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Pirates kidnap 24 sailors in gun fight off Togo Coast

Pirates attacked an oil tanker Tuesday off the coast of Togo, taking control of its bridge and kidnapping 24 sailors before escaping amid an exchange of gunfire with a naval patrol boat, an anti-piracy organization said.

It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone was injured in the attack on the Greek-owned oil tanker, which had been anchored about 17 nautical miles (19 miles) away from Lome, Togo’s capital. The pirates took control of the vessel quickly, though an alarm from the ship alerted the Togolese navy, said Noel Choong, an official with the International Maritime Bureau.

The navy boat trailed the tanker and sailors exchanged gunfire with the pirates before the tanker escaped, Choong said.

A naval spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

Tuesday’s attack is just the latest to target West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent’s southward curve from Liberia to Gabon. Over the last year, piracy there has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts. Last year, London-based Lloyd’s Market Association – an umbrella group of insurers – listed Nigeria, neighboring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.

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