Hong Kong-managed tanker with Indian crew of 22 goes missing in pirate-infested African waters

The Marine Express tanker, carrying 13,500 tonnes of petrol worth US$8 million, has not been heard from since Friday

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 1:36am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 11:02pm

A Hong Kong-managed ship carrying 22 Indian crew and a cargo of 13,500 tonnes of petrol is missing in the Gulf of Guinea after contact was lost in Benin on Friday, the company and India’s minister of external affairs said.

The Gulf of Guinea has become an increasing target for pirates who steal cargo and demand ransoms, even as piracy incidents fall worldwide, experts say.

The Marine Express tanker, managed by Hong Kong-based Anglo-Eastern, was last seen in Benin’s waters on Friday after which contact was lost, an Anglo-Eastern spokesman told Reuters.

The cause of the loss of communication was unknown and a search was under way, conducted with help from Nigerian and Beninese authorities, Anglo-Eastern said on Sunday.

“We regret that contact has been lost with the vessel, which was the Cotonou Anchorage in Benin, West Africa,” the spokesman said.

Anglo-Eastern said on Twitter: “Authorities have been alerted and are responding. Our top priority is the safety of the crew, whose families have been contacted.”

The ship’s cargo is worth about US$8 million.

India’s minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj said on Twitter that 22 Indian nationals were on board.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said: “Our mission in Abuja [Nigeria] is in touch with the authorities in Benin and Nigeria for their help in locating the ship and is constantly monitoring the situation.”

Piracy-related issues were a decade ago focused off the East African coast, particularly Somalia’s unpoliced waters. But the Gulf of Guinea threat has increased.

Ships in the area were the target of a series of piracy-related incidents last year, according to a January report by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which highlighted the waters off West Africa as an area of growing concern.

There were 10 incidents of kidnapping involving 65 crew members in or around Nigerian waters, the IMB said. Globally 16 vessels reported being fired upon, seven of which were in the Gulf of Guinea.

On January 10, a company lost communication with its tanker anchored in Cotonou, according to the IMB. After a six-day search, the tanker and crew were found safely in Lagos after the tanker owner negotiated with the hijackers, the IMB said.

A British representative for Anglo-Eastern told the Post that their priority was the safety of the crew and they were hoping to be in a position to provide more information soon.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse