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36

Hijacked Oil Vessel in Niger Delta Released

A Danish-registered vessel hijacked at the weekend with its 20-strong crew in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta was released late Monday

A Danish-registered vessel hijacked at the weekend with its 20-strong crew in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta was released late Monday, Nigerian military and the ship's operator said Tuesday.

Thomas Mikkelsen of Denmark's Thor Shipping said 20 crew were on board when the ship was seized by armed militants as it approached the Nigerian port of Warri on its way to deliver oil equipment coming from south-east Asia.

"Everything went very well," Mikkelsen said from Denmark. He refused to say whether a ransom was paid to the pirates, but thanked what he called the shipment consignee -- or intended recipient of the cargo -- which a military source said was US oil giant Chevron.

But a Nigerian military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Rabe Abubakar, told AFP no ransom was paid.

"The vessel was released yesterday (Monday) night, with no condition and no payment of ransom," said Abubakar.

Mikkelsen said the crew were all Filipinos and none of them were harmed during their 30-hour captivity.

"The crew is very shocked but unharmed," said Mikkelsen, who praised "the laudable efforts" of his company's local staff and what he called the shipment consignee, who secured an early release of the sailors and the ship.

Abubakar said the military "led a mediatory role in complementing government efforts for the release of the vessel and its crew."

It was suspected that militants belonging to Government "Tompolo" Ekpemupolo, a powerful militant leader in Delta state notorious for extorting money from vessels on the Escravos River and for stealing oil on a large scale, staging the hijacking.

Abubakar said the seizing of the vessel was the work of criminals but that no arrests were made.

"We are encouraging peace and dialogue," he said.

The hijacking might have been a reaction by the militants to Saturday's arrest by the military of 22 Filipinos found in possession of 12,500 metric tonnes of crude believed to have been stolen, he added.

Nigeria is among Africa's top oil producers, exporting some two million barrels of crude per day, but the industry is prey to organised gangs of heavily-armed criminals who tap pipelines and siphon off tonnes of crude.

Author: Jo Amey