Dubai: Efforts to free a marine crew of 23 Indians aboard hijacked oil tanker Abu Dhabi Star on Wednesday serve as a strong reminder that shipping companies cannot be complacent, say marine authorities.

Pirates abandoned the vessel when a Nigerian naval ship and helicopter came within range of the ship, about 14 miles off the port of Lagos.

Reuters reported that Navy spokesman Commodore Kabir Aliyu said: “There was no exchange of fire. All the crew members are safe,” he said, noting the ship would be further protected until a probe into the pirate attack was completed.

Online ship registries list Abu Dhabi Star tanker as owned by Abu Dhabi Star Pte., a company in Singapore.

The vessel is operated by Pioneer Ship Management Services LLC which has an office in Dubai.

Lieutenant Commander Jerry Osomara, the Nigerian navy’s spokesman for Lagos, said it was not known if the fuel on board had been stolen.

“Definitely their intent was to steal the oil, but we don’t yet know if they were successful,” he said.

Piracy nets huge sums for armed gangs in the region from stolen cargo, although unlike their Somali counterparts they rarely ask for ransoms, releasing crew as soon as they have looted a vessel.

The Abu Dhabi Star’s management company, Dubai-based Pioneer Ship Management, confirmed the rescue. “Pioneer Ship Management would like to thank the Nigerian Naval Authorities for responding so professionally to this criminal act and are thankful that all the seafarers are now safe,” it said in a statement.

Built in February 25, 2008, the double-hulled tanker flies under a Singaporean flag and is described as a oil/chemical tanker type III.

The latest pirate attack comes amid warnings from international naval authorities that as piracy has dropped in Somalia, the risk has increased in places such as Nigeria where incidents have risen this year.

The International Maritime Bureau said while attacks off Somalia decreased, incidents were increasing in the Gulf of Guinea, where 32 incidents _ not including the Abu Dhabi Star -- so far in 2012 as compared to 25 in 2011.

“In Nigeria alone there were 17 reports, compared to six in 2011. Togo reported five incidents including a hijacking, compared to no incidents during the same time last year,” the IMB said in its report. “The IMB report emphasized that high levels of violence were also being used against crew members in the Gulf of Guinea. Guns were reported in at least 20 of the 32 incidents. At least one crew member was killed and another later died as a result of an attack.”

Despite a 54 per cent decrease in global piracy recorded in the first six months of 2012, the three counter-piracy naval task forces patrolling Somalian waters are also urging the shipping industry not to assume years of high-seas marauding are coming to an end.

In a warning fired across the bow of global shipping companies that ship up to one-third of the world’s goods through waters off Somalia and the Arabian Peninsula, European Union Naval Force Somalia – comprised of Operation Atalanta, Combined Task Force 151 and NATO -- urged cargo ship owners and operators earlier this week to continue anti-piracy measures to maintain low-levels of piracy activity.

Shipping companies have employed a dearth of new defensive tactics ranging from on-board armed security teams, sound machines to deafen approaching pirates as well as physical apparatus along ships hulls to discourage boarding by intruders.

The measures, in cooperation with stepped-up naval military patrols, are working as reported by the IMB in July when it estimated that global pirate attacks on ships dropped by half so far this year.

Gualtiero Mattesi, deputy operation commander Rear Admiral of EUNAVFOR said the gains made against pirates could easily be lost if the shipping industry drops its guard.

He said: “International navies and all merchant vessels transiting the high risk area, need to remain vigilant and uphold their respective responsibilities to support the fight against piracy.”