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ABUJA (Reuters) - Pirates looted a chemical tanker and injured some of its crew off the coast of Togo this week, its government and a maritime agency said on Thursday, underscoring increasing threats to shipping in West African waters.
Pirate activity has spiked in the Gulf of Guinea region, which includes Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast and is a significant source of oil, cocoa and metals for world markets. But unlike along the Horn of Africa, international navies are not actively engaged in counter-piracy missions off West Africa.
Gunmen in speedboats boarded the Marshall Islands-flagged MT Ocean Centurion tanker on Tuesday, around 45 nautical miles southeast of Togo's coastal capital Lome, and grabbed money and possessions of the ship and its crew, a security source said.
Togo's government said it dispatched a naval patrol boat after receiving a distress call following the attack. The tanker had since been escorted to the port of Lome while the navies of Togo and Benin were hunting for the pirates.
The tanker's management company, Union Maritime, declined comment. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a piracy watchdog, confirmed an attack on a chemical tanker in a similar location but did not give the name of the vessel.
"On July 16, the robbers took two crew members and disembarked from the tanker with the rescue boat, taking along ship's cash, crew cash and personal belongings," a report on IMB's website said. "The crew were released later. Three crew members were injured during the incident."
The regional increase in piracy over the last year has driven up shipping and insurance costs, discouraging investment.
On Monday, pirates hijacked an oil products tanker with 24 crew on board off the coast of Gabon, the most southerly in a spate of raids in the Gulf of Guinea to date.
Nigerian gangs are believed to be the main perpetrators of the pirate attacks, security sources say.
(Reporting by Joe Brock; additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London and John Zodzi in Lome; Editing by David Lewis and Mark Heinrich)