LAGOS, Nigeria --
Gunmen attacked a ship carrying diesel fuel across Nigeria's restive southern region Wednesday, kidnapping a foreign sailor and inflicting heavy damage on the vessel, a private security official said.
Heavily armed assailants riding in four speedboats hit the "MT Meredith" around dawn as it transported 4,000 metric tons (4,410 U.S. tons) of diesel on behalf of one of Nigeria's biggest locally owned oil and gas-services company, the official said.
The official said the unidentified gunmen inflicted "massive" damage on the tanker's engine and superstructure. A Romanian sailor was kidnapped during the attack on the vessel, which was making its way from the commercial center of Lagos to the main oil-region hub of Port Harcourt.
The security official spoke on condition of anonymity due to company prohibitions on dealings with the media.
No further details were released. Neither government nor oil-company officials were immediately available for comment.
The region's main militant umbrella group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that one of its "affiliates" had launched the attack. The group, which uses the acronym MEND, promised to help liberate the hostage.
"MEND is in touch with the group and will ensure the abducted man is released unharmed at the earliest convenience," it said.
Militant and pirate attacks are common in the chaotic southern Niger Delta region, where most people live in abject poverty despite the large pools of underground oil that make the area the home of Africa's largest oil industry.
Government forces hold little sway in the vast wetland region of mangrove swamps and creeks roamed by various armed factions.
Hostage taking has become endemic in nearly three years of rising violence in the region, with more than 200 foreign workers and countless Nigerians seized. Hostages are generally released unharmed after a ransom is paid.