Pirates seize Manx-registered ship.

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PIRATES have seized an Isle of Man-registered vessel off the coast of Togo in west Africa.

Greece’s Merchant Marine Ministry confirmed this evening (Tuesday) that the oil tanker was called the Energy Centurion.

The ship is owned by an Athens-based company, Golden Energy Management, which owns a number of Manx-registered vessels, and its 24 kidnapped crew are Russian.

The vessel was anchored when it was hijacked after a gunfight 19 miles off Togo’s capital, Lome, at 2am local time (3am BST) today (Tuesday).

Pirates exchanged fire with a naval patrol boat and fled with the tanker, Noel Choong, the head of the International Maritime Bureau’s Malaysia-based piracy reporting centre, said.

‘Normally in this area they will hold the ship for four or five days, ransack it and steal part of the cargo, usually gasoil,’ Choong said.

None of the crew was believed to have been injured in the battle, he said.

‘This is different from what happens in Somalia. It is a robbery,’ said a spokesman for Golden Energy Management.

The company said it appeared to bear the hallmarks of an operation to steal the 56,000 tonnes of gasoil on board rather than to target the crew.

A spokesman for the Isle of Man Ship Registry said: ‘At this difficult time our thoughts and sympathy are with the crew and their families.

‘The vessel, which has 24 crew members on board, was in the process of discharging gas oil at a patrolled anchorage at the port of Lome when it was seized. The Isle of Man Ship Registry, which is in close contact with the operators of the vessel, will continue to monitor the situation.’

Togo’s army chief of staff Atcha Titikpina told a regional conference on piracy in the capital Lome that Togolese forces were still trying to locate the vessel after learning of the attack.

While it’s unlikely that the ship will have any Manx people on board, its adherence to international maritime standards is controlled by the Douglas-based Ship Registry.

The UK’s Independent newspaper is reporting that pirates in west Africa have been more willing to use violence in their robberies, as they target the cargo, not the crew for ransom as is the case off Somalia. Analysts say many of the pirates come from Nigeria, where corrupt law enforcement allows criminality to thrive.

The attack on Energy Centurion comes about a week after a similar attack on another tanker in the region, Choong said. In that attack the pirates released the crew after stealing the oil on board.

‘Judging the past attacks, they’ll take the vessel for several days, ransack it, take the cargo and leave the sailors,’ Choong said.

Analysts believe the recent hijackings of tanker ships likely is the work of a single, sophisticated criminal gang with knowledge of the oil industry and oil tankers.

Those involved in the hijackings may have gained that experience in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta, where thieves tapping pipelines running through swamps steal hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day.

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