Major General Rabe Abubakar, the Defense Ministry spokesman, confirmed the hijacking occurred on Friday and called it "an act of sabotage." He did not tell reporters the name of the ship.

Abubakar spoke yesterday. Other officers told The Associated Press today that the navy is in pursuit of the captured vessel. The officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive, said the hijackers have given the government 31 days to free Kanu or say they will blow up the ship along with its crew.

The ultimatum was given at the weekend by a militant identified by the nom de guerre of General Ben. Ben is not a separatist but "some Niger Delta militants have shown interest in working with us," cited Uchena Madu, a leader of the Movement for the Actualization of a Sovereign State of Biafra.

The hijacking indicates the separatists could be working with some Niger Delta oil militants blamed for recent bombings of oil pipelines in the oil-rich south, escalating conflict in a country already burdened by Boko Haram's deadly Islamic uprising in the northeast and violent ethno-religious confrontations between farmers and herders in central Nigeria.

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