Pirates attacked and boarded a U.S.-flagged oil supply vessel off the coast of the western African nation of Nigeria Wednesday, seizing two American crew members and taking them off the ship. Once the armed attackers had stormed the 222-foot (67 meter) vessel, they separated the crew by nationality and abducted the captain and chief engineer, both U.S. citizens, a Pentagon official told ABC News.
The supply ship C-Retriever is owned by Edison Chouest Offshore, a Louisiana-based marine transport company. The company has not yet spoken publicly about yesterday’s pirate attack.
Although piracy worldwide was down last year, incidents in the Gulf of Guinea off Nigeria’s coast have increased. The International Marine Bureau reports that pirate attacks in that region have jumped by a third during the first nine months of 2013, with 40 separate incidents occurring. In most, if not all, cases, the attacks allegedly were carried out by criminal gangs targeting cargo ships for commodities and taking hostages for ransom.
According to London-based Chatham House, of the 1,434 piracy attacks in African waters between 2003 and 2011, 30 percent occurred in the Gulf of Guinea. The think tank also reported 62 pirate attacks in 2012, up from 39 in 2010.
The rise in pirate attacks off the Nigerian coast is due in part to increased anti-piracy measures undertaken by Western nations in east African waters off Somalia. CNN reports that navy forces from the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Spain, and five African nations recently held exercises in that region aimed at beefing up maritime security there.
Kidnapping for ransom has become an ever-increasing problem for Nigeria. In addition to seeing an increase in piracy, the Gulf of Guinea has been the site of the only ship crew abductions worldwide this year, with 132 seafarers taken hostage.
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called the region a “hotspot” after visiting four Gulf nations in August. He told Defense News in September that the Navy was working in cooperation with Gabon, Senegal, Sao Tome, and Ghana to stem the rise in unlawful trafficking of people, arms, and drugs.
Oil production in the Gulf of Guinea amounts to some 5.4 million barrels a day, according to Chatham House. The International Crisis Group reports that about 30 percent of U.S. oil imports pass through the region.