26 October 2013, Lagos – The United States Chief of Mission Security at its mission in Nigeria has commenced investigation into the abduction of two of its nationals aboard an oil supply vessel on Wednesday by pirates off Nigerian coast, near Brass, Bayelsa State.
The US State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, disclosed this Friday during a daily press briefing in Washington DC.
Harf expressed deep concern over the abduction of the two Americans and said that the United States government was closely monitoring the situation.
Said Harf: “Obviously, our concern at this point is for the safe return of the two US citizens. The Chief of Mission Security at our mission in Nigeria is investigating the kidnapping report. 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. citizens.”
Pirates had on Wednesday snatched the two American nationals off an oil-supply vessel in the latest incident of high-seas terror that has plagued the Gulf of Guinea region.
Reports indicate that vessels carrying cargo and petroleum in the oil-rich region have recently come become prime targets of the pirates. The vessel, C-Retriever was said to be carrying supplies to offshore oil rigs when pirates boarded and took the two Americans.
The United States has also refused to designate the kidnap as an “act of terrorism. The U.S. State Department spokeswoman said that it was closely monitoring the situation with the hope of resolving it soon but that it did not believe it was an act of terrorism.
While responding to questions on the department’s knowledge of the incident, Harf said: “Yeah, a little bit on this. Thanks for the question. We’re obviously closely monitoring reports that two U.S. citizens have been kidnapped from a U.S.-flagged vessel.
“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.
“They (U.S. sailors) were certainly on board the U.S.-flagged vessel called the C-Retriever. I don’t have any additional information about that…correct. Yes, that at this point, we do not have information that would indicate this was an act of terrorism. More broadly, we have been concerned by a disturbing increase of maritime crime, including piracy, in this area. So, I think at this point, that’s certainly what we’re operating under.”
Asked about the options the U.S. might adopt, either specifically for its two nationals or more on the long-term basis to address piracy in the region, Harf said: “At this point, we’re still looking into it.
Obviously, our concern is their safe return. We are concerned by this increase.
“We’ve worked and will continue to work with states on the Gulf of Guinea to help them respond effectively to maritime crime in these waters. We coordinate with our international partners on this. I know U.S. Africa Command has been working through partner nations to help increase their capacity to meet the piracy threat through a number of different programmes. I think two of them are the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Programme and the Africa Partnership Station.”
She however failed to indicate if the department or any of US officials have established contacts with the kidnapped nationals.
The 220-foot-long vessel is reported to be owned by Edison Chouest Offshore which is based in Louisiana.
The abduction of the American sailors is coming on the heels of report that pirate attacks off Nigeria’s coast have jumped by a third this year with ships passing through West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, a major commodities hub, increasingly under threat from gangs aiming to snatch cargoes and crews.
Data from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) which co-ordinates the fight against maritime crime and malpractice world wide, showed that Nigeria remained the main source of piracy in the region 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. In many cases, they ransack the vessels and steal the cargo, usually gas oil,” Reuters quoted the IMB as reporting.
Analysts say while Somali gangs have focused on capturing vessels to extract ransom money, criminality in West Africa, including oil theft, poses more complex problems.
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.”
Despite the jump in West Africa, overall global pirate attacks fell in the period to the lowest level since 2006, helped by a slowdown in attacks by Somali groups.
– This Day