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Fuel tanker reportedly hijacked off Nigeria coast

Tuesday - 5/28/2013, 12:10pm  ET

JON GAMBRELL
Associated Press

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Pirates hijacked a fuel tanker off the coast of Nigeria's oil-rich delta, taking Pakistani and Nigerian sailors hostage in the latest attack targeting the region, private security officials said Tuesday.

The gunmen boarded the MT Matrix I some 40 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria's Bayelsa state early Saturday morning, the officials said, taking a number of the crew hostage. It wasn't immediately known what happened to the rest of the crew. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as the Nigerian government was not speaking publicly about the hijacking.

A military spokesman in the delta referred calls for comment Tuesday to Nigeria's navy. Commodore Kabir Aliyu, a navy spokesman, said there had been no report of a hijacking made to officials.

Some shippers in the region don't report hijackings publicly, out of fears of having their insurance premiums rise.

Telephone numbers for Pakistan's High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, could not be immediately connected Tuesday.

Nigerian naval authorities listed the ship as one of several allowed to bring subsidized gasoline into the country in May as part of a program costing the nation billions of dollars a year.

Naval officials listed the ship as being operated by a company called Integrated Shipping Services Nigeria Ltd. A telephone number for the company could not be immediately found. Other registries listed the ship as being operated by Val Oil Trading SA of Athens, Greece. A number for that company could not be immediately found. Officials at Matrix Energy Ltd., a Nigerian company listed as doing business with Val Oil Trading, did not immediately return a call for comment.

The Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent's southward curve from Liberia past Nigeria to Gabon, has seen an escalation in violent pirate attacks from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts. London-based Lloyd's Market Association -- an umbrella group of insurers -- has listed Nigeria, neighboring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.

Oil tanker hijackings have happened more and more in recent months, with pirates stealing the fuel onboard, as opposed to kidnapping sailors for ransom. Estimates suggest pirates likely are able to make as much as a $2 million profit for offloading 3,000 tons of fuel. Foreign hostages still draw tens of thousands of dollars in ransoms, with nearly all released unharmed after their companies pay for their freedom.

The piracy and kidnappings have grown around Nigeria's oil delta, despite a 2009 government amnesty program for militants there.

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .


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