A tanker with 19 crew on board, mostly Georgians, is missing in pirate-plagued waters off Gabon in West Africa and no word has been heard for a week, the ship’s managers and the crew agency said.
Communication was lost with the Panama-registered Pantelena at about 2am local time on August 14, when it was about 17 miles from Libreville port in Gabon, Athens-based Lotus Shipping said in a statement.
The head of the Georgian crew agency Ialkani, Anzhela Oganesyan, said two Russian nationals and 17 Georgians were aboard the tanker. She had no news so far about the vessel’s fate.
The Georgian government said 17 of its citizens were serving on the Pantelena.
Russian RIA news agency reported the Russian Embassy in Gabon as saying two Russians were on the tanker and it was in contact with their relatives.
Lotus gave no further details on cargo and crew and did not say if the Pantelena was hijacked by pirates. The vessel is a dual purpose oil or chemicals tanker.
“We at Lotus Shipping, acting on behalf of the vessel’s owners have set as our first and foremost priority to safeguard the safety of the crew and with their interest in mind we cannot provide any additional media comments at this point in time,” it said.
The Pantelena was en route from Lome to Libreville and was last seen nearing the Gabon coast on August 13, according to ship tracking data on Reuters, which lists the ship as a double-hulled oil tanker managed by Lotus.
While piracy decreased worldwide, the Gulf of Guinea is an increasing target for pirates who steal cargo and demand ransoms. Piracy-related issues were a decade ago focussed off the East African coast, particularly Somalia’s unpoliced waters.
Ships in the Gulf of Guinea were the target of a series of piracy-related incidents last year, according to a report in January by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which highlighted the waters off West Africa as an area of growing concern.
Ten incidents of kidnapping involving 65 crew members took place in or around Nigerian waters, the IMB said. Globally 16 vessels reported being fired upon, seven of which were in the Gulf of Guinea.