HOUSTON (CN) – Chevron ignored threats from Nigerian pirates who hijacked its supply boat, took the captain hostage and tortured him for 18 days in a filthy and mosquito-infested camp, the traumatized captain claims in court.
Wren Thomas sued Chevron USA and Edison Chouest Offshore LLC, on Oct. 16 in Harris County Court.
Thomas claims that in July 2011 Edison Chouest made him captain of its 200-foot vessel, the C-Retriever, tasked with supporting Chevron drilling off Nigeria’s coast.
Chevron and Edison Chouest, or ECO, were well aware that pirates patrolled the area, because pirates had stormed ECO’s vessel Fast Servant in 2010, beat two U.S. captains and stole the boat’s equipment, Thomas says.
“Again, in November 2011, three men employed by ECO aboard the C-Endeavor supporting Chevron operations were attacked and taken hostage,” the complaint states.
But despite the risks, Thomas says, Chevron and ECO did not develop a protocol to deal with such attacks and failed to replace their supply boats’ radio communication systems with more secure satellite phones.
“The policy significantly increased the danger to officers and crew because it allowed potential hijackers to monitor locations and destinations of vessels in the region,” according to the complaint.
Thomas says the danger became tangible in the spring of 2013 when he began getting death threats over the boat’s radio system and cell phone.
He reported the threats to his Chevron and ECO bosses, who assured him the problem had been handled and told him “the vessel would lose thousands of dollars in down time and possibly its contract with Chevron” if he left the ship, Thomas says.
Thomas says that after ECO received an anonymous email warning that he should not return to Nigeria for his onshore hitch, he asked to be transferred off the C-Retriever.
And the threats kept coming, Thomas says.
“On October 17, 2013, ECO received a detailed threat from a militant group in the state of Bayelsa, Nigeria,” the complaint states. “The group threatened to kidnap ECO vessel crews and burn their vessels if certain demands were not met.”
But the companies were unfazed, Thomas says, because five days later they ordered him to make a supply run “into one of the most pirate-infested areas in West Africa.” En route to the delivery point, the C-Retriever was attacked by Nigerian pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, at 3 a.m. on Oct. 23, 2013, Thomas says.
“Captain Thomas and the majority of his crew attempted to evade capture by taking refuge in the vessel’s Bulk Tank Room,” the complaint states. “However, after six hours, the pirates were able to breach the room and open gunfire on Captain Thomas and his crew. To avoid loss of life, Thomas and his engineer were forced to surrender.”
The pirates separated the crew by nationality and took the Americans, Thomas and his engineer, ABC News reported.
Thomas says the pirates took him to a “fly, mosquito and pollution-infested camp in the Nigerian swamplands” where he was tortured and underfed for 18 days.
ECO paid a ransom to get Thomas and his engineer released, but did not disclose the amount, Fox News reported.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta took credit for negotiating the two men’s release, and claimed they were paid a $2 million ransom, according to Fox News.
In his lawsuit, Thomas says the ordeal left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, high blood pressure, an infection, and financial and marital problems.
He seeks punitive damages for gross negligence under the Jones Act, a federal law that regulates working conditions for U.S. seamen.
He is represented by Brian Beckom with Vujasinovic & Beckom of Houston.
Neither Chevron nor Edison Chouest responded to requests for comment.
Since Thomas was taken hostage, Nigerian pirates have increased their activities in the Gulf of Guinea, Maritime Executive magazine reported in a Sept. 3 article about an oil tanker hijacking near Abidjan, an Ivory Coast port.
“Pirate attacks in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, a significant source of oil, cocoa and metals for world markets, have almost doubled from last year, jacking up insurance costs for shipping companies,” the magazine reported.
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