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Pirates kill sailor, kidnap 15, in attack on Turkish-owned ship off Nigeria

Crew hide for six hours before attackers break into safe area of the cargo vessel
Nigerian special forces sail to intercept pirates during a multinational maritime exercise involving 33 countries off the coast of Lagos on 20 March 2019 (AFP)

Armed pirates attacked a Turkish cargo ship off the Gulf of Guinea, on the West African coast, kidnapping 15 sailors and killing one of the crew, Turkey's Anadolu news agency reported on Sunday.

The Liberian-flagged M/V Mozart was on its way from Lagos in Nigeria to Cape Town, South Africa, when it was attacked on Saturday morning. 

The crew were initially able to hide, but the pirates broke into their safe area after six hours. One crew member, an Azeri engineer and the only non-Turkish citizen in the group, was killed in the ensuing struggle.

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The pirates exited the ship in the Gulf of Guinea, leaving only three sailors aboard, Anadolu said. 

Speaking to Turkish news channel NTV, one sailor still on board the Mozart said several crew members were wounded.

After disabling most of the ship's systems, the pirates left the remaining crew with only the navigation system to direct them to port.

They are currently heading to Port-Gentil in Gabon.

"I do not know where I am heading," says a voice on a recording posted on Twitter and purported to be the latest captain of the Mozart. "The pirates cut the cables, only the radar is working."

'Exceptional incident'

The International Maritime Bureau has designated the Gulf of Guinea as the most dangerous sea for piracy.

"This incident is an exceptional incident for both its severity and distance from shore," the maritime security consultancy Dryad Global said. The incident reportedly took place 98 nautical miles northwest of Sao Tome.

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Out of 135 sailors abducted globally last year, 130 were recorded in the Gulf of Guinea. That was the highest ever number of crew members kidnapped in the area.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Ankara is in the process of coordinated negotiations to secure the release of the crew, but that the pirates had not yet made any response. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has twice spoken to the new captain of the Mozart, Furkan Yaren, his office said in a tweet, adding that he issued orders for the recovery of the kidnapped crew.

In July 2019, 10 Turkish sailors were kidnapped off the coast of Nigeria and were released less than a month later.