Missing tanker found

The Panamanian-flagged tanker ‘Pantelena’ has docked at a port in Togo, after missing for over a week along with its 19 crew, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Friday.

According to initial information by the Ialkani agency, contact with the ship was lost on 14 August, while it was sailing near the west coast of Africa, about 17 miles off Gabon in the Gulf of Guinea, which enhanced suspicions for a hijacking. The ship was reportedly transporting oil.

“Our guys are alive and well. The ship is already in the port of Lome and soon representatives of our company will meet them. I am almost certain that this was an attack by pirates,”

…the head of Ialkani, Anzhela Oganesyan, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The Ialkani agency said two Russian nationals and 17 Georgians were aboard the vessel, a dual purpose oil or chemicals tanker managed by Athens-based Lotus Shipping.

Vladimer Konstantinidu, deputy head of the Georgian foreign ministry’s consulate department, said the ministry had not yet been able to communicate with the returning crew, but could not rule out that the tanker had been hijacked.

The first half of 2018 marked the return of ‘petro-piracy’ (tanker hijackings for product theft) in the Gulf of Guinea following two years of dormancy, while a total of 35 seafarers were kidnapped for ransom in the region during this period.

In 2017, 10 kidnappings involving 65 crew members took place in Nigerian waters, while 16 vessels were fired upon, seven of which were in the Gulf of Guinea, according to ICC International Maritime Bureau’s (IBM) second quarterly report.

Meanwhile, all 2018 crew kidnappings have taken place in the Gulf of Guinea in six separate incidents. The report adds that the true number of incidents in the area is believed to be significantly higher than reported.