LONDON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - The world's biggest seafaring union said on Friday it wanted Nigerian waters declared a war zone after an alarming rise in attacks and kidnappings on merchant shipping by rebels.
The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), which represents 186 maritime unions and some 700,000 seafarers worldwide, said it was pressing shipping associations and major shipping firms to recognise the dangers of operating off Nigeria.
"This is in response to an increasing number of attacks and kidnappings by the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)," ITF spokesman Sam Dawson said.
He said it was the first time the ITF had recommended such a course of action for the West African nation.
Dawson said declaring Nigeria as a war zone would change terms and conditions for seafarers operating there, including paying them higher wages, which he likened to danger money.
Insurers have already raised hull war-risk rates for shippers who operate in the area in the last month, following a spate of attacks onshore and offshore.
Oil companies operating in Africa's top producer have been struggling to cope with a wave of violence in the vast wetlands, fuelled by widespread poverty, corruption and lawlessness.
The latest round of violence began in early 2006 when the MEND, a new rebel coalition, blew up oil facilities and abducted dozens of foreign workers in a series of raids.
Since the initial onslaught, which cut 20 percent of national oil output, violence has ebbed and flowed.
One of MEND's most violent factions has claimed responsibility for last Saturday's raid on a navy outpost that killed three soldiers, a remote controlled bombing of an oil tanker in January, and dozens of other attacks. (Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi, editing by Anthony Barker)