Pantelena, the Georgian oil ship that disappeared off the Gabonese coast two weeks ago was found in the Congo, according to the Pointe-Noire-based Regional Center for Maritime Safety in Central Africa (CRESMAC), which controls the Gulf of Guinea.
A statement from the Georgian Foreign Ministry indicates that the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker, which disappeared on 14 August, 74 kilometers from the port of Owendo in Gabon, was found in Congolese territorial waters, and “Goes to the port of Lome in Togo”.
The Georgian authorities indicated that the criminal track is to be dismissed in view of “what happened”. However, they reassure “the life and health of Georgian sailors are not threatened”.
Russia’s TASS news agency reports that the sailors aboard the oil tanker Pantelena are in good health, and still in Togo at the port of Lomé as Russian diplomats in Gabon arrange to meet with them.
“The sailors remain onboard the vessel, Togo’s authorities are dealing with them now,” a spokesman for the Russian embassy said.
The two Russian sailors and 17 Georgians went missing on August 14, when communications with the Panamanian-flagged Pantelena were lost in the Gulf of Guinea. The ship was en route to Gabon’s coastal capital of Libreville when it went missing about 40 nautical miles from its destination.
It turned up 10 days later to the south near Pointe-Noire in Congo Brazzaville. Lasha Gadilia, the captain of the vessel for Lotus Shipping, the operator based in Athens, Greece, confirmed the ship was hijacked by armed men on the night of August 13. He told Georgia’s TV1 that the crew was locked in a room for nine days.
The Gulf of Guinea remains among the world’s most dangerous regions for shipping crews, according to a July 2018 report from the ICC International Maritime Bureau. Of 107 piracy incidents reported in the first six months of 2018 – including four hijackings – all 25 of the crew kidnappings have occurred in the West African waters. There were 102 crew members taken hostage during the time period.
“The true number of incidents in the Gulf of Guinea is believed to be significantly higher than what is reported to the IMB PRC,” the organization said.
Outside the Gulf of Guinea, the number of 2018 incidents decreased in other piracy hotspots. There were no reported incidents recorded off the coast of Somalia in the second quarter of 2018.
EARLIER : Pantelena Chemical Tanker, Crew Missing Off Gabon Coast
Pantelena, a Greek-owned Panama-registered chemical tanker has been missing for a week now in a sea region off the coast of Gabon in central Africa — an area notorious for piracy — and no word has been heard from its crew for a week, the ship’s managers said.
The Georgian government said 17 of its citizens were on board the Pantelena serving as crew.
Communication was lost with the Panama-registered tanker at about 2 a.m. local time on Aug. 14, at which time it was about 17 miles from the port of Libreville, in Gabon, Athens-based Lotus Shipping said in a statement.
It gave no further details on the cargo and crew, and did not say if it believed the Pantelena had been hijacked by pirates. The vessel is a dual purpose oil or chemicals tanker.
“We at Lotus Shipping, acting on behalf of the vessel’s owners…have set as our first and foremost priority to safeguard the safety of the crew and with their interest in mind we cannot provide any additional media comments at this point in time,” it said.
The Pantelena was on route from Lome to Libreville and was last seen nearing the Gabon coast at 9 p.m. on Aug. 13, according to ship tracking data on Reuters, which lists the ship as a double-hulled oil tanker managed by Lotus.
The CSO of the merchant vessel that is suspected to have been hijacked has also confirmed that all communication has been lost with the ship and crew.
Concerns are increasing for the welfare of the crew as a search and rescue operation commences.
The chief security officer reports that the last communication from Panama-flagged MT Pantelena came at 2200 UTC on the 13th August.
He has requested that all ships transiting the area keep a lookout for the vessel and report any sightings to the IMB piracy reporting centre immediately.
The vessel was last known to be in the vicinity of 00°28.9’ N, 009°00.15’ E, approximately 18nm West f Libreville anchorage, Gabon.
Maritime officials have also warned seafarers in the region to exercise extreme caution.
While piracy has decreased worldwide, the Gulf of Guinea has become an increasing target for pirates who steal cargo and demand ransoms. Piracy-related issues were a decade ago focused off the East African coast, particularly Somalia’s unpoliced waters.
Ships in the Gulf of Guinea were the target of a series of piracy-related incidents last year, according to a report in January by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which highlighted the waters off West Africa as an area of growing concern.
Ten incidents of kidnapping involving 65 crew members took place in or around Nigerian waters, the IMB said. Globally 16 vessels reported being fired upon, seven of which were in the Gulf of Guinea.