Pirates lose control of Indian oil tanker as crew regains command

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The crew of an Indian-owned oil tanker that vanished Thursday off the coast of the West African country of Benin has regained control of the ship after it was hijacked by pirates, the vessel's management company said Tuesday.

Anglo-Eastern Ship Management said the Marine Express tanker with 22 Indian nationals on board "was hijacked by pirates on Feb 1," but is now back under command of the captain and crew.

"All crew members are reported to be safe & well & the cargo intact. We thank you all for your well wishes," the company tweeted.

The company said all crew members are "safe and well," and the cargo of 13,500 tons of gasoline remains on board.

"A complete investigation will be carried out into the hijacking and we wish to express our gratitude to the captain and crew of the vessel and their families for their courage and fortitude in dealing with this difficult situation, as well as to all of the authorities and agencies involved," the company said in a statement.

India's External Affairs minister Suchma Swaraj confirmed late Sunday the tanker, owned by a Mumbai company, disappeared in the Gulf of Guinea. Swaraj asked for help from Benin and Nigeria to help find the vessel.


"I am happy to inform that Merchant Ship Marine Express with 22 Indian nationals on board has been released," Swaraj tweeted Tuesday. "We thanks Governments of Nigeria and Benin for their help and support."

Ship hijackings and kidnappings of crew are common in the region, with hostages often released unharmed after a ransom is paid. Bandits usually target oil tankers and sell the crude.

In January, another oil tanker, MT Barret, went missing off Benin. That crew of 22, mostly Indians, was released within days after a ransom was paid to the pirates who hijacked the tanker, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

International efforts have brought down the threat of piracy off Somalia's coast in recent years. Concerns about piracy off Africa's coast have now largely shifted to the Gulf of Guinea.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.