Kerala incident confirmed as hijacking

FEBRUARY 7, 2013 — The hijacking of Dynacom's Liberian-flagged product tanker, Kerala, (IMO No.: 9390927), at Luanda, Angola on January 18, 2014 marked a significant extension south by gangs involved in refined product cargo theft – a crime hitherto perpetrated across the Gulf of Guinea region, from Abidjan (Ivory Coast) in the west to Port Gentil (Gabon) in the south,according to Portsmouth, U.K., based Dryad Maritime Intelligence.

Prior to the attack, Dryad Maritime had been warning its clients of a suspect vessel , identified as a 200 ton tug, operating off the Angolan coast. The suspect vessel was sighted in a restricted area offshore Angola on January 17, reportedly close to the anchored position of MT Kerala.

The hijacking of the Dynacom Tanker in an area where a known suspect vessel was operating was an embarrassment for the Angolan Navy, which floated the idea that the hijacking had been faked by the Kerala's crew.

Now the vessel's flag state, Liberia, has confirmed that the incident was a hijacking.

Liberia, in co-operation with the vessel owners, requested the attendance in Tema, Ghana, of an INTERPOL-led multinational Incident Response Team. These authorities, supported and helped by the Ghanaian authorities, undertook a crime scene investigation on board the vessel. A representative of the Liberian Flag Administration also attended onboard in Tema to observe the collection of forensic evidence by the authorities. All parties were given full access to the vessel's documents, officers and crew.

Although the investigation is still ongoing, the evidence gathered thus far by the INTERPOL Incident Response Team has allowed the Liberian Registry to conclude that the vessel was hijacked by pirates.

During the hijacking, the pirates disabled the vessel’s AIS and other communication equipment so that the vessel could not be tracked from shore or satellite. During this period, the pirates painted over the identifying features of the vessel, including stack, name and IMO number and undertook three separate ship-to-ship transfers of cargo amounting to the theft of approximately 12,271.5 tonnes of cargo.

The owners of the KERALA regained contact with the vessel on January 26, 2014, shortly after the pirates had disembarked. The vessel immediately set a course for the safety of the port of Tema, Ghana, as a port of refuge.

All crew members received immediate medical treatment on arrival at Tema. During the hijacking, one crew member was stabbed by the pirates and others were beaten.

Liberia says it will continue working with the authorities in Ghana, Nigeria and Angola and elsewhere in the region in order to bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime to justice. Liberia remains committed to fighting piracy in all of its forms wherever it may occur in the world.