LONDON (Dow Jones)–Pirates off the coast of Nigeria have taken control of an oil products tanker with about 25 crew members on board, part of a new wave of increasingly sophisticated attacks in the Gulf of Guinea.
Cyrus Mody, a manager of the International Maritime Bureau, said Thursday that the attack, which most likely happened Sunday, is the seventh in Nigeria this year. The ship owner said he hadn’t heard from anyone on board.
The Niger Delta region has seen a return of piracy in recent months, despite most militants in the region accepting a presidential amnesty in late 2009.
While attacks in the region have in the past involved violent robberies of cash, attackers are now targeting the actual cargo and transferring the oil from ships to smaller vessels, which are controlled by local buyers, Risk Intelligence, a maritime consulting group said in a report published this week.
From Dec. 24, 2010 to Oct. 31, 2011, 31 offshore attacks took place on tankers carrying chemicals and refined products in the Bight of Benin, an area spanning from Lagos in Nigeria to Lome in Togo, the Risk Intelligence report said.
In a separate incident Tuesday, gunmen attacked the Nigeria-flagged products tanker Igbere in Akwa Ibom State in the Eastern Delta, according to a report from a security company.
In the attack, nine armed men in a speedboat boarded the ship and took valuables from the crew, the report said. The vessel had already been attacked Sept. 30 and the captain kidnapped and later released.
On average, cargoes captured offshore Nigeria and Benin are kept by pirates for between three and 10 days–enough time for them to transfer the oil to another vessel, Mody said. Once this is done, the vessels are typically released.
The Risk Intelligence report said the hijackings appear to be “part of an integrated criminal system, which engages piracy expertise from the Niger Delta and is supported by powerful commercial and political interests in Lagos and the Delta region.”
Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer at over 2 million barrels a day, has been plagued by political instability and corruption.
-By Jenny Gross and Benoit Faucon of Dow Jones Newswires