Pirates released an oil tanker seized off the coast of Nigeria, an official said Friday, freeing the 20-member Eastern European crew unharmed after five days in captivity.
The pirates left the MT Cape Bird late Thursday night, allowing the crew to sail away to safety from the spot 90 nautical miles off the coast of Lagos where they were being held, said a spokeswoman for Columbia Shipmanagement GmbH of Hamburg, Germany.
The spokeswoman said she could not give any information on whether a ransom had been paid or if any of the ship's cargo of oil had been taken. She spoke on condition of anonymity demanded by company policy.
A spokesman for the Nigerian Navy could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
Pirates seized the vessel Saturday night, apparently targeting its cargo of either refined or unrefined crude oil. That's part of a growing trend to target oil shipments moving out of Nigeria in the region. Analysts say some of the targeted ships carry crude stolen from Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta, where thefts run into the hundred of thousands of barrels of oil a day.
The hijacking is one of the latest in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent's southward curve from Liberia to Gabon. Over the last eight months, piracy in the oil-rich region has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts.
In August, London-based Lloyd's Market Association, an umbrella group of insurers, listed Nigeria, neighboring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.
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