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Kidnapped Russian sailors well, may be in Nigeria

* Captain, engineer alive — Ship owner, seafarers’ union

Two Russian sailors abducted from their ship off Cameroon are in good health and may have been taken by their captors to neighbouring Nigeria, according to the ship’s owner and the Seafarers’ Union of Russia (SUR).

Unidentified gunmen raided the Greek-owned cargo ship North Spirit last Sunday while it was at anchor off the port of Douala, taking the captain and chief engineer in an attack analysts say marks an expansion in the range of West African piracy.

The pirates also attacked a nearby Lithuanian vessel, Argo, seizing that ship’s captain and robbing its safe. “The (captain of the North Spirit) was allowed to make a call last night said he and his crew mate were alive and in good health,” said Vadim Ivanov, spokesman for the SUR. “He said they had been taken by sea to Nigeria.”

The raid is the latest in a string of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, a region stretching from the Guineas in the northwest to Angola in the south, that is an increasingly important source of oil to western markets.

Negotiators hired by the insurance company of the Greek ship owner, Balthellas Chartering, are trying to make contact with the pirates to secure the sailors’ release.

“They are trying to start (negotiations) but the pirates haven’t contacted them yet,” said Panayotis Nikoletos, Balthellas’ operations manager. “Hopefully, negotiations will start at some point today (Friday),” Nikoletos said.

He said he believed the Lithuanian captain was with the two Russians and added the company was trying to confirm reports the three were in Nigeria.

A spokesman for Limarko, the owner of the Argo, declined to comment.

Analysts said the attack near the port of Douala — which serves land-locked Chad and Central African Republic, as well as some parts of the two Congos — showed pirates in the region were venturing further south and becoming more brazen.

Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea have mostly been clustered off the Bakassi Peninsula on the restive Nigeria-Cameroon border where various armed groups operate.

Cameroon last month blamed piracy for part of a 13 percent slide in oil production in 2009. The country’s output averaged 73,000 barrels per day last year, down from 84,000 bpd in 2008.


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