Pirates have hijacked an Italian tanker off Benin in West Africa, the second tanker to be captured in the area in a matter of weeks.
In the latest incident, they boarded the Bottiglieri controlled Aframax ‘RBD Anema e Core’ early on Sunday in the Gulf of Guinea, officials in Benin and Italy confirmed.
Two of the 23 crew are Italians, the others are Filipinos plus a Romanian, who was the vessel’s master.
Benin's navy said Monday that it was following the hijacked ship while Italy's foreign ministry liaised with Bottiglieri.
According to Italian sources, three pirates managed to board the ship 23 miles south of Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin.
Italy stepped up its measures against piracy earlier this month by allowing vessels sailing through dangerous waters to use private security guards, or soldiers for protection.
The Italian shipowners’ association, Confitarma, has called for ships to have armed guards on board in the wake of several attacks on Italian controlled vessels by Somali pirates.
A week earlier, armed gunmen seized the Greek tanker ‘Aegean Star’ off the coast of Benin, only to release the vessel and its crew two days later.
The Gulf of Guinea has become increasingly important for its potential energy reserves which have attracted international interests, according to reports appearing on the BBC website.
For example, the US hopes to import about a quarter of its oil supplies from the region by 2015.
West African coast guards have been receiving US training to combat growing maritime insecurity.
Meanwhile, the 17 crew members of the 4,831 dwt Emirati bunker tanker ‘Jubba XX’ captured by pirates earlier this month off the coast of Somalia have been freed unharmed along with the vessel, the vessel’s manager said Thursday.
‘Jubba XX’ was captured on 16th July while sailing from Umm al-Quwain in the UAE to Berbera in the breakaway northern Somali province of Somaliland.
Omar al-Khair, general manager of Emirates International Shipping, the ship’s manager, told The Associated Press the tanker was freed late Wednesday following negotiations involving Somali tribal elders and government officials in Puntland.
No ransom was paid, though pirates did steal money, clothes and other belongings from the crew, al-Khair said.