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MUMBAI: A Panama-flag merchant ship with 22 Indian crew members, including two from Kerala, went missing from Benin Coast of West Africa on Thursday. The owners of tanker ship MT Marine Express, which was loaded with gas oil, have sought the help of the directorate general of shipping in Mumbai to get in touch with their counterparts in Nigeria and Benin to carry out search operations for the merchant ship.
B R Shekar, chief surveyor who holds additional charge as director general of shipping, Mumbai, told TOI: “The owners of the ship lost contact with their tanker, MT Marine Express, on February 1 when it was in Cotonou anchorage at Benin. We have informed Nigerian authorities and the coast guard there to carry out search for the missing ship. Till Saturday, there was no trace of the ship. The owners and the manning agent from Mumbai had alerted us about the missing ship,” said Shekar.
A DG shipping official said the fate of the crew members and the ship is not known.
The ship vanished from West Africa and a possibility of hijack is high. Meanwhile, Nigerian authorities have alerted all boats to look out for the missing tanker ship and if sighted to report to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Anti-Piracy Reporting Centre immediately in London.
Rajesh C, welfare officer of Mumbai-based manning agent of the ship crew, Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, told TOI from his Andheri office to contact the company’s media manager in the UK.
On Friday, the company had tweeted: “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.”
Foreign news agencies published a statement released from the ship management company saying that the 45,989 dwt oil products tanker Marine Express has not been heard of since the early hours of Thursday and that authorities in the Gulf of Guinea region have been notified. “The vessel was last contacted at 0330 UTC on February 1. The first priority is the safety of the 22 crew members on board whose families have been contacted and informed of the situation,” the statement read.
Pat Adamson, the shipping company spokesman in the UK, told foreign news agencies that the Panama-registered Marine Express was part-laden with a cargo of 13,500 tonnes of gasoline.
According to DG shipping, the Indian crew hailed from different parts of India. One of the sailors on board is Sree Unni (25), son of Perilavallap Ashokan of Udma in Kasargod district, Kerala. Another crew member, also from Kerala hails from Kozhikode.
Anglo-Eastern has informed the families that it had lost contact with Marine Express.
The high commission of India at Abuja told foreign agencies that satellite tracking found the ship missing from anchorage. “Without getting in touch with the crew, the official said it was not possible to make a guess on what happened to the vessel.”