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Authorities are searching for a tanker carrying 13,500 tons of gasoline and 22 Indian nationals that went missing on Thursday off the coasts of West Africa in an area considered at high risk of pirate attacks.
“The Merchant Ship Marine Express with 22 Indian nationals is missing off the Coast of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea,” India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted on Sunday, adding that India has started coordinating with the Navies of Nigeria and Benin to search for the missing oil products tanker.
The agent for the ship, Mumbai-based Anglo-Eastern said on Twitter on Friday that “contact has been lost with the AE-managed MT Marine Express while at Cotonou, Benin. Last contact was at 03:30 UTC, Feb 1. Authorities have been alerted and are responding.”
It is not yet clear if the tanker has been hijacked or if it had been, if pirates have asked for ransom.
The Marine Express tanker is missing close to the area in which an oil product tanker was hijacked last month.
The tanker Barrett has been safely recovered from hijackers off the coast of Benin after six days. In that incident, the tanker owner said that the ship had been released “after a Gulf of Guinea piracy incident lasting six days.” A “resolution process” led to the release of the tanker.
The threat to ships in the Gulf of Guinea and Nigerian waters has increased in recent years, while a decade ago the most dangerous waters were considered to be near Somalia off Africa’s eastern coast.
According to a report by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) from January, 180 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported globally last year—the lowest number since 1995. The IMB, however, highlighted a persistent danger in the Gulf of Guinea where there were 36 reported incidents with no vessels hijacked, and 10 incidents of kidnapping involving 65 crewmembers in or around Nigerian waters. Globally 16 vessels reported being fired upon—including seven in the Gulf of Guinea, the IMB said.
“Although the number of attacks is down this year in comparison with last year, the Gulf of Guinea and the waters around Nigeria remain a threat to seafarers. The Nigerian authorities have intervened in a number of incidents helping to prevent incidents from escalating,” IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said. By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com