Pirates attacked a tugboat near the Brass River crude oil export terminal in Nigeria, kidnapping the ship's captain and an engineer, two security sources said. The Italian oil company Eni operates the terminal.
Attacks by armed gangs are common along the winding creeks of the Niger Delta, home to Africa's biggest oil industry. They make millions of dollars out of ransoms.
"The tugboat was coming from Port Harcourt in Rivers State to Brass to load petroleum at the terminal. Gunmen who were about seven in number ... boarded it", a Nigerian state security source said of Saturday's attack.
Both sources, who did not know the nationalities of the hostages, said they thought the boat was working for Eni, but a spokesman at the Italian oil major said the boat belonged to a contractor and that no Eni workers were involved.
A statement from an email address claiming to be the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), formerly Nigeria's main militant threat and responsible for years of attacks on the oil industry until a 2009 amnesty, said it had launched the attack. It came from a Jomo Gbomo, a pseudonym and email account MEND has used in the past.
Yet security officials believe MEND to be largely defunct, with most of its senior leaders either paid off or in jail, so its continued statements are most likely a hoax.
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