LOME (Reuters) - Pirates attacked a Greek-operated oil tanker with a crew of around 20 off the coast of Togo on Tuesday, the West African state's armed forces said, in the latest in a spate of attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Guinea.
Army chief of staff Atcha Titikpina told a regional conference on piracy in the capital Lome that Togolese forces were still trying to locate the vessel after learning of the attack around 2.00 a.m. local time (0200 GMT).
Ship operator Golden Energy Management confirmed the attack and said it appeared to bear the hallmarks of an operation to steal the 56,000 metric tons of gasoil on board rather than to target the crew.
"It's not piracy, it's robbery," a company official told Reuters in Athens. "It is carrying gasoil and it's very possible that the robbers just want the cargo."
A Togolese security ministry official said the attackers' vessel fled in the direction of neighboring Benin after the incident, some 20 nautical miles off the coast of Togo, but had no details on the whereabouts of the tanker.
The Gulf of Guinea is a growing source of oil, cocoa and metals and spans more than a dozen countries running from Guinea on Africa's northwestern tip to Angola in the south and includes Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
While not on the same scale as piracy off the coast of Somalia, the U.N. Security Council has said it is concerned about the increase in piracy, maritime armed robbery and reports of hostage-taking in the Gulf of Guinea.
According to the International Maritime Bureau's website, there have been eight attacks and attempted attacks off the coast of Togo since January.
The United States, which is expected to source a growing quantity of oil from the region, has sent trainers to help local navies deal with the problem.
(Reporting by Noel Kokou Tadegnon and John Zodzi in Lome and Renee Maltezou in Athens; writing by Mark John; editing by Andrew Roche)