Two U.S. citizens aboard an offshore supply vessel have been kidnapped by pirates in West African waters, a defense official confirmed Thursday.
The captain and engineer of the C-Retriever, a 222-foot vessel, were taken early Wednesday off the coast of Nigeria, in the Gulf of Guinea. Kidnappings for ransom money is a common problem in those waters.
The ship’s captain and chief engineer were abducted early Wednesday morning, according the British security firm AKE. Rick Filon of AKE said Nigerian Central Naval Command has provided no additional information.
Maj. Mark Firman, a Pentagon spokesman, described the incident as “a piracy attack on a commercial vessel off the coast of Nigeria.”
“There is no involvement of DoD at this point,” Firman said. “It’s a maritime criminal act.”
The U.S. Navy is closely monitoring the situation, but does not have any ships in the vicinity. U.S. Marines, however, are aboard a Dutch ship in the region. The Marines are deployed as part of Africa Partnership Station, which was designed in-part to counter piracy efforts.
The Marines embarked in August for a three-month deployment around West Africa aboard the Royal Netherlands Navy landing platform dock HNLMS Rotterdam. Troops from Spain and the United Kingdom also help make up the task force.
APS, established in 2007, is designed to bolster safety and security in Africa.
“Working together with partner nations, governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, Africa Partnership Station is now a year-round, maritime capacity building continuum, which progresses from basic training to exercises and then leading into combined law enforcement operations,” the Navy said in an April news release.
The C-Retriever is owned by Edison Chouest Offshore, based in Cut Off, La. ECO supports the majority of the U.S. Gulf deepwater oil rigs and an expanding global market with a fleet of more than 200 vessels, ranging from 87 to over 360 feet in length, according to the company web site.
The ship is a supply vessel for oil platforms in the Gulf of Guinea and has been working in the area since about April 2006, said Daryl Williamson, commercial development director for Lloyds List Intelligence.
Piracy in the area tends to target slow-moving, anchored vessels doing ship-to-ship operations, often in in-shore waters as opposed to the high seas, Williamson said.
Cyrus Mody, assistant director of the International Maritime Bureau, said incidents off the coast of Nigeria have been growing “for a number of years,” though they’ve been overshadowed by piracy off the Somali coast and “hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves,” Mody said.
Attacks have ranged from opportunistic and sometimes violent robberies aboard vessels to steal the ship’s cash or the crew’s personal belongings, to more sophisticated operations aimed at ships’ cargo.
Those usually involve ships carrying refined products, gas or oil, that are hijacked for on average seven to 12 days. The cargo is transferred to another ship. The pirates then either release the ship and crew or take a number of crew hostage for ransom, Mody said.
Such operations appear to be the work of well-organized crime syndicates, Mody said. In some cases, the pirates knew what they were doing in terms of how the cargo was kept and how things function on board a vessel, he said.
Such hijackings require “buyers willing to take cargo, there has to be a degree of organization on land as well as at sea,” he said.
Not all the hijackings have occurred off the coast of Nigeria but they all have a connection to that west African country, he said.
“It is something the countries (in the region) are looking at very carefully and closely and trying to implement measures,” he said.