Spanish owners hoping pirates want boat for crude oil

MADRID — Spanish owners of an oil tanker hijacked off West Africa are hoping pirates just want to steal the crude, rather than hold the 23-member crew hostage for ransom.

Consultores de Navegacion spokeswoman Sheena Campbell said today that the company had not heard from the Cyprus-flagged ship since it was hijacked Wednesday.

“The normal case is that the only thing they are interested in is robbing the boat,” Campbell said. “We hope that is what is going to happen this time.”

Campbell said that in a similar incident two weeks ago pirates loaded crude from a tanker onto barges, then freed the ship and crew.

“It is not like Somalia,” Campbell said, where pirates roaming the Indian Ocean routinely seize commercial vessels and hold the crews for large ransom payments.

She said the crew of the Mattheos I comprises five Spaniards, two Ukrainians and the rest Filipinos.

The International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy worldwide, said pirates boarded the tanker as it idled 62 nautical miles from Benin’s capital Cotonou.

In the waters off nearby Togo, 26 pirates attempted to take over another chemical tanker on Wednesday, according to the bureau. The pirates came in two boats with ropes and ladders, but the tanker’s crew pulled up their anchor and sounded an alarm, scaring the attackers away, the bureau said.

The waters off the coast of Benin have increasingly become a target for pirates from Nigeria as oil tankers now idle off the coast to transfer crude to other waiting ships.

Analysts say some of those tankers carry crude stolen from Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta as part of an elaborate theft ring involving politicians and the military in Africa’s most populous nation. Industry officials believe thieves siphon hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day from their pipelines and wellheads.