Gunmen seize Panama-flagged tanker in Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN Mon Jan 21, 2013 7:52am EST

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Gunmen seized a Nigerian-owned Panama-flagged tanker off Ivory Coast's port of Abidjan as it prepared to unload 5,000 tonnes of fuel, port officials said in a statement on Monday.

Port agents said they lost contact with the ship, named the ITRI and owned by Lagos-based Brila Energy, shortly after midnight on Thursday.

"Several minutes later, (the ship's local manager) informed the harbor pilot that its ship was under the control of armed individuals who had boarded," read the statement.

It is only the second such attack in Ivorian waters. In October, pirates seized a Bahamas-flagged tanker carrying more than 32,000 metric tonnes of gasoline near Abidjan's port.

The ship's whereabouts are currently unknown. The port said its last known position was off the coast of neighboring Ghana. But Ghanaian authorities said they were unable to locate it when informed of the hijacking by Ivorian maritime officials.

"We were informed late last week and our monitoring mechanism as of last Friday revealed no such ship. I can say that it was nowhere in Ghanaian waters as of Friday," said Peter Isaaka Azumah, director of Ghana's maritime authority.

Koda Maritime, the Ivory Coast-based company contracted to manage the ITRI during its stop-over in Abidjan, said the vessel's whereabouts and the state of its 16-member Nigerian crew remained unclear on Monday.

"We were told it had been stopped by the Ghanaian authorities, and it was meant to return today to Abidjan, because that was its destination," said Koda's deputy director Serge Constant.

"But we now seem to be back to square one. The information is contradictory. We don't know who's telling us the truth and who isn't," he said.

(Reporting By Joe Bavier; Additional reporting by Kwasi Kpodo in Accra; Editing by Richard Valdmanis)

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