Pirates release Cypriot tanker seized off Benin

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Pirates have released a Cyprus-flagged tanker seized off the West African country of Benin 10 days ago with a 23-strong crew, including five Spaniards, a Spanish foreign ministry spokeswoman said Saturday.

"The boat has been freed. I have not been informed of whether anyone was injured or killed in the operation," she said.

"We are in contact with the relatives," she added, without giving details.

The International Maritime Bureau announced on September 14 that armed pirates had boarded and hijacked the tanker and taken its 23 crew hostage.

According to Spanish media, the tanker was freed during the morning once the pirates had left the ship after unloading its cargo of oil.

The daily El Pais said on its website that one of the members of the crew had been injured but was out of danger.

The coast of Benin, which neighbours Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, has seen a steep increase in hijackings this year, with 19 ships coming under attack.

Of the 19, eight were hijacked, nine were boarded and there were unsuccessful attempts to attack two others, according to the maritime bureau.

In such attacks pirates generally steal fuel or oil being hauled by tankers with the aim of selling it on the region's lucrative black market.

Unlike the explosion of piracy off the coast of Somalia on the eastern side of the continent in recent years, those involved in the recent West African attacks have so far not appeared to be after ransom payments.

Several Spanish ships, mostly tuna trawlers, have been targeted by pirates in recent years off the coast of Africa.

In October 2009, the tuna trawler Alakrana was intercepted by pirates more than 550 kilometres (340 miles) off the Somali coast with a crew of 16 Spaniards and eight Indonesians, as well as 12 African nationals. All were released safe and sound 47 days later after a ransom of four million dollars had been paid, according to the pirates who held them.

© 2011 AFP

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