LUANDA (Reuters) - An oil tanker hijacked for a week off Angola in January has been returned to the country's authorities, a board member at state oil firm Sonangol said on Tuesday, adding that the hijackers had stolen diesel worth $8 million from the ship.
The Liberian-flagged MT Kerala was under a time charter contract for Sonangol when it vanished off the coast of the capital Luanda on January 18 before being intercepted by the Nigerian navy a week later.
The incident raised concerns that piracy is spreading south from the Gulf of Guinea, near Africa's biggest oil producer Nigeria, where most hijacking gangs originate.
Angola is the continent's second-biggest crude operator and almost all of its production is offshore.
The incident sparked a row between the Angolan government, which accused the crew of disabling the ship's communications to fake a pirate attack, and the vessel's Greek owners, who said pirates hijacked the vessel and stole a large quantity of cargo.
"The MT Kerala was found in Nigerian waters, but as the coast there did not offer security it was taken to Ghanaian waters and then recovered with help from both countries' authorities and brought to Luanda," Sonangol board member Anabela Fonseca told a news conference.
"It is now with Angola government authorities ... We (Sonangol) managed to recover around 78 percent of the cargo, but they managed to transfer about 12,000 tonnes of diesel, so that is what we lost," she added, without commenting on who was responsible for the theft.
Mateus Neto, also a member of Sonangol's board, told the news conference that the diesel the company lost was worth around $8 million.
(Reporting by Shrikesh Laxmidas; editing by Andrew Roche)