Pirates seize two Americans off Nigeria's coast

Two Americans were kidnapped by
pirates after their ship was attacked off
Nigeria's coast, U.S. officials said
The U.S.<>flagged oil supply vessel C
Retriever was targeted in the Gulf of
Guinea early Wednesday, Reuters
Maritime news website gCaptain
reported that the ship's captain and its
chief engineer had been abducted.
U.S. officials said the working
assumption was that the pair had been
kidnapped for ransom.
Nigerian military officials, who
deployed army and navy units in the
hunt to find the kidnappers, as of late
Thursday had no "hard information"
on the whereabouts of them or the
two American sailors taken hostage, a
Nigerian Navy spokesman told NBC
The spokesman attributed the
abductions to "criminals in the delta,"
emphasizing they were common
criminals and pirates, not militants.
Creeks and swamps leading to the
Nigerian coast were being searched for
the hostages.
The seized vessel is owned by
Louisiana-based Edison Chouest
Offshore, according to Reuters. The
company was not immediately
available for comment.
Sources told NBC News that there
were no U.S. warships in the region
and no immediate plans for a hostage
rescue attempt. However, there is a
contingent of U.S. Marines aboard a
Dutch warship in the area as part of a
military exchange program.
“We're obviously closely monitoring
reports that two U.S. citizens have
been kidnapped from a U.S. flagged
vessel,” State Department
spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a
press briefing on Thursday. “It's a
motor vessel, the C-Retriever, in the
Gulf of Guinea. We are seeking
additional information about the
incident, so that we may contribute to
safely resolving the situation.”
Satellite image of the coast of Niger
“Obviously our concern at this point is
for the safe return of the two U.S.
citizens,” Harf said. “We do believe that
this was an act of piracy. Again, we are
continuing to seek additional
information and for privacy reasons
can't provide any additional
information about the two U.S.
In April 2009, U.S. Navy SEAL snipers
killed three Somali pirates as they
rescued American cargo ship Capt.
Richard Phillips, who had offered
himself as a hostage to save his crew.
The high-seas hijacking has been
turned into a film starring Tom Hanks.
"Captain Phillips" earned more
than $52 million during its first two
weeks in cinemas.
In an interview with NBC’s Brian
Williams on Thursday, Phillips said the
waters off Nigeria were “worse than
even Somalia.”
“Wherever the opportunity for these
thugs or pirates are, they will take
advantage of it, and Nigeria is teeming
right now,” Phillips added.
Phillips said the pirates were following
a familiar pattern.
“This is the m.o. for the Nigerians. And
they usually take a captain or a chief
engineer and they’ll bring ‘em ashore
and hide ‘em, so no rescue attempt can
be made,” he said. “You have to
understand, it is dangerous out in the
Gulf of Guinea, but it's also dangerous
on the land in Nigeria with everything
going on there.”
Courtesy Christian Serrano
The U.S.-flagged oil supply vessel C
Retriever, seen here in 2008, was at
off the Nigerian coast on Wednesday.
Rory Lamrock, an analyst specializing
in maritime security with U.K.-based
risk-management firm AKE , said there
had been "an increase in the severity
of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea" over
the past two years.
In August, Nigeria's navy killed 12
pirates as they tried to flee from a fuel
tanker they had hijacked.
Earlier this month, the International
Maritime Bureau reported that pirate
attacks off Nigeria's coast had jumped
by a third this year -- with 29 attacks
on vessels recorded in the first nine
months of 2013, up from 21 in the
same period last year.
"Pirates, often heavily armed and
violent, are targeting vessels and their
crews along the [Nigerian] coast,
rivers, anchorages, ports and
surrounding waters," the IMB said. "In
many cases, they ransack the vessels
and steal the cargo."
The IMB said in the first nine months
of 2013 the Gulf of Guinea accounted
for all crew kidnappings worldwide, 32
of them off Nigeria, and two off Togo.
In such incidents, sailors are taken
ashore and usually held for ransom.
In a separate report, Denmark-based
security firm Risk Intelligence earlier
this month estimated 117,000 tons of
oil products worth around $100
million had been stolen by pirate gangs
in the Gulf of Guinea since 2010.
“Attacks by pirates off the coast of
Nigeria in the Gulf of Guinea have
increased substantially in recent years,”
according to a June 2013 travel
warning from the State Department .
“Armed gangs have boarded both
commercial and private vessels to rob
travelers. The Nigerian Navy has
limited capacity to respond to criminal
acts at sea.”
Alistair Galloway, owner of private
security provider Endeavour Maritime,
said the discovery of new oil reserves
in West African countries including
Cameroon and Liberia was driving up
shipping traffic in the area.
"This oil boom is attracting a far richer
shipping environment and therefore
more higher-value targets and that is
the biggest threat to the region's
maritime security," he said.
Galloway cited differences between
West African pirates and their better-
known Somalia-based counterparts.
"In Somalia, piracy was really out-of-
work fisherman looking to improve
their lives, but piracy is West Africa is
really part of a bigger criminal system,
networks embedded in the nations," he
said. "The networks are in place and
it’s been easy for them to attack."
Johan Potgieter, senior researcher at
South Africa's Institute for Security
Studies (ISS), said that pirates tended
to feel "disenfranchised."
He added: "They feel that if the
government won’t share its wealth
equally, they will take it for themselves
by other means."