LISBON Jan 24 Angolan state oil firm Sonangol on Friday confirmed reports that a tanker it had chartered had disappeared off the coast of the West African country.
The owners of the Liberian-flagged MT Kerala, Greece-based Dynacom, said on Wednesday it suspected that the tanker had been hijacked by pirates. If confirmed, the attack would be the most southerly to date by pirates off West Africa.
Sonangol said it lost contact with the tanker, with crew of 27, on Jan. 19.
"The relevant authorities and the conventional technical mechanisms have already been activated to locate the ship and identify the causes of the occurrence," it said.
Pirate attacks jumped by a third last year off the coast of West Africa but were mostly confined to the Gulf of Guinea, near Africa's biggest oil producer Nigeria, where most of the hijacking gangs are believed to originate.
A hijacking off Angola would be hundreds of miles further down the coast. Previously the most southerly reported attack was on a tanker off Gabon last year.
International navies are not actively engaged in counter-piracy missions in the region, unlike in the waters off Somalia, the piracy hotspot on the other side of the continent.
Angola is Africa's second biggest crude oil exporter after Nigeria, where pirate attacks have pushed up insurance costs for shipping firms and oil companies. (Reporting by Shrikesh Laxmidas; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)