India is in constant engagement with Nigerian authorities and is hopeful of an early resolution on the matter of 38 Indians who were kidnapped in two separate instances of hijacking off the Nigerian coast this month.
On December 2, the Hong Kong-flagged crude oil tanker VLCC Nave Constellation was hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, 77 nautical miles from Bonny Island. 19 of its 26 crew members were abducted—of whom 18 were Indians.
On December 15, the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker MT Duke was hijacked in the same Gulf, this time 115 nautical miles south-east of Lomé, Togo. 20 out of 21 members of its crew were kidnapped, all of whom were Indian. The pirates left only one sailor on the ship, who is believed to be a Nigerian national, according to the Maritime Executive.
Responding to a query from THE WEEK, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) stated, “Our mission in Abuja has taken up the matter with the Nigerian authorities, as also with the authorities of the neighbouring countries. The safety of hostages is paramount and we continue to engage with Nigerian authorities and other stakeholders closely on the recent incidents.”
Piracy made a comeback in the 21st century, in particular along the East African coast near Somalia on account of the Somali civil war. The navies of multiple nations, including the Indian Navy, have since worked to keep the Arabian Sea and Western Indian Ocean piracy-free—with the result that no hijackings were reported in the Western Indian Ocean in 2018.
However, the Gulf of Guinea has now emerged as a piracy hotspot. According to Stable Seas’ State of Piracy report, 112 incidents of piracy took place in the West African region in 2018, with the Gulf of Guinea the worst-affected zone in the world.
Of the 2,012 seafarers who were exposed to piracy that year, half of them were from the Philippines, with India next at 17 per cent.
Humans have become the new booty for pirates and there have been instances when they've been in captivity for years. These are reasons why the Indian government says that “utmost restraint is advised,” adding that “we are closely monitoring and are hopeful of an early resolution.” India says that Nigeria has deployed necessary resources and per their laid down procedure, being mindful of the safety of the hostages.
“Our mission is also in touch with the family members,'' said the MEA.