It is currently assessed that the 8 personnel originally held hostage on the vessel have been kidnapped.
Upon boarding the vessel, the multinational force consisting of Nigerian special forces and Benin naval personnel were reported to have been unable to find any sign of the perpetrators or the missing 8 crew members.
This is a highly irregular incident for which there are only two rational courses of action to explain the absence of crew. The first being that earlier reporting regarding the perpetrators being abandoned on the vessel were false and that the 8 crew members were kidnapped in the early stages of the incident. The second narrative is that the perpetrators and 8 crew members were at some point able to disembark the vessel and escape. Analysis indicates that the Nigerian Naval Vessel NNS OSE departed the scene on the morning of 20th April to the Cotonou Naval base before returning soon after. During this time, the TOMMI RITSCHER is understood to have been under observation by Naval vessels from Benin.
It would be considered a serious operational failing if the perpetrators were able to escape given the significant military presence in the vicinity of the vessel and thus it is assessed as a realistic possibility that communications from within the citadel were incorrect and that the perpetrators were able to escape at an early stage of the attack with 8 crew members.
It is assessed as highly likely that the perpetrators originated from within Nigeria, in particular the southern Delta region. It is assessed that the perpetrators are likely to have been aware that Benin had taken the decision to cease placing guards on board vessels at anchor as a result of COVID-19 and were aware of the limited established security presence within the area.
This the second incident within the Cotonou anchorage within 2020 and the 5th incident in this location across a 12 month time frame. Whilst the full details of the incident remain unknown, incidents within the anchorage area have predominantly been limited to suspicious approaches and boarding’s for the purposes of petty theft. The waters off Cotonou and neighbouring Lomé have witnessed a number of more serious incidents involving the kidnap of crew at a distance of between 40 – 150nm.