State owned Russian media outlets report that six Russian citizens were captured from the MSC Mandy container ship off the coast of Cotonou, Benin. According to the Kremlin, the six Russians, which included the vessel’s captain, were taken hostage and removed from the ship before it was secured and sailed to a port near Nigeria.
The vessel’s parent company told the Russian media in a prepared statement, “Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) confirms that a small container ship was attacked on 2 January in the Gulf of Guinea and several crew members were reported as missing. MSC quickly secured the vessel and its cargo and ensured the safety of the remaining seafarers on board. Out of respect for the missing crew members and their families, MSC has no further comment for the time being.”
The MSC Mandy was reportedly boarded by pirates in the early hours of January 2nd while it was about 55 nautical miles off Cotonou, a large city on the Southern coast of Benin. According to statements, the boarding party featured between seven and nine men equipped with firearms and assorted melee weapons. The assault lasted just shy of two hours before the pirates left the vessel with their six hostages in tow.
“As we’ve been told by the Chief Staff of Benin’s Navy, a ship was seized in an overnight January 1-2 attack near Benin’s territorial waters. There were 26 people on board, including two Georgians, four Ukrainians and 20 Russians. Six people were kidnapped. Their citizenship is unknown,” the Benin embassy’s official told TASS by telephone. It’s since been confirmed that all six hostages were Russian citizens.
The MSC Mandy is a Panama-flagged commercial vessel, and not the first to run into pirates in the waters near Benin. A number of piracy incidents happened in the region over recent years, with five reported attacks near Cotonou last year alone, and more than 20 in the region. One notable incident last year saw seven Russians and one Ukrainian kidnapped. The company that owned the vessel ultimately came to an agreement with the pirates to have the crew released, though the details of that agreement aren’t public.
According to a statement from the Russian government, officials from the consular departments of both Nigeria and Benin are already working to secure the release of the hostages. Thus far, no one has confirmed that communications were established.