It is believed pirates might have steered the tanker to Gulf of Guinea

A day after news broke of the hijack of the Maltese-flagged chemical tanker Cotton with an all-Indian crew by pirates in Gabonese waters in West-Central Africa, the whereabouts of the vessel remains unknown.

It is, however, widely assumed that it would have been steered to some unspecified location in the Gulf of Guinea for offloading its cargo of 10,000 tonnes of low sulphur fuel into some pirate-operated vessels.

The sentiment that the hijack was done with an eye on the cargo was shared by the Ministry of External Affairs. Syed Akbaruddin, MEA spokesperson, said that the Turkish owners of the vessel, Geden Lines, were clueless about the ship’s course after it was captured by pirates while at anchorage some 15 nautical miles off Port Gentil in the early hours of Monday.

“The vessel earlier bunkered at Las Palmas in Spain on June 24… At the time of hijacking the crew had 24 Indian nationals and did not have any armed guards on board… The hijackers have cut all means of communication with the ship,” he said, describing the hijack as ‘unusual.’

The Ministry is maintaining a watch over the developments through its missions, which are in touch with the governments of Turkey, Nigeria and Gabon.

When contacted by The Hindu, a spokesperson of V Ships India, which does crew management for the Turkish ship-owner, said there was enough ground to believe that pirates would abandon the ship after emptying it of the cargo. “The ship was awaiting berth at anchorage since July 6, but the pirates only chose to strike after it was loaded with cargo,” he said.

Geden Lines had earlier been in a similar situation when one of its container vessels, mv Kalina with a mixed crew of Indians and Italians fell to Somali pirates. The Gabonese waters had always been considered safe for merchant shipping, so there was hardly any chance that the crew had chosen an alternative route, as they invariably did while navigating in Somali waters, officials of V Ships told the MEA.

In its latest report on piracy released the other day, the International Maritime Bureau flagged the threat of piracy shifting base from Somalia and the Gulf of Aden to West African regions, primarily in the Gulf of Guinea, in the wake of a successful anti-piracy campaign by various navies and joint naval forces.

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