ABUJA/WASHINGTON: Pirates attacked an oil supply vessel off the Nigerian coast and kidnapped the captain and chief engineer, both US citizens, American officials said on Thursday as the Nigerian military ordered its Navy to rescue the men.
“We believe this was an act of piracy,” US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, adding that US officials were closely monitoring the situation and seeking more information.
“At this point, we do not have information that would indicate this was an act of terrorism,” Harf told reporters in a briefing. “Obviously, our concern at this point is for the safe return of the two US citizens.”
Pirate attacks off Nigeria’s coast have jumped by a third this year as ships passing through West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, a major commodities route, have come under threat from gangs wanting to snatch cargoes and crews.
The US-flagged C-Retriever, a 222-foot (67 metre) vessel owned by US marine transport group Edison Chouest Offshore, was attacked early Wednesday, UK-based security firm AKE and two security sources said. The company was not immediately available for comment.
A US defence official said the State Department and FBI were leading the American response to the incident. A second defence official said the US Marine Corps has a small training unit in the region but it was not clear if it would get involved.
However, representatives for the Nigerian Navy said they were aware of the incident and taking action. “We have directed the central Naval Command to see to their rescue. So our men are on top of the situation,” spokesman Kabiru Aliyu told Reuters.
US Navy officials have grown increasingly concerned about piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea and are working with local authorities there to strengthen their ability to patrol the region and better share information. Reuters