10 Indian seamen rescued from hijacked ship in Nigeria

New Delhi: Ten Indians are among the 16 crew members rescued in Nigeria from a ship hijacked off the Ivory Coast earlier this month, a senior official said on Thursday. While one pirate was killed and six pirates apprehended during the rescue operation, one Indian and a Pakistan national were still in the custody of the other pirates. "Merchant vessel Maximus owned by Dubai-based Warm Seas company with a crew of 18 was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on February 11," External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said at a media briefing here. The crew had 11 Indian seamen, including the ship's captain.  "The vessel was under charter to a South Korean company and was in its bunkering position when the incident occurred," he said. According to the spokesman, the Indian mission in Ivory Coast alerted the country's authorities on February 12 besides alerting the Indian missions in Ghana and Nigeria as the vessel was suspected to be sailing in that direction. "On our request, the Ghana naval ships operating in the region were tasked to track the ship," he said. The pirates changed the name of the vessel to MT Elwins and it was followed by the mother ship of the pirates. The vessel, instead of entering the waters of Benin, steered southwards and entered international waters towards Nigeria on February 14. "The issue was taken up with the Nigerian authorities, after which the Nigerian navy immediately launched operations to locate the vessel," Swarup said. He said five Nigerian ships were deployed for the operation and the hijacked vessel was finally intercepted by the Nigerian navy around 7.30 p.m. on February 19. "During the operation, one pirate was killed and six pirates were apprehended," the spokesman said. "No crew member sustained injury during the operation. Sixteen crew members were rescued by the Nigerian navy, including 10 Indians." However, two crew members - an Indian identified as Rohan Ruparelia and a Pakistani - were taken hostage by the pirates when they disengaged. "Our mission in Abuja (Nigeria) has recommended that the rescued crew members proceed back to India to their families. An Indian doctor has also been sent on board the Maximus to offer trauma assistance to the crew members," Swarup said. "The Nigerian authorities are presently interrogating the apprehended pirates and are also analysing the data seized from the pirates in order to identify the location of the hostages," he said. The Indian mission in Nigeria is also in touch with the shipping company as well as the family members of the Indian national taken hostage and efforts were on to secure his safe release.