Pirates storm oil tanker off Nigeria, kidnap five Indians

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Well armed pirates who stormed and ransacked an oil tanker off Nigeria have kidnapped five Indian crew members, said a statement Wednesday from the operators of the ship.

Medallion Marine, which operates the SP Brussels tanker, said their vessel was boarded on Monday by "heavily armed pirates" about 40 miles (65 kilometres) off the coast of the oil-producing Niger Delta region.

"The pirates ransacked the vessel for personal belongings and took five crew members with them on their departure," said spokesman Martin Baxendale. He later told AFP those taken were Indian nationals.

According to a company website, the Medallion Group includes the Germany-based firm of Medallion Reederei GmbH, but the company targetted in the attack, Medallion Marine, is based in Mumbai.

The statement said the remaining crew were safe and that the tanker had arrived at the port of Lagos in Nigeria's economic capital.

"Everything possible is being done to ensure the safe return of those crewmembers taken," it further said.

The company added that it was working closely with local authorities, but Nigeria's navy was not immediately available to comment on whether any rescue operation had been launched.

Kidnappings for ransom, often targetting expatriate oil workers, have been a common occurence in the Niger Delta but a 2009 amnesty deal with armed groups in the region led to a drop in the such attacks.

The International Maritime Bureau, a branch of the International Chamber of Commerce funded by shipowners, has however described the Gulf of Guinea, which includes the waters off Benin, Nigeria and Togo as an emerging piracy hub.

The IMB said attacks in the area have grown increasingly violent and that theft of crude oil has often been the goal of the assailants.

In October, six Russians and one Estonian sailor working on a vessel used to tow oil rigs were kidnapped by armed men who raided their vessel.

When the sailors were released two weeks later, both their employer and Nigerian authorities declined to comment on whether a ransom was paid, the typical practice in such cases.

In August, four foreign oil workers -- Indonesian, Iranian, Malaysian and Thai nationals -- were kidnapped when unknown gunmen attacked their vessel in the Gulf of Guinea. They were also later released.

In the early hours of August 4, suspected sea pirates stormed a barge and opened fire, killing two Nigerian sailors and injuring two others.

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer and the continent's most populous nation with 160 million people.

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