On Friday, Hong Kong-based ship management group Anglo-Eastern reported that it has lost contact with the product tanker Marine Express at a position off Benin.
As of 0330 hours GMT on Thursday, when she was last in touch, the Express was at an anchorage off the port of Cotonou in the Gulf of Guinea, an area known for a high risk of piracy. She had 22 crewmembers and 13,500 tons of gasoline on board.
If the Express' disappearance is the result of a hijacking, it would be the second in three weeks off Benin. On January 9, U.K. shipowner Union Maritime lost contact with the product tanker Barrett, which was at anchor off Cotonou. The Barrett had been taken by pirates, and her crew were in captivity for six days while a "resolution process" moved forward. The crew and the vessel were eventually released.
Piracy is a common occurrence in the Gulf of Guinea, where criminal groups based in the Niger Delta have the capability to raid shipping far out to sea. Armed robbery is also a routine problem, with several instances reported every month; piracy experts suggest that a higher occurrence rate is likely, and is masked by underreporting.
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