22 crew members are believed to be in danger after an oil tanker went missing in the Gulf of Guinea, off Benin in West Africa.
The last known contact from the panama-registered Marine Express was on Thursday 1st February.
The 45,989 dwt oil products tanker Marine Express was at the Cotonou Anchorage, Benin, when it was last contacted.
The region is notorious for piracy groups that target commercial ships and often kidnap seafarers for ransom.
The ship is managed by Hong Kong-based Anglo-Eastern.
Nigerian authorities have alerted all boats to look out for the missing ship and inform shipping authorities if it is sighted.
The ship’s Mumbai-based manning agent, Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, confirmed it had lost contact with the vessel: “We regret 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. Our top priority is the safety of the crew, whose families have been contacted.”
We regret 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. Our top priority is the safety of the crew, whose families have been contacted. Updates TBA.
— Anglo-Eastern (@angloeasterngrp) February 2, 2018
The International Maritime Bureau said the Benin navy was searching for the Marine Express, which is carrying 13,500 tonnes of gasoline.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has tweeted to say: “Merchant Ship Marine Express with 22 Indian nationals is missing off the Coast of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea. We are making all out efforts in coordination with Nigerian and Benin naval authorities to trace the missing ship. We have set up a Helpline no.(+234)9070343860.”
The Gulf of Guinea is the most prolific area for piracy in the world, according to the International Maritime Bureau, although maritime piracy and armed robbery reached a 22-year-low in 2017.
It has replaced the coast of Somalia, where heavy international action has driven down piracy.
Less than one month ago, on January 18, the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker MT Barrett and its 22 crew members were released from captivity after a six-day ordeal.
The owner of the ship Union Maritime did not disclose the terms of the crew’s release, which might have included paying of ransom.
More than one attack a week is now reported in West Africa.
The oil-rich Gulf of Guinea waters on the west African coast from Senegal to Cameroon have the highest rate of piracy in the world, ranging from armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom to the hijacking of oil tankers.
Benin is a small country with scant resources, dwarfed by neighbouring top oil producer Nigeria.
Around 80 percent of Benin’s budget comes from the port of Cotonou making maritime security crucial for the nation’s wealth.
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