Did hijackers release tanker with Indian sailors in return for cash, gasoline?

Feb 06, 2018, 09:55 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Sources say hijackers were allowed to take away the entire remaining load of approximate 13,500 metric tons of gasoline, valued at over $600 per metric ton, bringing the total value to about $8.1 million (Rs 52 crore), along with the ransom

MT Marine Express
The MT Marine Express

MT Marine Express, the petroleum product tanker with 22 Indian crew members onboard anchored off Benin (Cotonu), West of Africa, that had been reported missing four days ago, was said to have been released by the hijackers on Sunday. While officials monitoring the search and rescue operation are tight-lipped about the development, shipping industry officials told mid-day that all crew members are believed to be safe.

If highly placed officials are to be believed, the release comes after the hijackers were allowed to take away the entire remaining load of approximate 13,500 metric tons of gasoline, valued at over $600 per metric ton, bringing the total value to about $8.1 million (Rs 52 crore), along with the ransom. The communication network on the vessel hasn't been restored yet, and it is now being brought to the safe location.

Yes or no?
However, an official at the Indian High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria said, "We have already sent out alerts to all Navies — Benin, Gana, Nigeria and others — and have also alerted the other ships and vessels passing Gulf of Guinea. Our search operation is still on, and we haven't got any confirmation yet. However, if the company (Anglo Eastern) has information about the vessel being traced, it should touch base with us; it will help us in the search mission."

Also read: Armed guards were taken off missing ship with 22 Indian sailors before docking

A senior official at the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, said, "Our search is underway, and the government publicity department will keep the press informed about any latest official information."

"We are yet to hear about the location of the vessel; the search operation is underway. We are in touch with our counterparts," said Amitabh Kumar, additional director general, Directorate of Shipping. Interestingly, the shipping ministry and Directorate of Shipping headquarters, and even shipping agencies and companies in India, are confident that in a day or two, the vessel would be released, as, explained officials, it's all about the negotiation tactics usually adopted in these high-risk pirate-operated waters.

Tackling troubled waters
When asked why Indian sailors take the risk of entering these waters despite warnings from DG Shipping and NUSI, a senior shipping official said, "African waters are very important from the trade perspective, especially for petroleum and its byproducts; hence, sailing to these areas cannot be restricted."

Another official was asked if there would be any new safety norms for seafarers heading to Gulf of Guinea, with two incidents in less than a month being reported from the same area. "It all depends once the crew and vessel are released. The incident has happened in international waters, and Indian agencies have no role in the search and rescue operation. However, the International Maritime Board and other maritime agencies will take cognisance and may decide to issuing fresh directives to seafarers travelling on these routes," the official added.

Patrick Adamson, founder chairman of MTI Network in the UK, when asked if the vessel had been released, said, "We are still awaiting contact, we don't know yet. Our first priority is the safety of the crew members; we are confident they won't be harmed. The company (Anglo Eastern Ship Management) is taking all the required steps for positive results."

Keeping in touch
Meanwhile, the company's Mumbai office has kept in touch with families of the crew and assured them that all are safe and would be released. Sources in Mumbai revealed that the 22 onboard, after release, may not return home and will be expected to continue their planned navigation. "The incident has impacted the company monetarily, and aborting the journey will only worsen the situation for the company financially," said a source. Both the company and MTI, however, refused to comment on this and maintained that the crew's release was the priority.

Rs 52cr Approx value of the gasoline onboard
$600 Rate per metric ton of the gasoline

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