In the early hours of November 16, the Togo-flagged bunkering tanker Stelios K was under way for Lagos on a voyage from Athens. At a position about 40 nautical miles to the south of Lagos, she went dark and ceased reporting AIS, according to security consultancy Praesidium International. Later reports indicated that she had been boarded and taken over, and she was still in the custody of the attackers up until at least November 19, Dryad Global reported.
The Stelios K has since been located, but the suspected pirates left the vessel and were not apprehended. Three crewmembers have been confirmed missing. The local authorities were notified, and a Nigerian Navy vessel is searching for the kidnappers, according to Praesidium.
Other security consultancies have told maritime media that the Stelios K's apparent hijacking may have resulted from a business dispute rather than a typical Nigerian kidnap-for-ransom scheme. The ship's UAE-based owner has not commented on the circumstances of the case.
The attack represents the 23rd kidnapping in the Gulf of Guinea so far this year, and it brings the total number of abductees to 118, according to a tally maintained by Dryad Global. The total includes two kidnappings within the span of just three days last week - the attack on the Stelios K and the abduction of 14 crewmembers from the heavy lift ship Zhen Hua 7 on November 13.
"The Gulf of Guinea [High Risk Area] was raised to a critical risk rating following a sharp increase in incidents in the past week," cautioned Dryad. "Vessels are advised to exercise heightened caution in this region."