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Pentagon: Pirates seize two Americans off Nigerian coast

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.

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Senate Chaplain begs God’s forgiveness for shutdown 'shame'

Senate Chaplain Barry Black is taking a different approach to solving the nation’s largest and most difficult issues: asking for a little help from God.

“Lord, when our federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the families of children dying on faraway battlefields, it’s time for our lawmakers to say, ”Enough is enough,” Black entreated. Going further, he cited the irascible Hebrew prophet Isaiah, praying, “Cover our shame with the robe of your righteousness. Forgive us, reform us, and make us whole.”

Black was referring to the suspension of death benefits to families of fallen service members because of the partial shutdown. The House will vote on Wednesday to reinstate these benefits, but it’s unclear what the Senate will do, as its Democratic majority has rejected most of the piecemeal bits of funding legislation recently proposed by the GOP-controlled House.

Black, who served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy for 27 years, is the 62nd Chaplain of the Senate. The first Seventh Day Adventist and first African American to be elected to the office, Black has not been shy about using his special access to the heavenly ear to chide senators about their failure to cooperate and find a way to restart government.

Increasingly vocal in his criticism of the congressional deadlock, Black last week asked God to “Save us from the madness” and “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”

Last Friday, he implored the Lord to deliver the Senate from “that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism” and to “Forgive them the blunders they have committed.”

In addition to his recent daily public scoldings of lawmakers, Black told CNN that he meets privately with senators and their staff to talk about the moral import of legislative decisions.

“I don’t think there is ever a major vote where I don’t talk to a number of senators regarding the ethical dimensions of the issue they are debating,” Black told CNN in 2010.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was quick to agree with Chaplain Black’s entreaty Wednesday to end the government shutdown and reiterated his criticism of the House GOP for trying to fund government in drips and drabs.

“Why are we doing this?” Durbin asked. “Is this part of the Republican strategy? Sick babies, mothers unprepared to deliver? Is that part of their strategy? Is that their leverage for what they want to achieve? If it is, I have three words for them: Enough is enough.”