Bonny Island, Rivers State, Nigeria : A gang of pirates took hostage 12 crew members of a Swiss cargo ship they attacked in Nigerian waters on Saturday, the vessel’s operator has 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.
“Having destroyed much of the vessel’s communications equipment, the criminal gang departed taking 12 of the 19 crew complement as hostage,” it added.
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.
The statement did not give the nationalities of the crew members.
Switzerland’s foreign ministry said it had learned from the company that none of the crew members were Swiss nationals.
Seven of the crew members are from the Philippines, with a national from each of Slovenia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia and Bosnia Nigeria’s maritime agency said.
Nigeria’s navy and maritime police said they were unaware of the abduction and would investigate.
Abduction for ransom is a common problem in parts of Nigeria. A number of foreigners have been kidnapped in the last few years in the southern Niger Delta region, the source of most of the crude oil which is the mainstay of West Africa’s biggest economy.
There has been a slight increase in hostage-takings off the coast of Nigeria, according to a 2017 report by the watchdog Oceans Beyond Piracy.
More people were held for longer, with the organisation warning of a “significant increase in the level of violence”.
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.