2 Filipinos among sailors abducted from Greek oil tanker in Cameroon port

ATHENS, Greece (UPDATED) – Armed men attacked a Greek oil tanker in the Cameroonian port of Limbe on Tuesday, December 31 and abducted 8 seamen, including 2 Filipinos, Greece's merchant marine ministry said.

The seamen – which also includes 5 Greeks and 1 Ukrainian – were part of a 28-member crew aboard the Happy Lady, including one, a Greek national, who was injured, the ministry said in a statement. 

"Merchant Marine Minister Yannis Plakiotakis is following developments closely, along with the Greek foreign ministry and the oil tanker's operator," the statement said.

The port's police press office said the ship is owned by Athens-based Eastern Mediterranean Athens.

Piracy has disrupted the operations of sub-Saharan Africa's two main oil producers – Nigeria and Angola – and severely disrupted international maritime transport essential to the continent, costing billions of dollars.

Epicenter of piracy

The Gulf of Guinea, which stretches some 5,700 kilometres from Senegal to Angola, has become the new world epicentre of pirate attacks, lootings and kidnappings for ransom, especially along the Nigerian coast. 

The pirates sometimes divert ships for several days, long enough to plunder the cargo and demand huge ransoms before freeing the crew.

From January to September, 82 percent of maritime kidnappings in the world occurred in the Gulf of Guinea, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

Few of the attacks are so close to shore as Tuesday's, however.

Armed men raided another Greek oil tanker, the Elka Aristote, in November around 10 nautical miles off the Togolese capital Lome, capturing four sailors.

They released 3 of the men on December 13, but one died in captivity.

An investigation is still underway, but "it appears his death was not a result of actions by the hostage-takers but of illness," the tanker's shipbuilder said at the time.

Pirates attacked 4 ships in the harbor of the Gabon capital Libreville on the night of December 21, killing a captain and kidnapping 4 Chinese workers whose fate remains unknown.

Despite such headline-grabbing incidents, regional navies like Nigeria's point to a decline in attacks since 2018 and say increased international cooperation, better resources and more assertive patrols are helping. 

Numerous exercises with Western navies have brought some progress along with better cross-border cooperation after leaders from the region agreed to bolster the fight against piracy in 2013. 

Much of the problem originates in the Niger Delta where the region's vast oil wealth has failed to trickle down to local populations and widespread poverty has stirred unrest. 

Pirates emerge from the creeks and swamps in high-powered speedboats to raid passing ships, kidnap crews and spirit them back to Nigeria's shores. 

Tactics have shifted over the past decade as a fall in the oil price and tighter regulation has seen criminal gangs switch from stealing cargoes of crude to abducting sailors for ransom. – Rappler.com