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article imagePirates free French tanker seized off Ivory Coast

By Robin Okuthe     Feb 7, 2013 in World
Abidjan - A French-owned tanker seized by pirates off the Ivorian coast earlier this week has been released and its crew is safe, the vessel’s owner said Wednesday.
The ship's owner SEA-Tankers said the M/T Gascogne, which was then shipping petroleum products, was freed after pirates looted part of its cargo.
"SEA-Tankers are pleased to report that product tanker Gascogne has been released," the company said in a statement. "All 17 seafarers are reported safe."
A spokesman for the company told the Voice of America the ship is now under the control of its captain, adding that two of the 17 sailors on board suffered slight injuries over the takeover.
Providing no detail on the circumstance of Gascogne's release, the spokesman further declined to reveal the current position of the vessel for “for security reasons”. However, France's Foreign Ministry said the pirates released the ship on Tuesday after commandeering it to Forcados in Nigeria where they siphoned off some 200 metric tonnes (220.46 tons) of its cargo of diesel fuel, adding that the vessel was now heading for Lome in Togo.
The International Maritime Bureau also confirmed the tanker's release and said it was now heading to a safe port.
On Sunday, authorities in Ivory Coast told the BBC an armed gang had captured the vessel in Ivorian waters 139 kilometres from Abidjan. On Monday, they reported it seemed to be somewhere off the coast of Nigeria.
According to the BBC, 15 African and two Asian sailors were aboard the ship, including seven Togolese, four men from Benin, two Senegalese, two Ivorians, a Chinese and a South Korean.
The ship that had been chartered by a South Korean company had over 3,000 tonnes of diesel fuel aboard while in a port in Abidjan days before the hijacking. It is said it had already offloaded some of its cargo onto another ship before the seizure.
SEA-Tankers said it lost communication with the ship on Sunday morning.
This becomes the third hijacking incident in Ivory Coast in recent months after pirates captured a Panama-flagged oil tanker anchored in Abidjan last month and a Greek tanker in October last year, robbing the vessel and its crew before abandoning it.
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