A Nigerian court today jailed 10 pirates for 12 years each over the hijacking of a merchant vessel last year, the navy said, in the second such trial under a new anti-piracy law.

The pirates, all of them Nigerian, were convicted of hijacking the Chinese merchant ship FV Hailufeng II in the Gulf of Guinea in 2020.

Kidnap attacks against ships for ransom have become common in the Gulf of Guinea, which runs from Senegal to Angola, taking in the southwest coast of Nigeria.

The perpetrators are usually Nigerian pirates.

Judge Ayokunle Faji of the Federal High Court in Lagos said the sentences were intended as a deterrent to others.

As well as the jail terms, he fined each of the men 250,000 naira ($610).

The ruling was "a major victory for Nigeria's new anti-piracy law," said Suleman Dahun, a spokesman for the Nigerian navy which was acting as prosecutor.

The navy rescued 18 crew members on board the Chinese vessel from pirates on May 15, 2020, also arresting their 10 captors.

Last year, Nigeria carried out its first ever trial under a new piracy law adopted in 2019, under which pirates are dubbed economic saboteurs working against the country.

The Gulf of Guinea accounted for more than 95% of all maritime kidnappings last year - 130 out of 135 cases, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which monitors security at sea.

There have been 16 acts of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea this year alone, according to the Dryad Global maritime security consultancy.