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Pirates Release Cameroonian Ship Captain

A Cameroonian ship captain who was kidnapped by pirates Saturday in Nigerian waters has been freed.

The Cameroonian ship Monica and its 150 passengers left Cameroon late Friday, heading west toward Oron in eastern Nigeria.

Trader Linda Mossima was on her way to Nigeria to buy the appliances and other goods she sells in Cameroon.

"We were sailing to Nigeria until about 8 a.m., when we heard gunshots and then some seven heavily armed men came onto the ship from a speedboat. They asked everyone to freeze, threatening to shoot if anyone moves," she said. "They were in a hurry and rushed into the cabin and dragged out the captain whom they took away in their flying boat."

She said the pirates told passengers the captain had refused to pay "protection tax" to sail in the Gulf of Guinea, which has seen an alarming spike in piracy attacks this year.

The ship's captain, Moukkoko Lottin, was freed unharmed late Sunday. The captain told VOA that "money was paid" for his release, but that he was not involved in negotiations. He said his kidnappers would only deal with the ship's owners and not the governments of Cameroon or Nigeria.

Once released, the captain sailed the ship back to Limbe in southwestern Cameroon.

Though piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is not new, and does not approach the scale of pirate operations in waters near Somalia, analysts say it is becoming increasingly well-organized and systematic. Demands of monthly protection payments are becoming increasingly common for oil and shipping companies.

Oil-producing nations like Cameroon and Nigeria have been plagued by pirate attacks in recent years, but countries like Benin are now being hit as well. More than 20 attacks have been reported off the coast of Benin this year, there were none last year.

Security analysts say West African navies lack even the most basic tools to confront criminal activity, like radar equipment and patrol boats. Naval commanders in the Gulf of Guinea say a regional approach is needed for what has become a transnational crime.