Gunmen release oil tanker seized off Ivory Coast: owner

LONDON Tue Jan 22, 2013 12:19pm EST

LONDON (Reuters) - Gunmen who hijacked an oil tanker last week near Ivory Coast's port of Abidjan have released it after taking the cargo, the Nigerian ship owner said on Tuesday.

The vessel, the Itri, had been carrying about 5,000 metric tons of fuel when it was seized.

"The entire cargo on board was discharged while the crew were locked up in the junior officers' mess room," said Rowaye Jubril, chairman of Brila Energy.

All 16 crew members were released unharmed off the Nigerian port of Lagos but the ship had been damaged in the attack, Jubril said. He gave no further details about the attackers.

An inspector had been sent assess the ship's conditions.

While piracy in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea is second only to levels seen in Somalia, on the other side of the continent, the incident involving the Itri is only the second of its kind in Ivorian waters.

Analysts say coordinated efforts by Nigerian authorities and neighboring countries have forced Nigerian pirates to seek easier targets outside their home waters.

The first attack recorded in the Ivory Coast took place in October, when pirates seized a Bahamas-flagged tanker carrying more than 32,000 metric tons of gasoline near Abidjan's port. The 24 crew were later freed unharmed.

(Reporting by Jessica Donati; Editing by Anthony Barker)

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