Three foreign sailors kidnapped off Nigeria: shipping firm

Pirates have attacked a British-flagged cargo ship off Nigeria and kidnapped one Romanian and two Russian crew members in the latest such incident to hit the region, a statement said Friday.

"Carisbrooke Shipping Ltd. regrets to report that their 2008 built, UK flag, ... general cargo ship 'MV Esther C' was boarded by pirates on the evening of February 7 whilst in international waters south in the Gulf of Guinea," a statement issued by MTI Network on behalf of the operators said.

"Having stolen personal possessions, the pirates departed the vessel taking three crew members as hostage," it added.

MTI later specified that those kidnapped included two Russians and a Romanian, while the nine other crew members were Filipino. The attack occurred off Nigeria's coast in line with the Cameroon border, some 85 miles (135 kilometres) offshore, it said.

"The safety and well-being of these seafarers is the company's absolute priority and all possible steps to secure their return are being taken," it said.

"The nine crew members remaining on board the vessel are reported to be safe and well."

A spokesman for Nigeria's navy said he could not immediately comment on the attack.

The Gulf of Guinea off west Africa has seen a spate of pirate attacks in recent years, particularly involving the theft of fuel cargo for sale on the black market, but also kidnappings and robberies.

Such attacks have long been a problem off Nigeria, but have recently spread to other countries in the region.

Militants in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta region carried out scores of such kidnappings before a 2009 amnesty deal led to a sharp decline in unrest, though incidents continue.

Hostages are usually released unharmed after the payment of ransoms.

Poverty and crime remain widespread even though Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer.

Five Indian crew members of an oil tanker who were kidnapped in December after heavily armed pirates stormed their vessel off Nigeria's coast were released last month.

Medallion Marine, a Mumbai-based shipping firm, said the hostages were freed in good health, but did not disclose whether a ransom had been paid, or whether Nigeria's security forces played any role in securing their release.

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