Traumatised French sailor says abduction was like bad movie

A French sailor freed from his kidnappers in Nigeria this week described on Thursday the attack on his ship and traumatising five-day ordeal, saying he felt as though he had been in a bad movie.

Benjamin Elman, 38, told AFP in an interview that the pirates who attacked the French-flagged MT Adour tanker a week ago wanted to steal its fuel cargo, but seemed confused at how to proceed when they realised there was none.

He eventually found himself being ordered to drive a lifeboat with pirates aboard in complete darkness, running aground off the Nigerian coast.

He was held in a village in southern Nigeria until early Tuesday, when the pirates abandoned him and soldiers rescued him.

The attack on the Adour occurred on June 13 off Togo, the small country of six million people along West Africa's piracy-plagued coast. Many of the pirates in the region come from Nigeria.

"I heard on the intercom to go to the bridge," said Elman, his face drawn and appearing shaken, but otherwise in good physical health.

"I think that it was 2:00 in the morning. Everybody lay down on the ground, and there were four or five tough guys with Kalashnikovs."

The pirates then ordered them to board another nearby ship.

"They wanted the cargo. No luck -- there wasn't any," he said during the interview at the French consulate in Lagos.

"We found ourselves in what they call the 'mother vessel,' a boat used to look for other ships."

They then navigated the Bight of Benin slowly, trying to find other ships to attack, he said.

"They even had us make hooks and ladders, like in the movies," he said.

The kidnappers "were not there to harm the crew, but we felt that they were unpredictable ... disorganised".

After two days, "they got tired", said Elman, adding that the pirates wanted to drop the crew off on the Nigerian coast and let them go.

But they would eventually be pursued by a Nigerian navy ship and were also spotted by a French navy plane, frightening the pirates.

They sought to flee aboard lifeboats, taking two Frenchmen on board with them as protection, including Elman.

Elman then found himself driving an unwieldy, covered lifeboat in the pitch black, with the pirates not wanting to attract attention, eventually running aground on a sandbar.

The next day, another boat picked them up and brought them ashore, where Elman was kept by the pirates in a fishing village before being rescued a day later.

The other French sailor had managed to drive his lifeboat to the beach, drop off the pirates and move back out into the sea. He was rescued by the French frigate Latouche-Treville, which was patrolling in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa.

Elman said he felt the experience was like a "comedy-drama" filmed by rank amateurs. The native of La Baule in western France was due to fly home late Thursday.

The attack was another example of the growing piracy problem off West Africa, which last year overtook Somalia as the world's piracy hotspot, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

There were 58 incidents in 2012 in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea, including 10 hijackings and 207 crew members taken hostage.

Piracy has long been a problem off Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, but incidents have spread in recent years to neighbouring nations.

Unlike off the coast of Somalia, sea pirates in West Africa often do not take hostages for ransom and tend to target fuel cargo that they transfer to other ships for sale on the lucrative black market.

Kidnappings along the southern Nigerian coast however have occurred regularly for years and continue, with most victims freed unharmed after payment of a ransom. In the country's north, however, Islamist extremists have killed a number of their hostages.