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Pirates strike off Nigeria

Pirates have struck off Nigeria.Pirates have kidnapped five sailors from the vessel of a Polish company off the Nigerian coast, including three crewmembers from Morocco.

They were seized from the general cargo vessel Oya 1 around 15 nautical miles south west of Bonny Island, according to Moroccan media, which said the attack occurred on 31 July. It was subsequently confirmed by the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre.

The vessel had apparently departed Ghana on 27 July. After pirates boarded the ship, the Nigerian Navy responded and towed it to a safe port for further investigation, according to Safety4Sea. The vessel in question is apparently managed by the Congo’s Ocean Express.

Although piracy has eased off East Africa, Nigeria continues to be a hotspot. For instance, seven Russians and one Ukrainian were kidnaped in Nigerian waters in February this year.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), up until July this year pirates have been responsible for the abduction of 31 crew members in five reported incidents in the Gulf of Guinea. The numbers include 14 crew members taken from two separate vessels in the second quarter of the year.

The IMB reported that on 22 July a fishing boat approached and attempted to board a bulk carrier underway off Dakar, Senegal. The alarm raised, all crew were mustered, and the vessel increased speed, managing to evade the boarding.

In May Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) noted that armed attacks on ships in West African waters nearly doubled in 2016, with pirates increasingly focused on kidnapping their crew for ransom off Nigeria's coast. OBP recorded 95 attacks in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea in 2016, up from 54 the previous year.

Cargo theft, once the main focus of piracy in the region, has given way to an increase in kidnappings, with 96 crew members taken hostage compared to 44 in 2015.

OBP estimated the total economic cost of maritime crime in West Africa at nearly $794 million.

West Africa has emerged as the world's epicenter for piracy in recent years after increased patrolling by international navies and ramped up on-board security largely succeeded in suppressing hijackings off the Horn of Africa.

However, those efforts are expensive. OBP estimated the total cost of counter-piracy operations in the western Indian Ocean at $1.7 billion last year.

In their heyday in 2011, Somali pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia and held hundreds of hostages, the International Maritime Bureau said. Attacks fell sharply after ship owners tightened security and avoided the Somali coast. But they have risen again this year.

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