On July 23, 2021, a Nigerian Federal High Court sentenced 10 Pirates for their involvement in hijacking a Chinese Vessel merchant vessel FV HAILUFENG II in 2020. The pirates each received a 12-year prison sentence and a N250,000.00 fine on each count.
The FV HAILUFENG II Hijacking
In May 2020, ten pirates Frank Abaka, Jude Ebaragha, Shina Alolo, Joshua Iwiki, David Akinseye, Ahmed Toyin, Shobajo Saheed, Adekole Philip, Matthew Masi, and Bright Agbedeyi, allegedly hijacked a Chinese vessel and kidnapped the 18 crew members. The ship was in international waters off the coast of Cote D’lvoire.
States in the Gulf of Guinea participated in the rescue mission. They used resources set under the Yaoundé Architecture for Maritime Security. “In a rare victory, the Nigerian Navy was able to interdict the Hailufeng 11 at a position about 140 nautical miles south of Lagos, arriving about two days after the hijacking,” The Maritime Executive reported. The navy rescued the crew members and arrested the pirates.
The Federal high court Justice Ayokunle Faji said the pirates’ actions were “an embarrassment to the nation that has impacted the economy negatively.”
Hijacking incidents are common in the Gulf of Guinea, which covers several West African Countries. That region has been termed “pirate alley” for the frequent attacks. The International Maritime Bureau reported that last year there were about 22 incidents that accounted for 130 seafarers’ kidnappings.
Nigerian lead prosecutor Labaran Magaji said that the conviction is intended to send a strong message Nigeria does not tolerate maritime crimes and that Nigerian institutions are prepared to combat criminal activities.
The 2019 Anti-Piracy Law
The July 23 conviction is the first time pirates have been prosecuted under the Suppression of Piracy, and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act that President Muhammadu Buhari passed in 2019. Previously, three private security company employees were fined under this law after their alleged involvement in aiding a ransom crime. The legislation clarified jurisdictional issues related to armed robbery committed at sea and authorizes exclusive jurisdiction to hear matters related to armed robbery and other illegal acts committed at sea in the Federal High Court. Furthermore, the act prohibits hijacking, vandalism, or destruction of the ship, and the unlawful interference of ship operation, navigation, and installation on the facility.
The current (i.e., August) issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of this case.