Five foreign sailors kidnapped off Nigeria freed
Five foreigners who were kidnapped last month when heavily armed pirates stormed their cargo ship off Nigeria's oil-producing southern coast have been released, the vessel's German operator said Tuesday.
The Gulf of Guinea, which includes the waters of Benin, Nigeria and Togo is an emerging piracy hub, with gunmen frequently targeting oil ships both to steal crude and seize foreign hostages in order to get ransom payments.
The operator of the City of Xiamen ship declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding the release, but it is widely believed that in such cases the targeted companies pay the abductors in exchange for the release of their staff.
"Sunship Schiffahrtskontor KG confirms that all of its five crew members who were abducted...on 26 April 2013, were released on 11 May 2013," a statement said, identifying the hostages as Russian and Polish nationals.
Days after the attack, reportedly carried out by 14 well-armed gunmen who forced their way into the ship's saferoom, a Nigerian security source identified those abducted as Russian, Sri Lankan and a Myanmar national.
The company, based in the German port town of Emben, said the sailors were in good health "despite difficult conditions while in captivity".
The number of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea rose from 39 in 2010, to 53 in 2011 and 62 in 2012, according to the London-based think-tank Chatham House.
Nigeria has pushed for more aggressive international action to combat unrest around its oil-producing Niger Delta region, which generates some two million barrels of crude each day.
The country is also looking at stepping up multi-lateral naval patrols, which have shown some success in stamping out piracy off Benin.
Some have suggested that foreign vessels should be allowed to hire private and armed security escorts, but analysts say Nigeria is unlikely to let that proposal move forward.
Nigeria's oil industry was previously crippled by an insurgency in the Niger Delta, but a 2009 amnesty deal with oil rebels helped curb the unrest.
But analysts say that attacks in the region have continued because of persistent poverty among a frustrated population that has not benefited from the revenue generated by Africa's largest oil industry.
The unrest has also affected oil infrastructure inland, with armed gangs often blasting into pipelines and siphoning off crude for sale on the black market.
Nigeria's military and powerful political figures have been accused of profiting from the criminality in the Niger Delta, but those accusations have been fiercely denied.
Aside from kidnappings in the south, foreigners have also been targeted by Islamist extremist groups in the north, but that is considered a different phenomenon.
Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, roughly split between a mostly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
© 2013 AFP