Nine Chinese and eight Ukrainian seamen have been abducted after two merchant vessels came under attack in Cameroonian waters, according to a report.
The attacks took place on Thursday off the port of Douala.
“Seventeen Chinese and Ukrainians were kidnapped … [of whom] nine [are] Chinese who were abducted on one of the ships,” an unidentified official in Douala port told the AFP news agency on Friday.
The nationalities were also confirmed by a Cameroonian security official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
A navy source said Cameroon’s security forces had launched a search for the kidnappers.
Russian news agency TASS on Friday quoted a statement by Russia‘s foreign ministry as saying that three of the kidnapped sailors were Russian nationals. Many Ukrainians also hold Russian citizenship.
The ministry said Russian diplomats were actively cooperating with the Cameroonian government to ensure the release of the abductees.
In Malaysia, Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a watchdog agency, said the 17 seamen were seized from two ships that were attacked within hours of each other while they were anchored off Douala.
Choong said one of the ships was a multipurpose German-owned ship that flew the flag of Antigua and Barbuda.
“Eight crew were kidnapped from the ship consisting of a total of 12 Asian and European sailors,” he said.
However, the Russian foreign ministry’s statement said the perpetrators attacked a cargo vessel sailing under the flag of Antigua and Barbuda that belonged to Danish company Ultrabulk.
The other vessel that was reportedly attacked was a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier managed in Greece with a Greek owner.
“There were 21 crew on board. All were Asians. Nine crew were taken,” Choong told AFP. “[The] IMB has issued a warning to all ships at Douala. We ask all ships to take additional precaution.”
The IMB has recently described the Gulf of Guinea as the most dangerous area in the world for shipping.
According to its estimations, 73 percent of all sea kidnappings and 92 percent of hostage-takings occur there, with pirates normally taking sailors for ransom.
The 17 countries in the Gulf of Guinea and adjacent regions have limited surveillance and maritime defence capabilities.
They have been trying for several years to bolster their means of intervention and to put in place closer collaboration.