(Makes clear in paragraph 2 that Ivorian waters are part of the
Gulf of Guinea)
* Second tanker hijacked in Ivory Coast in three weeks
* Ivory Coast waters are new target for Nigerian pirates
By Joe Bavier
ABIDJAN, Feb 6 A Luxembourg-flagged,
French-owned petroleum products tanker hijacked off Ivory Coast
at the weekend has been released, and its crew of 17 are safe,
the vessel's owner said on Wednesday.
SEA-Tankers, which owns the vessel Gascogne, lost contact
with the ship around 130 km (80 miles) off the coast on Sunday
in what the International Maritime Bureau later said was an
attack by Nigerian pirates.
It was the second tanker hijacking in Ivorian waters in the
last three weeks.
Armed hijackings have been on the rise in the Gulf of
Guinea, which is second only to the waters off Somalia for
However, policing of the waters off Nigeria, Benin and Togo
is increasing and Ivory Coast, with a poorly trained and
equipped navy, is becoming a new target for Nigerian pirates.
"SEA-Tankers are pleased to report that product tanker
Gascogne has been released," the company said in a statement.
"All 17 seafarers are reported safe." It said two injured
crew were being taken care of.
Ivorian authorities had previously said the crew comprised
seven Togolese, two Senegalese, two Ivorians, one South Korean,
one Chinese and four sailors from Benin.
The company gave no further details on how the two men had
been injured or the circumstances of the Gascogne's release.
France's Foreign Ministry said the tanker had been released
late on Tuesday after the pirates took it to Forcados in Nigeria
and siphoned off around 200 tonnes of its cargo of diesel fuel.
It said the ship was now heading for Lome in Togo.
Many Gulf of Guinea pirate groups are offshoots of militant
organisations that once operated in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger
Delta but have since signed an amnesty agreement with the
"A LOT OF PROFIT"
Unlike Somali pirates who hold vessels and their crews for
ransom, Nigerian groups mainly target ships carrying refined
petroleum products that are easily sold on the local black
"If you take 3,000 tonnes (of fuel), the profit can easily
be around $2 million," said Thomas Horn Hansen, an analyst
specialising in Gulf of Guinea piracy for the maritime security
intelligence company Risk Intelligence.
"Comparing it to Somalia, it's a lot of profit for not
having to hold the ship for very long."
Chartered by the South Korean petroleum transporter SK
Shipping , the Gascogne took on 3,000 tonnes
of diesel fuel in Abidjan on Jan. 30, according to Ivorian
However, it had already offloaded a portion of its cargo
when it was seized four days later.
Three tankers have been targeted in attacks in the Gulf of
Guinea in the past week, prompting the International Maritime
Bureau to issue a security warning for the region.
Two of the incidents occurred off Nigeria, with one
attempted hijacking claiming the life of a crew member early on
Ivory Coast recorded its first vessel hijacking last October
when a Bahamas-flagged tanker carrying more than 32,000 tonnes
of gasoline was seized near Abidjan's port. The 24 crew were
later freed unharmed.
Gunmen also attempted, but failed, to hijack a ship at
anchor in December. Last month, pirates took control of a tanker
carrying 5,000 tonnes of fuel as it waited to unload its cargo
at Abidjan's tanker terminal. It was later released near the
Nigerian port of Lagos.
(Additional reporting by Gerard Bon in Paris; Editing by Kevin