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Filipino, Russian sailors seized off Nigeria coast in ‘good health’—MEND

/ 10:00 PM March 03, 2012

LAGOS—Three sailors abducted when their cargo ship was attacked by pirates off the Nigerian coast this week are “in good health”, an armed militant group said Friday.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said in a statement that the kidnappers had offered to hand over the hostages to the group and that it was likely to take them in.

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It identified the three captured as the ship’s captain and its chief engineer, both Russians, and a Filipino crew member.

The group also claimed it was behind the killing of four on-duty marine police in the oil-producing waters of the Niger Delta on Thursday.

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Pirates opened fire on the Dutch-owned cargo ship off the Nigerian coast Tuesday, in just one of a series of incidents indicating heightened piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said the assault targeted a Dutch-owned, Curacao-flagged refrigerated cargo ship that was anchored near the coast.

“The kidnappers have offered to hand these sailors — who are all in good health — over to one of our camps in Rivers State,” said MEND.

MEND, which has been fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue in Nigeria, said it was considering receiving the captives because “these men were not captured from a vessel related to the Nigerian oil industry”.

Recent pirate attacks have targeted vessels carrying petroleum products. Pirates hijack and direct tankers to other ships, where the fuel is siphoned out and then taken for sale on the black market elsewhere.

The group warned it would use heavy artillery on petroleum carriers whose captains try to resist attacks.

“We will launch rockets at the bridge and other parts of the superstructure of such uncooperative vessels, and ensure such vessels are set alight, when we eventually board,” it said.

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The IMB has warned ships to steer clear of the Gulf of Guinea, an emerging new piracy “hotspot”.

Since January 1, the IMB has recorded eight attacks in Nigeria’s waters and one off the coast of its neighbor Benin.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, and Benin last year launched joint sea patrols with the backing of France.

MEND said it killed the four marine policemen who were patrolling the waters of President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state in the Niger Delta region. It did not state the motive for the killing.

For several years a MEND-led violent campaign against the oil industry in the southern delta region wreaked havoc with Nigeria’s crude output.

A 2009 government amnesty offer for the militants greatly reduced the attacks after more than 25,000 ex-fighters laid down their arms in exchange of payouts and vocational training.

Most of MEND’s commanders and their fighters took up the amnesty offer, but MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo said the group was never part of the deal.

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TAGS: Crime, Maritime piracy, Nigeria, OFW
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