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Local maritime expert talks about foiling kidnappers

NEW ORLEANS - One local expert said the attack by pirates on a Louisiana-owned ship did not have to happen. The State Department is working to free two Americans taken during the incident off the coast of Nigeria.

As the standoff moves into day three, Nigerian rebels say they have been contacted by the pirate kidnappers and will try and keep the hostages safe.

"I don't have a lot of faith in that government," said John Saltzman with Global Maritime security. "It's going to wind up being a paid ransom deal."

The offshore supply vessel C-Retriever, owned by Cut Off-based Edison Chouest, was captured Wednesday 15 miles off Nigeria, an area Saltzman is very familiar with. Saltzman said because the C-Retriever, sat low in the water and moved slowly with no armed security, she was a prime target.

"I don't think there's anything you can do with that one unless you put armed guards on it 24/7," Saltzman said.

The two Americans - the captain and chief engineer - are being held captive away from their ship.

Pirate attacks like the one in which Capt. Richard Phillips was captured have become scarce off Somalia in the past four years due to increased enforcement, but Africa's west coast has become more active.

"It's a huge criminal operation," Saltzman said. "They got spies, they can read a manifest, where a ship is going, how to intercept it."

While the Nigerian coast is the current world hotbed for acts of piracy on the high seas, such incidents aren't unheard of closer to home in the Gulf or Caribbean.

"It's more common than you think, but it's not publicized because all those governments know it's tourism dollars," Saltzman said.

Saltzman said Caribbean pirates are more loosely knit.

"They're not going to take the vessel or hijack the crew," Saltzman said. "(They operate) French Quarter style - 'What do you have in your pocket? I'll take it.'"

Saltzman said if someone wants to pay upwards of $100,000, they can almost guarantee their security on the high seas.

"I don't think there's been a single boarding of an armed vessel," he said. "They want a soft target."

And he said and that's exactly what the Nigerian pirates got in this latest incident.

The Nigerian Navy said it has mounted a rescue operation for the two American captives.

Officials with Edison Chouest have not returned calls seeking comment.

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