Greek-owned tanker PANTELENA with a crew of 19 Georgian and Russian sailors that went missing for over a week in the Gulf of Guinea has been found off the coast of Congo, Tbilisi said on Friday. The reason for its disappearance remained unclear.
The Pantelena, a Panamanian-flagged tanker owned by a Greek company, “has been found in Congo’s territorial waters and is heading to the port of Lome in the Togolese Republic,” Georgia’s foreign ministry said in a statement, AFP reports late on Friday.
“The lives and health of Georgian sailors are not under threat,” the ministry added.
On August 14, the ship “turned off its locator beacon,” a device that tracks a vessel’s position by satellite, a regional military source in Africa said, adding that “the first thing that pirates do when they board a ship is to cut off this beacon.”
The Gulf of Guinea has in recent years become the epicentre of maritime piracy in Africa.
Georgia’s foreign ministry said earlier that a search operation was being conducted with the help of the British maritime authorities and that there were concerns for the 17 Georgian and two Russian sailors onboard.
But a senior Georgian diplomat told AFP on Friday on condition of anonymity that “what happened at the Pantelena probably wasn’t an instance of piracy.”
“The incident is now settled,” the diplomat said without giving further details.
The vessel is Panamanian-flagged and owned by a Greek company, Lotus Shipping Co. Ltd.
Africanews reports that the Pantelena was spotted on Wednesday by the multinational coordination center in Pointe Noire, Congo.
The Panamanian-flagged ship had disappeared from the radar screens of the Libreville Navy’s operational center.
The 121-metre tanker was carrying about 7,000 tons of fuel.
Cremac, the regional maritime security centre for Central Africa, has a mission to ensure the control of the maritime space of the the Gulf of Guinea and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)
However, inadequate equipment sometimes prevents the various multinational coordination centers and from providing optimum coverage of the maritime space.