The whereabouts of six Russian sailors abducted by pirates in the dangerous waters off the West African coast are still unknown, Russian officials say.
“The kidnappers have not established contact yet, and the location of the captured Russian sailors remains unknown," the Russian Embassy in Benin said in a statement on January 6.
Pirates seized the Panamanian-flagged MSC Mandy container ship in Benin’s territorial waters early on January 2, robbing crew members and sailors and abducting six hostages before fleeing.
Officials have said 24 to 26 people were aboard the ship -- up to 20 Russians, four Ukrainians, and two Georgians.
Six of them, later identified as Russians, were taken hostage. The industry website Portnews said those abducted were the captain, his senior aide, a third aide, the boatswain, a fitter-welder, and the cook.
The ship was traveling from Lome, Togo, to Lagos, Nigeria, when attacked.
After the incident, the vessel continued on to Nigeria before returning on January 5 to Benin’s main port, officials said.
Russian state-run TASS news agency said diplomatic officers had visited the ship and met with crew members in the Benin port, and several replacement sailors, including a captain, were brought aboard.
"Diplomats spoke to the crew, learned the details of the incident, and found that none of the crew members was injured,” TASS quoted Albert Dyabin, the first secretary of the Russian Embassy in Cotonou, as saying.
He added that crew members said the incident occurred when eight to 10 attackers, all speaking English, arrived on a speedboat.
The Maritime Bulletin earlier reported, without citing sources, that seven to nine pirates boarded the Mandy cargo ship armed with AK-47 rifles and machetes.
MarineTraffic.com lists the 37,000-ton ship as being Panama flagged and being built in 1993.
Security experts say the seas off the coast of Western Africa – including the Gulf of Guinea, where this incident occurred -- are some of the world's most dangerous, with pirate ships often seizing oil tankers and holding sailors for ransom.
In February 2018, an oil tanker with a crew of 22 Indian nationals was hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. The crew was released five days later after a ransom was reportedly paid.
A report a year ago by the International Maritime Bureau said 10 incidents of kidnapping involving 65 crew members took place in or around Nigerian waters in 2017.