The Liberian-flagged Danish tanker attacked last weekend in the Gulf of Guinea has been located and rescued off the coast of Sao Tome and Principe, but part of the crew has been kidnapped, its owner announced on Friday.
The Monjasa Reformer was located Thursday by the French Navy, but only some of the 16 crew members were still on board, the Monjasa company said in a statement.
When the French soldiers arrived, "the pirates had abandoned the ship and taken some of the crew members with them", explained the Danish shipowner. "The other rescued crew members are in good health and a safe environment," he said.
The shipowner gave no details on the number of hostages and their nationality. Contacted by AFP, the company based in Fredericia in Denmark did not wish to give details.
"Our hearts go out to the crew members still missing and their families at this stressful time," Monjasa said in his statement, adding "to work closely with local authorities" to secure the sailors' return.
No damage was observed on the boat or on its cargo of fuel. The 135m-long ship had been attacked on Saturday evening about 140 nautical miles off the Congolese port of Pointe-Noire.
The announcement of the attack had only been made by the shipowner on Tuesday, after three days without news from the crew. The latter had had time to indicate that he had taken refuge in an anti-piracy "citadel" on the ship before contact was lost.
Research had since taken place in this sector of the eastern Gulf of Guinea. According to the Congolese authorities joined Tuesday by AFP, the attack was committed by three men.
But according to the Franco-British mission MDAT-GoG ( "Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade Gulf of Guinea" ), it was a skiff with five pirates that carried out the attack.
A crucial maritime route bordering countries rich in hydrocarbons, the Gulf of Guinea, which stretches 5,700 km between Senegal and Angola, was for several years the new black spot of global piracy.
But the attacks have dropped recently thanks to the joint efforts of coastal countries and European states. Denmark, a major merchant navy power via its giant Maersk, notably sent a frigate in the fall of 2021.
In 2022, only around twenty skirmishes were recorded in the Gulf of Guinea, according to the Maritime Information Cooperation & Awareness Center. There were 52 in 2021 and 115 in 2020, according to the maritime security expert body based in Brest in France.
Since the beginning of the year, two attacks have been reported in the area, the last on March 2, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
The Monjasa Reformer affair shows that "piracy problems off the west coast of Africa are far from being resolved", the Danish Shipowners Association said on Tuesday.
The merchant marine organization is particularly concerned to see the attacks start to rise again, the Western armies refocusing on Europe with the war in Ukraine.
Most of the attacks in recent years have been carried out by Nigerian thugs attacking ships in fast boats. Some have captured larger fishing vessels which they use as bases for their speedboats to raid further out to sea.