Niger Delta Militants Free French Tanker Hijacked Off Ivory Coast

A Luxembourg-flagged, French-owned petroleum products tanker hijacked off Ivory Coast at the weekend has been released, and its crew of 17 are safe, the vessel's owner said on Wednesday.
SEA-Tankers, which owns the vessel Gascogne, lost contact with the ship around 130 km (80 miles) off the coast on Sunday in what the International Maritime Bureau later said was an attack by Nigerian pirates.

It was the second tanker hijacking in Ivorian waters in the last three weeks.

Armed hijackings have also been on the rise in the Gulf of Guinea to the west, which is second only to the waters off Somalia for piracy.

However, policing of the waters off Nigeria, Benin and Togo is increasing and Ivory Coast, with a poorly trained and equipped navy, is becoming a new target for Nigerian pirates.

"SEA-Tankers are pleased to report that product tanker Gascogne has been released," the company said in a statement.

"All 17 seafarers are reported safe." It said two injured crew were being taken care of.

Ivorian authorities had previously said the crew comprised seven Togolese, two Senegalese, two Ivorians, one South Korean, one Chinese and four sailors from Benin.

The company gave no further details on how the two men had been injured or the circumstances of the Gascogne's release.

France's Foreign Ministry said the tanker had been released late on Tuesday after the pirates took it to Forcados in Nigeria and siphoned off around 200 metric tonnes (220.46 tons) of its cargo of diesel fuel. It said the ship was now heading for Lome in Togo.

Many Gulf of Guinea pirate groups are offshoots of militant organizations that once operated in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta but have since signed an amnesty agreement with the government.
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