Nigerian authorities say a search is underway for pirates demanding a $1.3 million ransom for six foreigners kidnapped from an oil vessel Sunday.
A police spokesman in Bayelsa state said Wednesday that one of the suspected kidnappers called authorities to demand the payment to release the crew members. He said three of the abducted crew members are from Ukraine, two from India and one from Russia.
The foreigners were taken hostage after pirates attacked their ship off the coast of Nigeria. The vessel is operated by Century Group, a Nigerian-based oil servicing company.
In an interview with VOA, International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Director Pottengal Mukundan said weak enforcement of maritime laws has contributed to an increase in piracy off Nigeria's coast and across the Gulf of Guinea region.
"Nigeria has in the past year-and-a-half caught a few gangs and they are in the process of going through their trials at the moment," said Mukundan. "But, a lot more needs to be done and these kinds of crimes which started in Nigeria have spilled over the border into Benin, Togo and lately as far away as the Ivory Coast."
The IMB says incidents off Nigeria's coast rose from 10 in 2011 to 27 last year.
Earlier this month, gunmen fired on a chemical tanker in Lagos. A crew member was killed in that incident.
Mukundan says the IMB, which runs a piracy reporting center, is seeing a mixture of attacks along Africa's West Coast.
"You have the armed thefts for the ships," said Mukundan. "You also have the cases where product tankers are hijacked by these gangs in order to steal a small part of the cargo, around 2 - 4,000 tons of product oils from the ship. And then, the ship and the crew are normally released within 7 to 10 days."
Mukundan says the IMB has recorded 10 piracy attacks along Africa's west coast so far this year.
He says a total of 44 crew members have been taken hostage aboard vessels. He says an additional 11 were kidnapped and held at other locations.