6 Russians, 1 Estonian Kidnapped Off Nigeria

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Kidnappers have boarded a ship off Nigeria and abducted seven crew members, including six Russians and one Estonian, in the latest such incident in the region, French company Bourbon said on Wednesday.

"Bourbon confirms that seven crew members, six Russians and one Estonian, were kidnapped during the boarding of the Bourbon Liberty 249, which occurred on October 15, 2012 in Nigeria," a statement from the oil industry servicing firm said.

"The other nine crew members are still onboard the vessel which is heading for the Port of Onne. They are safe and sound, and in good health."

The statement did not give the location of the kidnapping, but Onne is located in the Niger Delta, the country's oil-producing region.

The Bourbon Liberty 249 is an anchor handling vessel, the kind used to tow anchors for oil rigs or mobile drilling rigs.

According to private security consultants Drum Cussac, the incident occurred some 40 nautical miles off Brass along Nigeria's southern coast.

Scores of kidnappings for ransom have occurred in the Niger Delta, though a 2009 amnesty deal greatly reduced unrest there. Sporadic incidents continue to occur despite the amnesty.

Most of the hostages have been freed after payment of a ransom.

The company said it had set up an emergency unit aimed at the hostages' "rapid liberation."

"Bourbon is in contact with the crewmembers’ families, supporting them, and keeping them regularly informed," it said.

"Bourbon will continue to disclose any new information when available and verified and will not make any comment which could adversely affect the liberation of the hostages."

A Nigerian military spokesman in the region said he was not aware of the kidnapping, while a navy spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

In August, four foreign oil workers -- Indonesian, Iranian, Malaysian and Thai nationals -- were kidnapped when unknown gunmen attacked their vessel in the Gulf of Guinea off Nigeria.

In the early hours of August 4, suspected sea pirates stormed a barge and opened fire, killing two Nigerian sailors and injuring two others.

The foreigners were freed some three weeks after the kidnapping, though their employer Sea Trucks Group declined to provide details of their release.

Years of unrest in the Delta had curbed crude production in Nigeria, Africa's top oil producer, but output has recovered since the 2009 amnesty and has been at more than two million barrels per day.

The unrest prior to the amnesty saw criminal gangs and militants claiming to be fighting for a greater share of oil revenue carry out attacks on oil facilities, including blowing up pipelines.

While the unrest has been reduced, criminality remains widespread and oil theft in the region continues to be a major problem.

Shell, the biggest producer in Nigeria, has said there have been estimates that 150,000 barrels of oil and condensate are stolen in the country each day.

Hijackings of tankers in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa has also seen gangs board ships with the aim of siphoning off fuel cargo for sale on the lucrative black market.

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