Pirates, security forces exchange fire
Lagos (AFP) – A tanker hijacked off West Africa with 24 Russian crew on board was spotted near Nigeria on Wednesday, officials said, after an attack that saw pirates exchange fire with security forces.
“We are making frantic efforts to establish communications with them,” said Kabir Aliyu, a spokesman for Nigeria Navy, after Tuesday’s hijacking of the Greek-owned oil tanker off nearby Togo.
“As at this morning about 8:30 am, it was 62 nautical miles south from Lagos, but so far no communication with them up till now.”
A Togolese military spokesman also said the ship had been spotted off Nigeria.
Early Tuesday, pirates exchanged fire with security forces and hijacked the Energy Centurion in the latest attack in the region, the International Maritime Bureau said.
The Isle of Man-flagged vessel, which was carrying gas oil, was seized 17 miles off the coast of the Togolese capital Lome, where it had reportedly been anchored, said Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s piracy reporting centre.
The hijackers exchanged fire with a Togo navy patrol boat that answered a distress call but managed to elude the patrol by steaming off aboard the tanker, Choong said.
Choong and the vessel’s Athens-based operator, Golden Energy Management, said they suspected the pirates were after the tanker’s gas oil cargo — often the cause of such attacks in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa.
Pirates typically unload the fuel cargo onto another ship before eventually selling it on the region’s lucrative black market.
The Malaysia-based IMB has repeatedly warned ships plying the Gulf of Guinea to be vigilant and called on authorities to step up patrols, last year saying the region was emerging as a new piracy “hot spot”.
The area has seen at least 36 attacks, including several hijackings, kidnappings and killings, so far this year.