Nigerian authorities searching for oil tanker with 22 crew

FILE: Nigerian authorities have begun search for oil ship with 22 Indians onboard

Nigerian and Beninese authorities have begun search for a ship carrying 22 Indian crew and 13,500 tons of gasoline which went missing in the Gulf of Guinea after contact was lost in Benin on Friday.

The cause of the loss of communication was unknown but search is underway.

The Marine Express tanker, managed by Hong Kong-based Anglo-Eastern, was last see in Benin’s waters at 3:30 a.m. GMT on Friday after which contact was lost, an Anglo Eastern spokesman told Reuters.

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.

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

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

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 ten 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, IMB said.

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