French tanker believed held by pirates off Ivory Coast

Mon Feb 4, 2013 6:56am EST
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By Joe Bavier

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A French-owned Luxembourg-flagged tanker with 17 crew members that went missing off Ivory Coast at the weekend is believed to have been hijacked by Nigerian pirates, the International Maritime Bureau said on Monday.

The IMB, a division of the International Chamber Of Commerce charged with fighting maritime crime, issued a security alert for West Africa's Gulf of Guinea following a spate of violent attacks on vessels in recent days.

The Gulf of Guinea is second only to the waters around Somalia for piracy. The hijacking, if confirmed, would be the second vessel seizure off Ivory Coast in less than three weeks.

"The owner lost contact on (February) 3rd. We believe it was hijacked with 17 crew on board," said Noel Choong, head of the IMB's piracy reports division based in Malaysia.

"The situation in the Gulf of Guinea is quite bad right now. There have been three attacks there in the past five days," he said, adding that the other incidents had occurred off the coast of Nigeria.

Luxembourg's government said in a statement released on Monday that the vessel, named the Gascogne, is owned by French company SEA-Tankers.

Neither authorities in Luxembourg nor the IMB released the nationalities of the ship's crew members, but France's foreign ministry said none were French.

Port officials in Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan said they were still investigating the circumstances surrounding the Gascogne's disappearance, but said the ship was not scheduled to dock in the country.   Continued...