Armed pirates robbed a cargo ship at anchor in a Nigerian port and kidnapped at least two crew members in the latest of several attacks off Africa's west coast, an international maritime watchdog said Wednesday.
The International Maritime Bureau echoed a warning this week by the United Nations that pirate attacks off West Africa's Gulf of Guinea are becoming more rampant and violent.
In the latest attack Tuesday, eight Nigerian pirates armed with machine guns fired at a Curacao-flagged vessel anchored at Port Harcourt before boarding the ship, said Noel Choong, who heads the bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur.
The pirates robbed the crew before fleeing in a small speedboat with the ship's captain and chief engineer, he said. One crew member was injured and another was reported missing, Choong said. He added that it was unclear whether the missing crew member also had been kidnapped.
The Dutch-owned vessel laden with refrigerated cargo has 14 crew members from Russia, Ukraine and the Philippines, he said. He did not say which country or countries the kidnapped crew members are from. Nigerian authorities are investigating, he added.
Over the last year, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea _ which follows Africa's southward curve from Liberia to Gabon _ has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts.
There have already been seven attacks this year off the coast of Nigeria alone, and there are believed to be many other cases that have gone unreported, Choong said.
"We urge ships to be vigilant at all times. Please go for direct berthing at port instead of anchoring, or stay very far away from coast," he said.
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 in East Africa, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.
Two weeks ago, pirates killed the captain of another cargo ship off Nigeria. The maritime bureau said the ship's chief engineer tried to escape and died of a fall during the raid, and was not shot dead as it reported earlier.
The United Nations has called on Gulf of Guinea countries to jointly develop an anti-piracy strategy. Some West African states, particularly Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Senegal, are taking steps to police their waters, but officials said most do not have sufficient maritime capability beyond 100 nautical miles off the coast.