21 Apr 2020 17:15

Three Russians taken hostage by pirates on board vessel seized near Benin coast - Russian embassy

MOSCOW. April 21 (Interfax) - Three Russians are on board a vessel seized by pirates near the Benin coast, the Russian embassy to Benin said on Tuesday.

"In addition to the report on the assault of the Tommi Ritscher container ship published earlier by the embassy, we are also reporting that three Russian citizens are among the hostages seized by the pirates," the embassy said.

"Nothing is known so far" about the pirates' possible demands, spokesperson for the Russian embassy to Benin Alexander Chistyakov told Interfax.

The media reported earlier that the Tommi Ritscher container ship anchored near the port of Cotonou had been seized by pirates, who reached it by boat. Eleven crewmembers reportedly locked themselves in a secure room, but some are feared to have been unable to do so.

According to the Dryad Global web portal specializing in navigation security, the Tommi Ritscher sails under the Portuguese flag, and its crew includes citizens of Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and the Philippines.

An informed source told Interfax earlier that, while the crew of the seized ship includes Russian-speakers, their citizenship has yet to be determined.

"There are Russian-speakers among the crew, who might be either Russians or citizens of CIS or Baltic countries," the source said.

The source said the ship was built at a shipyard in China in 2014; its operator is the German company Reederei Gerd Ritscher, it navigates under the Portuguese flag, and its home port is in Madeira.

The Russian embassy to Togo said earlier that, according to the Beninese Navy command, pirates assaulted the Tommi Ritscher while it was on the roadstead of the port of Cotonou on April 19.

"Seven or eight crewmembers, possibly including Russian citizens, have been taken hostage on board the ship. The embassy is verifying this information," the embassy said on Facebook.

At the present time, Beninese naval boats have encircled the container ship within the country's territorial waters, the embassy said.

The embassy said it is following the developments and is in close touch with the command of the Beninese Navy and the administration of the Cotonou port.