20 man crew on hijacked vessel off Nigeria: firm

12th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Twenty eastern European sailors are on board an oil tanker hijacked by pirates off the Nigerian coast, the German shipping company that employs them said on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Columbia Ship Management, based in the northern German city of Hamburg, told AFP there were "20 members of the crew, who come from eastern Europe."

"We have been in contact with the vessel," added the spokesman who did not wish to be named. He was unable to say if the pirates had made any demands or whether the crew was in good health.

Pirates boarded the Marshall Islands-flagged MT Cape Bird on Saturday, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

The attack took place around 90 nautical miles south of Lagos, Nigeria's economic capital, according to a report on the IMB website.

A spokesman for the Nigerian navy said that the tanker was carrying 30,000 tonnes of fuel.

The Moscow-based Seafarers Union of Russia, citing a "reliable source," said the crew includes three Russians from the Black Sea city of Novorossiisk as well as nationals of Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic nation of Latvia.

"The shipping company has already informed the seamen's families about the incident," it said, adding, "Talks on the terms of release of the ship and crew members have already begun."

Citing data from October 11, Russia's prominent maritime expert Mikhail Voitenko said separately that "the crew of 20 people has not been hurt."

The coast of Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, is a dangerous place to sail, with pirates hijacking ships, mostly loaded with crude, from the oil-rich Niger Delta, for sale on the region's lucrative black market.

On October 2, pirates armed with automatic weapons fired upon and boarded a chemical tanker off neighbouring Benin before stealing cash, the latest in a wave of such attacks off west Africa, IMB said.

The coast of Benin has seen some 20 piracy incidents this year compared with none last year. Piracy has long been a problem off Nigeria.

Benin and Nigeria launched joint sea patrols last month to tackle the surge in piracy that has raised alarm in the shipping industry, with attacks seeing crews held hostage and fuel stolen.

© 2011 AFP

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