ATHENS (Reuters) - Pirates released a Greek-operated oil tanker seized off Togo on Tuesday after stealing 3,000 tonnes of fuel from it, an official from the ship's operator said on Thursday.
The seizure of MT Energy Centurion, which is operated by Golden Energy Management, underscored the growing risks to shipping in the Gulf of Guinea, where piracy is rising but still not as common as off the coast of Somalia.
"They took some of the cargo, jewellery and money that belonged to the crew," the official said, on condition of anonymity.
It was not clear how the attackers had removed the cargo from the ship. They escaped on Thursday in one of the ship's lifeboats.
Nigerian Navy spokesman Commodore Kabir Aliyu confirmed authorities had located the ship in Nigerian waters, and said they were still in pursuit of the gang that had taken it.
"When the hijacked vessel was located heading to Lagos, the pirates had fled already. No one was arrested," he said. "An intensive search is being carried out for them."
The tanker, with 23 Russian crew members, was carrying 56,000 tonnes of gasoil when it was hijacked.
All crew members were in good health and unharmed, the operating company official said. The vessel was going to dock for repairs as its communication systems and other equipment had been damaged.
The Gulf of Guinea is a growing source of oil, cocoa and metals and spans more than a dozen countries running from Guinea in the northwest to Angola in the south. It includes Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
According to the International Maritime Bureau's website, there have been eight piracy incidents off Togo since January.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou in Athens and; Tim Cocks in Lagos; Editing by Kevin Liffey)