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ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghana's navy has intercepted a ship and arrested its crew on suspicion of involvement in the hijacking of an oil products tanker off Gabon last month, Ghana's government said.
Pirate attacks in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea have almost doubled from last year, jacking up insurance costs for shipping companies. Experts say gangs based in the waters off Africa's top oil producer Nigeria are extending their reach.
Pirates seized the Maltese-flagged Cotton tanker with its 24-member crew on July 15 near Gabon's Port Gentil, in the first reported attack in that area for five years. The ship was released the following week.
Ghana's deputy Information Minister Felix Kwakye Ofosu said the vessel intercepted by Ghana's navy, the MT Mustard, was believed to have been used to siphon about 3,500 tonnes of fuel from the Cotton.
It later sailed into Ghanaian waters, first docking at the eastern port of Tema before heading for an offshore oil facility off the town of Saltpond.
"The vessel was intercepted off the coast of Saltpond and the crew arrested by the Ghana Navy," Ofosu said in a statement released late on Thursday.
Ghana's Bureau of National Investigations was conducting further investigations into the ship's activities, he said.
The Gulf of Guinea region is a major source of oil, cocoa and, increasingly, metals for world markets.
International navies are not actively engaged in counter-piracy missions in the region, unlike in the waters off Somalia, the piracy hotspot on the other side of the continent.
However, regional governments have begun stepping up efforts to combat the phenomenon.
In June, they signed a code of conduct under which they would arrest and prosecute suspected pirates, seize vessels believed to have been used in piracy and increase regional cooperation.
(Reporting by Kwasi Kpodo; Editing by Joe Bavier and Andrew Roche)