A gang of pirates took hostage 12 crew members of a Swiss cargo ship they attacked in Nigerian waters on Saturday, September 22, the vessel’s operator said.
Massoel Shipping said its bulk carrier MV Glarus, with 19 crew, came under attack early Saturday morning as it transported bulk wheat from Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos to the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt.
During the attack, around 45 nautical miles southwest of Bonny Island, “the pirate gang boarded the Glarus by means of long ladders and cut the razor wire on deck to gain access to the vessel and eventually the bridge,” the company said in a statement sent to AFP.
“Having destroyed much of the vessel’s communications equipment, the criminal gang departed taking 12 of the 19 crew complement as hostage,” it added.
Massoel spokesperson Patrick Adamson told AFP it was the second largest number of people taken from a ship in the oil delta southeast of Nigeria this year.
“Pirates usually don’t make contacts in the first 48 hours, so we don’t have any news on that,” he added.
For safety reasons, neither the identities nor nationalities of the hostages would be released, he said.
The Geneva-based shipping company said “all the appropriate authorities have been notified” and specialists have been called in to “secure the speedy and safe release of those being held.”
“Families are being kept closely informed of the situation,” it said, without providing details on the nationalities of the kidnapped crew members.
Switzerland’s foreign ministry said it “has been informed of the attack on Glarus, a vessel sailing under a Swiss flag along the Nigerian coast.”
The Swiss Maritime Navigation Office was in contact with the vessel’s operator, it added.
More than 60 crew were reported kidnapped last year in waters off Nigeria, Africa’s leading crude producer, although many attacks are not reported.
Piracy in the west Africa region increased in the first quarter of 2018, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Oil-rich and absent a significant naval presence, the Gulf of Guinea provides ample opportunity for pirates seeking to exploit tankers.
In May, China sent its guided-missile frigate Yancheng to Nigeria for the multinational Exercise Eku Kugbe in the Gulf of Guinea, the first time China has participated in the exercise. Eku Kugbe focuses on piracy and regional threats to shipping and involved 12 ships from the Nigerian Navy and one each from Cameroon, Ghana, Togo, France, Portugal and China.
China is Nigeria’s second-biggest trading partner and Chinese state-owned companies China National Offshore Oil Company, PetroChina, and Sinopec all have investments in Nigeria.
The naval exercise was sponsored by the Economic Committee of Central African States, and the Economic Community of West African States, both of which have strengthened maritime security initiatives in recent years. ECOWAS received surveillance and logistical equipment from Germany to combat piracy in May.
Eku Kugbe is separate from the U.S.-led Obangame Express 2018, which took place in late May and early June and involved more than 20 African countries.
With reporting from AFP