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Oil Tanker Hijacked Near West Africa By Pirates Rescued After Four Days, All 22 Indian Crew Members Safe

An oil tanker with 22 Indians on board that went missing off the coast of Benin in West Africa on 1 February has been found, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Tuesday.

All the crew members, released by pirates after four days, are safe and the ship has resumed sailing, officials added.

“I am happy to inform that Merchant Ship Marine Express with 22 Indian nationals on board has been released,” Swaraj tweeted.

The external affairs minister thanked the government of Nigeria and Benin for their help and support in the matter.

Swaraj had spoken to her Nigerian counterpart on Monday to seek assistance in tracing the missing oil tanker.

The Indian mission in Abuja was in touch with Nigeria and Benin for help in locating the ship.

“The ship, Marine Express, has been released and is back under the command of the captain,” Director General of Shipping Malini Shankar told PTI in Mumbai.

It was not immediately clear if any ransom was paid to secure the release of the vessel and the cargo.

The Marine Express was anchored in Cotonou in the Gulf of Guinea in Benin when it was taken over by pirates on 1 February. All communication systems on the vessel were switched off by pirates before making it sail.

In a Facebook post, ship manning agent Anglo Eastern said the Panama-flagged vessel was the victim of “pirate attack and seizure” and confirmed its safe release.

The cargo of 13,500 tonnes of gasoline remains on board, the post added.

An official at the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) had said earlier that the waters, from where the vessel was taken, are unsafe because of the presence of pirates.

There have been a few incidents where pirates let off hijacked vessels and crew after siphoning the cargo on-board cargo without demanding a ransom.

DGS officials had been in contact with the Indian mission in Nigeria, which was coordinating rescue efforts with local agencies.

The Marine Express went missing less than a month after another vessel, MT Barret, disappeared off the coast of Benin in January, and was later confirmed to have been hijacked.

The 22 crew members of MT Barret, most of whom were Indians, were reportedly released after a ransom was paid.

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