The AE-managed MT Marine Express with 22 Indians on-board went missing off the coast of Benin, West Africa

LAGOS, Nigeria––Regional terrorism and pirate activities are becoming the norm across West Africa, forcing several merchant ships and countries into a rethinking mood.

Over the weekend, an Indian vessel went missing in the Gulf of Guinea and has since not been found. India said it’s in touch with Nigeria and Benin, and the Indian authorities have also set up a 24-hour helpline in Abuja in the wake of fears of a hijack of an Indian ship with 22 of its nationals on board.

Security and maritime sources confirmed that the ship has been missing in the sea off West Africa coast for over 60 hours with no signal from the crew onboard.

India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted on Saturday night: “A merchant vessel Marine Express (oil tanker), owned by Mumbai-based Anglo-Eastern shipping company with 22 Indian nationals onboard, is presumably missing off the coast of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea.”

“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. A 24-hour helpline number set up by the Embassy,” he added.

As concerns for the missing crew grows, another official of the Indian government said that the country’s Ministry of Shipping has also contacted its counterparts in Nigeria and Benin to help locate the missing vessel. “But nothing is known at this point of time,” he maintained.

The missing ship in question is a Panama-registered tanker, owned by a Mumbai-based Anglo-Eastern shipping company.  Sources say it was carrying gasoline worth nearly 8 million U.S. dollars when it lost contact some three days back.

The vessel owner, Anglo Eastern Ship Management has said that the crew’s safety is its top priority as a search for the vessel continues.

“We regret that contact has been lost with the AE-managed MT Marine Express while at Cotonou, Benin. The last contact was at 03:30 UTC, Feb 1. Authorities have been alerted and are responding,” the company tweeted over the weekend.

According to international maritime security experts, the zone near Benin, especially the Gulf of Guinea, is considered as pirate-infested where several ships have been targeted over the past years.  In January this year, a ship was missing off the coast of Benin and days later, it was reported as been hijacked by pirates seeking ransom.