Singapore-based oil services player Swire Pacific Offshore (SPO) is working to secure the safe return of its missing crew after one of its offshore support vessels was attacked off Equatorial Guinea.

SPO confirmed the attack on its Pacific Warden anchor-handling tug supply vessel (AHTS), occurred on 20 November at approximately 5:00am local time.

The 15-member crew comprised nationals from South Africa, the Philippines, Serbia and Cameroon.

“Eight are safely ashore and unharmed. Seven crew members were taken by the attackers and are missing,” SPO said.

The local authorities and the Navy of Equatorial Guinea responded quickly to the incident, according to the company.

“SPO will do everything possible to secure the safe and timely return of the missing crew members, in coordination with their families and relevant authorities,” it added.

The Pacific Warden was supporting offshore field operations in Equatorial Guinea for ExxonMobil. The vessel had left the oilfield of Zafiro, 12 nautical miles off the coast, and was heading to Luba, a port town on the southern island of Bioko, when it was attacked, according to local reports.

The SPO statement gave no details about the kidnappers or their motives.

The Gulf of Guinea remains a high-risk area for piracy and armed robbery, as the region accounts for 86% of crew taken hostage and nearly 82% of crew kidnappings globally, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

IMB said an attack in July on a cargo vessel saw ten crew members kidnapped and released four weeks later.

A similar incident a month later on a bulk carrier and a general cargo vessel saw a total of seventeen crew kidnapped. Within six weeks all kidnapped crew were released, the sea monitoring organisation said.

“Although incidents are down, the Gulf of Guinea continues to be a concern for piracy and armed robbery-related activities with kidnappings of crew members increasing in both scale and frequency,” said Pottengal Mukundan, director at IMB.

“It is important that shipmasters and owners continue to report all actual, attempted, and suspected incidents to ensure that an accurate picture of these attacks emerge and action is taken against these criminals before the incidents further escalate.”