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An oil tanker, with 22 Indians on board, continues to be missing in the piracy-plagued waters of West Africa, with no communication reported for the last three days, Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) officials said on Monday. The "Marine Express" was reported missing off the Benin coast in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, they informed. "All the communication equipment on board have been switched off and the ship continues to be missing," a DGS official told PTI here, adding that no ransom call was received either. He informed 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 have been appointed on the ship by the city-based Anglo Eastern Shipping, 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 a "difficult" one. "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. Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had yesterday tweeted, saying that the "Marine Express" was "presumably" missing. "A merchant vessel Marine Express (oil tanker), owned by Mumbai-based Anglo Eastern shipping company with 22 Indian nationals on board, is presumably missing off the coast of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea," he had tweeted. The Indian Mission in Nigeria was in touch with the authorities concerned and the situation was being constantly monitored, the MEA had said. "Our Mission in Abuja (Nigeria) is in touch with the authorities in Benin and Nigeria for their help in locating the ship and is constantly monitoring the situation. A 24-hour helpline number set up by the Embassy for information on those missing is +234-9070343860," Kumar had said in another tweet.