Angola's navy said the crew of an oil tanker that vanished off its coast on January 18 had turned off communications to fake an attack, seeking to calm energy-sector fears that the vessel had been hijacked by pirates.
Unconfirmed reports that the tanker had been seized raised concern that piracy off West Africa was spreading south from the Gulf of Guinea, near Africa's biggest oil producer Nigeria, where most hijacking gangs are believed to originate. Any attack off Angola - the continent's second-biggest oil producer - would be the most southerly to date.
Angolan navy spokesman Captain Augusto Alfredo said the missing Liberian-flagged MT Kerala was located in Nigeria and that the reports of a hijacking were false.
"It was all faked - there have been no acts of piracy in Angolan waters," he said. "What happened on January 18 when we lost contact with the ship was that the crew disabled the communications on purpose. There was no hijacking."
Alfredo declined to comment on how the navy had established the behaviour of the MT Kerala's crew, and would not be drawn on their possible motivation.
But he said the ship, owned by Greece-based Dynacom, had been due to finish a time-charter contract for the Angolan state oil firm Sonangol on February 12.
Sonangol said on Friday the MT Kerala had 27 crew, all of them Indian or Filipino.
Alfredo said a tugboat had contacted the tanker in Angolan waters and then led it to Nigeria. The tugboat is a replica of one involved in a pirate attack off Gabon last year, he said.