago, transporting stolen car parts: car stereos, chassis, gearbox—stuff like that. The guy’s partner over in Cotonou was supposed to meet us somewhere close to Brass. Just as it is for us right now, so it was that night; for two hours we waited, and still the guy never showed up. A patrol boat sighted us and gave chase, but we lost it around Tai-Obua Creek. That night, if I’d told myself I wasn’t scared of getting caught in this business, I would’ve been lying.”
“You had your illness then?”
“Wasn’t worse as now. I had drugs and some local herbs to take for it.”
They fell silent again, both of them staring at the dark, roaming waters around them. The boat rocked up and down from the gentle wave slamming against its hull.
“You know I find it hard sometimes wondering why I turned away from this life,” Kingsley admitted. “The question is always on my mind, and always the answer eludes me.”
“Some answers are best not known.” His friend cupped a fist to his mouth to stifle a wave of coughs that shook him. Kingsley patted his back gently while he spat phlegm into the water. Kingsley waited until he’d regained himself.
“I don’t really know why I keep thinking that way. Sometimes when I’m in my office, or at home, I’d look at everything around me, at what I’ve accomplished, and can’t believe it’s really me. I pretend sometimes that I’m living someone else’s life, waiting for him to show up and take over.”
“You won’t quit blaming yourself for everything, will you?”
“It’s hard, Oge. I know it’s wrong; I can’t seem to shake it off.”
“I doubt if you ever will,” his friend pushed back his cap and scratched an itch on his forehead. “You can’t but try. Stop giving yourself crosses to carry—no one made you Jesus Christ. My condition could have happened to you, or Sammy, or any other fool. Nothing you can do is ever going to change any of that. Period.”
“I wasn’t talking about changing anything, Oge. I know I can’t change any of what’s already happened, but still . . . ” He was fishing for words to express what he wanted to say, but not finding any, he gave up with a sigh.
“Still what? Quit beating yourself with this, will you? What makes you think if you’d stuck around you wouldn’t have been dead by now? You ever stop to think about that?”
“I have. Time after time, I have.”
“What does that tell you? You think God made you Superman, that you can stop anything from touching you? You’ve got yourself a good life. Go on living it and leave the past alone.”
“I still don’t understand how come you never left this line of work? What is it that’s kept you with it?”
“Honest truth? I was sick and stubborn. I needed the money, and I had little to lose. Besides, I was never a thinker like you. There was no way the rest of us could have fit into your shoes, my friend. You left when you knew you had to. That wife of yours, does she know about this?”
“No. I’ve always wanted to tell her, but didn’t know how. I figured she’d hate me if ever she found out.”
“She will someday.”
“Too late, she already has.”
Oge turned to look at him. “I guess she didn’t take it too well, did she?”
“That’s one way to put it. I haven’t seen her since Friday—she took the kids with her. I tried calling her phone but no luck.”
“I’m sorry. She’s still in the city?”
“I think so. Probably staying with a friend or a relative.”
“I feel your pain. Don’t worry, she’ll come around. My woman too quarreled with me when she found out I was still doing this, but the situation changed her mind about it. Now her only command is that I return home safe every time I’m out the door. She said she’d prefer me dying in bed than finding me in a police cell.”
They shared a burst of laughter together, the sound of their voices the only thing echoing around them. Minutes later, there came another dull, distant sound from high above them toward the east. They trained their eyes upward, at first seeing nothing but the moon and empty sky. His friend was the one who spotted the outline of the plane hovering in a circular route, swinging at a low trajectory twenty miles from where they were. Oge got a pair of Night Vision binoculars from inside his wheelhouse and gave it to him. Kingsley held it to his eyes and with sufficient aid of the moonlight was able to make out the model of the plane as it circled closer: a Cessna 185F Sky Wagon possessing amphibious floats.
“That’s our bird,” he said to his friend. “You have that signaling lamp of yours?”
“I’m on it,” Oge replied and left to search for what Kingsley wanted. He returned with the lamp: a six-foot metal contraption shaped like a lollipop. Kingsley waited until the plane was in range before nodding to his friend. Oge flicked the switch on, then off, on again and then off, giving the pilot the required lighted signal to approach. “If there’s any patrol boat around, there’s going to notice this.”
“Yeah, I know,” Kingsley kept the binoculars fixed on the plane. “Let’s pray the worse doesn’t happen.”
The plane made another circuitous arc above their heads before starting its descent; the sound of its engine was a loud, throbbing whir cutting through the night’s quietude. Kingsley and his friend held their breaths as the plane lowered itself to earth; Oge stood with one foot in his wheelhouse and looked at the surrounding mist in case trouble appeared and they needed to be away quick.
Then came the moment when the Cessna touched water. They watched as its floats kicked up a high crest of water on either side as it sped toward them, coming to a slow halt thirty feet from them, its floats bobbed on the disturbed water. Oge started his boat and brought it just shy of the plane’s port side, their bow facing its aft section. Kingsley stood with one foot on the boat’s edge, as close as he could get to leaning his head under the Cessna’s wing. The pilot, a grizzly looking fellow, opened his cockpit door and smiled at him; an overhead light came on.
“You’re Johnson, right?” asked the pilot.
Kingsley nodded. “I take it you’re Smith.”
No handshake was required, just a curt nod. “Sorry I took so long getting down here,” Smith said, reaching behind to open the cockpit’s back door.
Kingsley balanced his feet on the float as he crossed over to the plane, his hands grasping the underside of the wing, wetting his feet as he almost slipped into the water. He extracted the three black duffel bags stacked over each other inside the plane. His friend positioned himself behind him, taking the bags from his hands and dropping them onto the boat’s deck. Oge unzipped each bag and checked the contents. He gave Kingsley a thumbs-up when he was done. Smith handed Kingsley a clipboard with manifest papers attached to it, and Kingsley managed to scrawl what resembled a signature where the pilot indicated him to. The pilot took back the clipboard, satisfied.
“I’ll be off, then.”
“Likewise,” Kingsley said. He pocketed his pen and jumped back on the boat. Oge started his engine and navigated his vessel away for the Cessna to make its run. They watched it race on the water’s surface before taking off back into the air. The sound of its engine dissipated as it blended with the night sky.
“Thank God that’s over. I guess this means we’d best be heading back,” his friend entered the wheelhouse and brought his boat to life. He went in the direction against the wind, where he knew land was.
* * *
Lionel Parrish sat in his briefs beside the table in his room, his laptop open before him. The girl lay asleep on the bed with the sheets half covering her nakedness. His eyes were focused on a slow-moving red dot on his screen, which gave him a quadratic two-dimensional map readout. He had already forwarded a message back home, informing them of his subject’s arrival at the drop point, and of his scheduled morning appointment at Governor’s House. He couldn’t wait for the night to hurry onward.
He ran a hand over his lips. He wished for something to drink right now, something to appease his tongue. It was late, and the shops outside had long shut their doors for the night.
He looked at his Thuraya phone, which stood on the table, waiting for his mule to call again. If only he knew, he smiled to himself.
He continued to stare at the dot on the screen.
* * *
They made it back to the creek with no surprises along the way. It had been a tense ride, and Kingsley felt relieved as they approached Igor’s Bend. For him the hard part of the journey was over, except for his ride back through the jungle.
“Looks like we’re home free, King,” his friend echoed what was on his mind.
“Looks that way. I couldn’t have done any of this if not for you, Oge. I can’t thank you enough.”
“Just don’t forget my share once you’ve made your sale.”
“You have my word on that,” Kinsley reassured him. “Believe me, you have my word.”
His friend brought his boat alongside the creek bank and Kingsley jumped out onto dry land; the van was still there waiting for him. His friend assisted him in moving the duffel bags and shook hands with him once again.
“Take care with that stuff you’re carrying,” Oge said to him.
“I will. You’ll be hearing from me.”
They said their goodbyes before his friend pulled his boat back into the creek and headed for home. Kingsley heard the boat grumble away as he picked up the bags one after the other, moving them toward the back of the van. He positioned his torch and unzipped each bag to stare at its contents.
The first bag was laden with AK-47 assault rifles, Swedish-made by the looks of them, each wrapped in tight cellophane nylon. He took one out, tore off the plastic wrapping, and ran his hand over its framework. It brought back memories as he held it, feeling his finger curl around its trigger guard. He counted fifteen inside. Not bad. The second contained plastic-wrapped Heckler and Koch MP 5 rifles, twenty in number. The third bag contained five cartons of ammunition for either weapon. He zipped the bags back and laid them in the back of the van. He turned on the Thuraya phone and dialed Lionel’s number.
“I’ve got the goods,” he said.
“That’s good. You’ll be getting in touch with your opposite, right?”
“You do that, then.”
The line went dead.
Kingsley switched on his cell phone and got Sammy’s number from it, then dialed it on the Thuraya. It took three tries before the call went through. Sammy’s gruff voice answered hello at the other end.
“Sammy, it’s me, King.”
“King! Was expecting to hear from you. Any good news?”
“Good news. I’ve got what you need.”
“Fifteen AKs and twenty-five H&K with ammo.”
“I’m going to need more than that, King. But it’ll do for now.”
“Where do I meet you?”
“You recall the abandoned gas station my boys left you at the other morning?”
“No, I was too dazed to remember where it was.”
“Where are you right now?”
“Igor Creek’s Bend.”
“Hmmm, give me a minute. Hold the line.”
Sammy took two minutes before returning to him.
“Just checked my map. You’re not far from the station. When you get onto the main road, drive for another five miles, and you’ll find the gas station on your left. When you get there, call my number and my boys will come and get you. I trust you’ll be alone?”
“No one here but me.”
“I’ll be expecting you then.” The call ended.
Kingsley closed the van’s back doors then got into the driver’s seat. He switched off both phones before starting the car. The sound of the van’s engine broke the silence in the meadow. He couldn’t wait to be back on the main road.
* * *
Toji found no comfort in falling asleep. Even with his eyes still open, his body ringing with tiredness, he bore the notion that the world had spun twice on its axis in the last twenty-four hours, and he was the lone human being on the planet who took actual note of it.
He was in the kitchen of his small apartment, stirring a cup of tea, still wearing his work clothes with his tie loosened and shirt buttons undone. He felt reluctant to undress and go wash off in the bathroom. A hot shower would do him a lot of good, he knew this, but he reckoned a hot shower would do nothing but cloud his current state of mind. For now, he required every cell in his brain to remain alert. It was too early for him to shut down just yet.
He pulled out a chair, sat by his kitchen table, and drank his tea. He winced at the taste—he’d added more sugar than necessary. What the hell, it was still tea. His gun in its holster as well as his notebook and cell phone lay on the table before him. He had tried Kingsley’s number but still no luck. He saw his investigation outlined before his eyes and couldn’t stop going over every known fact and figure in his mind, cross-referencing them with whatever assumption of piece of missing puzzle his mind could conjure. A sharp arrow pointed at the mystery Brit: What was he up to, and what amount of hold did he have on his suspect? And why him?
Frustrated, he drained his tea and washed the cup in the sink. He had just finished rinsing it when his phone started ringing. He dried his hands quickly before picking it up. The time was 1:51 A.M.
“Good morning, sir. This is Frank Odim, the intern you met at—”
“Yes, yes, Frank, I remember you. Any word yet?”
The doctor’s voice sounded grave. “Yes, sir. We finished less than ten minutes ago. I’m afraid I have bad news.”
“Oh, no,” Toji muttered. His hand found his chair and he lowered himself on it. With the phone in one hand, his other pressed against his temple, he listened to the doctor’s words without interrupting, wishing the night would end suddenly and take him along with it.
* * *
Kingsley came out of the dirt road an hour later and barked harsh laughter that sounded like joy as the front tires of the van came upon the tarred asphalt of the main road. He turned right and continued driving. Rest assured, he knew it was going to be a smooth ride until he got to his next stop. Whatever was bound to happen after Sammy’s boys got hold of the weapons, he couldn’t foresee.
He came upon the abandoned gas station on the left shoulder of the inbound lane. The structure was as it was the last time he’d seen it with hardly any noticeable change. He drove into the station’s courtyard and turned off his headlights and engine and sat there with both hands on the wheel, waiting. Everything was quiet and still. He switched on the Thuraya and called Sammy to let him know he’d arrived before switching it off and dropped the phone on the passenger seat. The weight of sleep hit him with a vengeance. Kingsley reclined his seat backwards and let the sleep claim him.
He wasn’t aware when they came for him. He had dozed off and was too weak and disoriented to fight back when the van’s doors came open and a pair of hands pulled him out of his seat. Kingsley would have fallen on his face if they hadn’t held him—there were two of them. They propelled him toward the back of the van without a word and opened the back doors. One of them dropped a cowl over his head and tied it behind his neck. They held his arms behind his back, and like before, bound his wrists; he offered no resistance. They shoved him inside the van and made him lie on the floor beside the duffel bags. Kingsley heard the van’s doors slam back and heard the lock turn. He listened to the sound of their feet coming around to the front and heard both front doors open and then slam shut. Someone started the van’s engine, and the vehicle jerked forward as they drove off.
The cowl’s fabric stank of sweat and pressed against his face each time he breathed though it. Kingsley half raised himself and wiggled his body against the bag pressing at his left shoulder, searching for a suitable means to rest his head, even as the van kept jostling him around. The fatigue that was upon him was so great, he allowed it to drag him to sleep again.