Nigerian pirate captain caught in SA fights against extradition
Court hears Nigerian led dramatic hijack on the high seas
When Captain Yevgeny Kolodko was summoned to the bridge by his crew early one morning last April, he was confronted by a group of pirates who had boarded his cargo ship, FWN Rapide, so quietly his men did not even have time to push the panic button.
The men, armed with AK47s and M16s, ransacked the cabins, stealing electronics, money, jewellery and socks before discarding the ship and taking the crew hostage.
The 11 captives were held in a remote Nigerian village for almost a month as the kidnappers negotiated with the Dutch shipping company for their release.
The pirates finally settled on a $340,000 (R4.7m) ransom and the crew - one of whom had been wounded in a shoot-out with a Nigerian border patrol unit and another who had fallen gravely ill - were released.
This week, the suspected kingpin behind the attack appeared in the Kempton Park magistrate's court.
Itoruboemi Benson Lobia, 22, was nabbed at OR Tambo International Airport in November as he tried to board a plane to Mauritius.
Interpol officer Samuel Dlamini intercepted him, identifying him from a passport photo after a tip-off from Dutch authorities.
Now investigators in the Netherlands are trying to have Lobia extradited.
Dramatic affidavits handed in to court describe Lobia as the suspected mastermind of a syndicate allegedly responsible for multiple attacks on ships travelling along the coast of Africa.
"I estimate the organisation behind the hijacking is very large and powerful with contacts everywhere," senior tactical investigation officer William Hoeve wrote in his forensic report.
A statement by Kolodko detailed the precision with which the pirate crew had taken over the ship, which was travelling from Ghana to Nigeria, taking 11 hostages while three managed to hide.
At about 5.30am on April 20 he was summoned to the bridge. There he found three armed men holding a crew member at gunpoint.
Statements from multiple crew members said at least nine men had stormed the ship, with some noting how "professional" the attack had seemed.
Kolodko explained that the pirates had not been detected by the ship's radar, as they had used plastic boats - the same boats he and his own crew were piled into as the Rapide and its cargo were abandoned.
Kolodko was placed on the same boat as the pirate leader, who identified himself as "Major" and "Seaman". As they approached the shore, Kolodko noticed two burnt and sunken ships. "The major said that these ships had been hijacked by them and that they had sunk these ships."
The crew were kept overnight on the coast of Cameroon before being moved to a small village in Nigeria.
For more than three weeks, the men were kept in a house on stilts near a creek.
Living on a diet of noodles and water, many of the witnesses were stoic, according to the report, even saying they felt they weren't treated too badly by their captors.
It was "Major" who took control of negotiations, contacting the ship's holding company, ForestWave Navigations. The telephonic battle between "Major" and German hostage negotiator Tobias Ruthe continued for three weeks, with Lobia initially demanding $2m.
On May 15 a deal was struck - $340,000 for the release of all 11 hostages. Three days later, news emerged of the group's release.
Throughout the extradition proceedings, Lobia has claimed that the authorities have the wrong man.
He is due back in court this week...