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Gunmen attack tanker off Nigeria, kidnap Romanian

LAGOS (Reuters) - Gunmen in speedboats attacked a tanker loaded with 4,000 tonnes of diesel off the coast of Nigeria on Wednesday, kidnapping a Romanian crew member and badly damaging the vessel, security sources said.

Militants display their weapons at one of their camps in the Niger Delta, March 6, 2008. REUTERS/Austin Ekeinde

The MT Meredith was attacked at the Bonny Fairway Buoy off the oil-producing Niger Delta, a route regularly used by oil services vessels, the sources said. The tanker was believed to be travelling from Lagos to the main oil city of Port Harcourt.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the main militant group in the region, said one of its affiliate groups had carried out the attack.

“This recent attack should send a clear message to the oil companies that even with the four Mantra class seaward defence boats and two Augusta helicopters acquired by the Navy, the only thing that can stop attacks is justice,” the group said.

“MEND is in touch with the group and will ensure the abducted man is released unharmed at the earliest convenience,” it said in an emailed statement.

The joint military taskforce responsible for policing the Niger Delta said it was investigating.

“The ship called for assistance as its engine and superstructure were reported to have been seriously damaged,” one of the security sources said.

The attack is the latest in a series of acts of piracy off the volatile Niger Delta, home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry. Insecurity in the region has cut Nigeria’s oil output by a fifth in recent years.

Gunmen attacked an oil tanker and an oil services vessel at the Bonny crude loading platform operated by Royal Dutch Shell’s

joint venture with state oil firm NNPC over the weekend. Several Nigerian crew members were seized.