Pirates who seized a Danish oil tanker off Congo last week have abandoned the ship and taken some crew members with them, while the rest were found in good health, the ship's owner said Friday.
The Monjasa Reformer, which had 16 crew on board when it was boarded by pirates on March 25, was found on Thursday by the French navy off the coast of Sao Tome and Principe in the Gulf of Guinea.
By the time the ship was located, "the pirates had abandoned the vessel and brought a part of the crew members with them," Monjasa said in a statement. "The rescued crew members are all in good health and safely located in a secure environment and receiving proper attention following these dreadful events," it said.
No details were provided on the number of crew kidnapped, nor their nationalities. "Our thoughts are with the crew members still missing and their families during this stressful period," Monjasa said, adding that it was "working closely with the local authorities" to obtain the sailors safe return. The owner said there was no reported damage to the vessel or cargo.
The 135-metre-long Monjasa Reformer "experienced an emergency situation" on March 25 around 160 miles (260 kilometres) west of Port Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo, Monjasa said. The shipowner said the crew had initially notified the company that manages the vessel that pirates had boarded and that the entire crew was safe in the tanker's secure room or "citadel", "in accordance with the onboard anti-piracy emergency protocol".
It said communications were then lost.
The Liberian-flagged vessel was "sitting idle" at the time of the incident.
Earlier this week, an official at the port of Pointe-Noire said the ship had arrived in Congolese waters on March 18 and left on March 22, and was in international waters when it was attacked.
"Three men took control of the ship," the official told AFP.
The Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade in the Gulf of Guinea said earlier this week that five armed people boarded the vessel after approaching from a skiff.
Monjasa provided no details about the number of pirates nor their nationalities.
Danish news agency Ritzau reported that none of the crew were Danish.
- Piracy changing -
Pirates have long been a risk in the Gulf of Guinea -- a major shipping route stretching 5,700 kilometres from Senegal to Angola, with Nigerian gangs carrying out most attacks.
But since 2021, shippers say pirates have been raiding farther out in international waters.
Their violence and sophisticated tactics prompted pleas from shippers for a more robust foreign naval presence like the mission to curb attacks from Somali pirates a decade ago.
Many of the attacks in recent years have been carried out by Nigerian criminal gangs using speed boats from hideouts in the Delta region
Some gangs have captured larger fishing vessels which they use as a "mothership" base to raid further out to sea.
But the region, which sees a lot of traffic from oil tankers, has also seen a lull in activity recently.
According to a report by The Maritime Information Cooperation and Awareness Center (MICA), three ships were attacked in the area in 2022 compared to 26 in 2019.
Two other attacks have been recorded in the region in 2023 so far.