A Nigerian militant group said it’s in contact with the captors of two U.S. citizens abducted off the coast of the West African nation and is working to ensure they are well treated before being freed.
The unidentified Americans were seized from a vessel called the C-Retriever in the Gulf of Guinea yesterday in an act of piracy, the State Department said. The kidnappings were carried out by a “heavily armed auxiliary outfit” that made contact with a commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the group said in an e-mailed statement.
“The Americans will not be handed over for our direct custody, but we will have the influence to visit them and ensure that they are well looked after before their subsequent release,” Jomo Gbomo, the spokesman of the movement that’s known as MEND, said in the statement.
West African piracy overtook Somali attacks as the greatest threat to crews of merchant ships for the first time in 2012, according to organizations including the International Maritime Bureau. Before the latest incident, seven vessels were hijacked this year in the Gulf of Guinea and 132 crew taken hostage, according to Oct. 17 data from the London-based agency that tracks crime at sea.
Nigeria is the seventh-biggest producer in the 12-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in September. West Africa shipped about 10 percent of the world’s crude last year, the most after the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, according to figures from London-based BP Plc.
“We are concerned by the disturbing increase in the incidents of maritime crime, including incidents of piracy off the coast of West Africa, specifically in the Gulf of Guinea,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday in Washington. “And we have and will continue to work with West African governments to build the capacity and political will needed to address piracy and related criminal activity.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said she couldn’t identify the captured crew members of the C-Retriever for privacy reasons. The vessel is an offshore supply ship owned by Offshore Service Vessels LLC of Cut Off, Louisiana, an affiliate of Edison Chouest Offshore International.
“Our concern at this point is for the safe return” of the two crew members of the ship, Harf told reporters yesterday in Washington
Attacks including kidnappings and bombing of oil installations by groups including MEND cut more than 28 percent of Nigeria’s oil output from 2006 to 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The violence declined after thousands of fighters accepted a government amnesty offer in 2009 and disarmed.
Troops in a boat escorting construction workers to a site in the Andoni district of the delta were ambushed on the Ikuru River on Oct. 22, leaving two soldiers dead, Onyema Nwachukwu, a spokesman for the military task force in charge of security in the region, said today in an e-mailed statement. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack blamed by the army on pirates.
The increase in piracy off the coast of Nigeria comes as officials cite a decline in attacks off Somalia in East Africa amid tighter security and better intelligence to protect ships.
“Compared to 99 attacks in the first nine months of 2012, 17 attacks occurred against ships in the waters off the coast of Somalia in the first nine months of 2013, in which pirates were able to briefly hijack two dhows,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an Oct. 21 report to the Security Council, citing reports from the International Maritime Organization.
The 2009 hijacking of the container ship Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean by Somali pirates has gained new attention through “Captain Phillips,” a movie dramatizing the incident that stars Tom Hanks.