Pirates hijack oil tanker off Togo

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A Panama-flagged oil tanker, BW Rhine, has been hijacked off the coast of Togo, with 21 crewmembers taken hostage.

According to its owners, the vessel was hijacked off Togo on April 28. BW Maritime of Singapore said the last contact the company had with the ship’s crew was on April 30. The vessel had moved 115 nautical miles in a southeasterly direction as of yesterday, according to Maritime Bulletin, and was some 85 nautical miles south of Lagos, Nigeria.

The 75 678 deadweight tons tanker was partly loaded with refined fuel and sailed to West Africa from Ventspils, Latvia, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. Its depth in the water is 12.6 meters (41 feet) out of a maximum of 14.7 meters, the data show. The 21 crew include Indian, Filipino, Romanian and Chinese nationalities.

Potengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), told AFP that warships and navies from neighbouring countries have been alerted to the hijacking and are searching for the ship.

At this stage it is not clear what the hijackers intend to do with the vessel. Pirates off West Africa generally hijack a ship for its cargo and release the vessel and its crew without ransom.
“Here we have criminal gangs whose main purpose is to steal multi-million cargo, which is gasoline, as it has a ready market. It is very easy to dispose of it. There has been an underground trade in the Gulf of Guinea for decades,” Mukundan told AFP.

The International Maritime Bureau late last month in its global piracy report for the first quarter of this year said that there had been 19 attacks off the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa, with two vessels hijacked. Some 42 crew have been taken hostage, two crew members killed and two kidnapped by pirates.

The IMB said global reported pirate attacks totalled 102 incidents in the first quarter, down from 142 in the same period last year. Somali pirates accounted for nearly half the attacks in the first quarter of this year.

West Africa also remained a worsening piracy hotspot. Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea have increased in recent months as the area, spanning a dozen countries, is a growing source of oil, cocoa and metals being shipped to the world’s markets.

The IMB said attacks off Nigeria reached 10 in the first quarter the same number reported for the whole of 2011. A further attack in neighbouring Benin was also attributed to Nigerian gangs.
“Nigerian piracy is increasing in incidence and extending in range,” said Mukundan. “While the number of reported incidents in Nigeria is still less than Somalia, and hijacked vessels are under control of the pirates for days rather than months, the level of violence against crew is dangerously high.”