Oil tanker with 22 Indian crew missing off Benin's coast

NEW DELHI — India has sought the help of the Nigerian and Benin navies to find an oil tanker that has gone missing with 22 Indian crew members off Benin's coast.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj confirmed late Sunday that the tanker, Marine Express, went missing in the Gulf of Guinea.

It's not known whether the ship was hijacked for ransom or to steal the nearly 13,500 tonnes (15,120 tons) of gasoline on board.

The ship, owned by a Mumbai company, has been missing since Jan. 31 with no contact with the crew so far, according to Indian media reports.

In January, another oil tanker, MT Barret, went missing off the coast of the West African nation of Benin. That crew of 22, mostly Indians, was released within days after a ransom was paid to the pirates, the Press Trust of India news agency said. It didn't give any details.

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.

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.

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