Crew on tanker hijacked off Nigeria freed: union

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The 20 crew of the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker Cape Bird, hijacked by pirates off the Nigerian coast, have been freed after a week-long ordeal, the Russian sailors union said on Friday.

"The crew of the Cape Bird have been freed" the Seafarers Union of Russia said in a statement on its website. "The sailors are healthy and there are no injuries."

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the attack took place on Saturday around 90 nautical miles south of Lagos, Nigeria's economic capital.

Russian sources said earlier said the crew of 20 includes three Russians from the Black Sea city of Novorossiisk as well as nationals of Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic nation of Latvia.

"The entire crew were freed this morning," Sergei Panyushkin, the head of the Columbia shipping recruitment firm that hired the sailors, told the Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies.

He said information about how they were freed would only be divulged once the ship had returned to port. The sailors were employed by Hamburg-based German company Columbia Ship Management GmbH.

Panyushin also said that the crew were safe and well and had not been harmed. A spokesman for the Nigerian navy had said that the tanker was carrying 30,000 tonnes of fuel.

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.

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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