Oil tanker with 22 Indians missing off Africa's west coast; 'all efforts on', says MEA, sets up helpline

The Marine Express tanker, managed by Hong Kong-based Anglo-Eastern, was last seen in Benin`s waters at 3:30 am GMT on Friday.

Oil tanker with 22 Indians missing off Africa's west coast; 'all efforts on', says MEA, sets up helpline
Representative image (Reuters photo)

Dakar/Mumbai: A ship carrying 22 Indian crew and 13,500 tons of gasoline went missing in the piracy-plagued waters off the Benin coast in the Gulf of Guinea near West Africa, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Sunday.

The Marine Express tanker, managed by Hong Kong-based Anglo-Eastern, was last seen on Friday in Benin`s waters at 3:30 am GMT after which contact was lost, an Anglo Eastern spokesperson told news agency Reuters.

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

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

Earlier, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had tweeted, “A merchant vessel Marine Express [oil tanker], owned by the Mumbai-based Anglo-Eastern shipping company with 22 Indian nationals on board, is presumably missing off the coast of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea.”

Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj also said on Twitter that 22 Indian nationals were onboard. The minister further said that we are making "all-out efforts" in coordination with Nigerian and Benin naval authorities to trace the missing ship. 

Piracy-related issues were a decade ago focused on 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.

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

(With agency inputs)

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