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Nigeria foils hijacking of British-flagged merchant tanker

[LAGOS] The Nigerian navy has foiled a pirate attack on a British-flagged merchant vessel off the coast of the oil-rich west African country, a hotbed of piracy and militancy, a spokesman said Thursday.

Commodore Christian Ezekobe said in a statement the navy deployed a warship after receiving a distress call on Wednesday that pirates were about to hijack the MT Vectis Osprey 20 nautical miles off Bonny in southern Rivers state.

"NNS Nwamba engaged the attackers on approaching the vessel which made them abandon their mission due to superior fire power," he said.

"To this end, naval special forces onboard the warship embarked and rescued the crew who locked up themselves in a citadel in the merchant tanker," he said.

Mr Ezekobe said both the crew and cargo of the vessel were safe while an investigation had been launched into the incident.

Ship hijackings have become more frequent since President Muhammadu Buhari took office in Nigeria last year and announced plans to wind down an amnesty to former militants in the delta region.

Previously, payments were offered in exchange for an end to the violence, which included the kidnapping of oil workers and sabotage of pipelines that plagued the region in the 2000s.

A new militant group the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), however, has been blamed for a wave of deadly attacks on pipelines since the beginning of the year.

The NDA says it wants more wealth for residents of the region in addition to self-determination and political autonomy.

On Thursday, the Avengers, who have rejected a government peace offer, threatened to secede by pulling the oil region out of Nigeria.