LAGOS, Nigeria — Pirates attacked an oil tanker Tuesday off the coast of Togo, taking control of its bridge and kidnapping 24 Russian sailors before escaping amid an exchange of gunfire with a naval patrol boat, officials said.
It wasn't immediately clear if anyone was injured in the attack on the Greek-owned oil tanker, which had been anchored about 17 nautical miles (19 miles) away from Lome, Togo's capital.
The navy boat trailed the tanker and sailors exchanged gunfire with the pirates before the tanker escaped, Choong said.
Togolese Security Minister Col. Damehame Yark and Togo's Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Mohammed Titikpina, confirmed the attack took place, but offered few other details. The attack comes as Togo is hosting U.S. officials in Lome for an anti-piracy conference.
Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry said Tuesday that the ship, registered in the Isle of Man to a company called Energy Centurion, is operated by a Greek firm called Golden Energy Management and had a staff of 24 Russian sailors. Calls to Golden Energy Management on Tuesday afternoon rang unanswered.
Tuesday's attack is just the latest to target West Africa's Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent's southward curve from Liberia to Gabon. Over the last year, piracy there has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts. Last year, London-based Lloyd's Market Association — an umbrella group of insurers — listed Nigeria, neighboring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.