Six sailors held hostage by pirates who attacked a Danish tanker remain missing close to two weeks after a hijacking in West Africa.
The Danish company that owns the oil tanker Monjasa Reformer told The National that the sole focus was to secure the safe return of the crew.
The hostage-taking has raised concerns about a revival of piracy that had witnessed a brief lull over the past year.
Pirates attacked and boarded the Liberian-flagged vessel on March 25 when it was southwest of Congo’s Pointe Noir port.
The tanker had 16 crew of different nationalities on board, according to the French Navy who responded to the distress call and conducted a search in the north-east of the Gulf of Guinea.
Five days after the attack, on March 30, a navy patrol spotted the tanker that was abandoned by the pirates with some crew on board off the small island of Sao Tome and Principe.
The rescued crew is in good health
“The rescued crew members are all in good health and safely located in a secure environment and receiving proper attention following these dreadful events,” said Thorstein Andreasen, communications director for Monjasa.
The company has declined to specify the nationalities of the crew or provide further details, citing security concerns.
“Our thoughts are with the crew members still missing and their families during this stressful period,” the company spokesman said.
“Monjasa will continue working closely with the local authorities to support our seafarers’ safe return to their families.”
No damage was reported to the ship or the cargo of marine gas oil and sulphur fuel oil products it was carrying.
All sailors took refuge in the citadel, a designated safe area within a ship, in keeping with anti-piracy emergency protocols.
The French Navy’s aerial drone located the vessel on March 30 and also recorded the presence of a pirate boat alongside the ship.
When the naval patrol vessel began approaching the ship, another reconnaissance flight showed the pirate ship was no longer alongside the tanker.
“The crew still on board indicates that six of its members were kidnapped by pirates,” the navy said.
The French team, along with a nurse and doctor, were sent on board the Monjasa Reformer, working in co-operation with Nigerian authorities.
The medics treated three minor injuries and the vessel was escorted to the port of Lome by Nigerian patrol vessels.
The French Navy deploys one or two vessels almost permanently in the Gulf of Guinea as part of Operation Corymbe to help fight against pirates in West Africa.
Perils of piracy
Danish shippers said the problems of piracy in West Africa are far from solved.
“The recent kidnapping of seafarers in the Gulf of Guinea is a sobering reminder that this region is still plagued by piracy,” said Anne Steffensen, chief executive of Danish Shipping that oversees more than 90 ship owners and offshore companies.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the kidnapped seafarers who are left with the uncertainty of their loved ones’ safety.
“This tragic incident highlights the continuing problem of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, even during periods with fewer attacks.
“We are working closely with the shipping company to ensure that everything possible is being done to secure the safe release of the hostages.”
The United Nations Security Council last year passed a resolution condemning piracy and expressed concern over the “grave and persistent threat” posed in the Gulf of Guinea.
The total number of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea was 19, down from 35 in 2021, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
There were 115 piracy attacks and armed robbery globally against ships last year compared to 132 in 2021, according to the IMB’s annual report.