New Delhi/Mumbai, Feb 4: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday spoke with her Nigerian counterpart and sought assistance in tracing a missing oil tanker with 22 Indians on board.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama assured Swaraj of all help and assistance in locating the ship that went missing off the coast of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea, according to a tweet by Swaraj.
The "Marine Express" continues to be missing in the piracy-plagued waters near West Africa, an official of the Mumbai-based Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) told PTI.
"I have just spoken to Foreign Minister of Nigeria regarding missing merchant ship with 22 Indian nationals on board. Hon'ble Foreign Minister of Nigeria has promised all help and assistance in locating the missing ship. We have set up a Helpline no.(+234)9070343860," Swaraj said of her telephonic conversation with the Nigerian leader.
The DGS official said that all the communication equipment on board has been switched off. No ransom call had been received, the official said. He said that the Indian mission in Nigeria was in contact with the Nigerian Navy and other agencies, while the DGS was also coordinating the efforts as it involved Indian sailors. The 22 sailors had been appointed on the ship by the Anglo Eastern Ship Management, the official said, adding that the Panamanian-flagged vessel was owned by the Ocean Transit Carrier SA, a Japanese company.
The owners had set up a dedicated helpline for the families of the Indian crew, the official said. He described the area in which the vessel was sailing as "difficult".
"The region has a history of piracy and it may be a case of suspected piracy," another official from the DGS had said yesterday.
The ship has gone 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 of "MT Barret", most of whom were Indians, were reportedly released after a ransom was paid.