Twenty Indian crew members of a ship, MT Duke, have been kidnapped by pirates in the high seas off the western coast of Africa, the External Affairs Ministry confirmed on Monday, adding that the Indian Embassy in Nigeria has taken up the matter with the Nigerian authorities and other neighbouring countries.

The incident, described as “the largest kidnapping in West Africa in 2019”, occurred some 115 nautical miles southeast of Lome on Sunday.

”We are concerned by the kidnapping of 20 Indian crew members (as reported by the shipping agency) from the vessel MT Duke in the high seas off the western coast of Africa on 15 December. This is the 3rd such incident this year in the region, affecting Indian nationals,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in response to questions.

The spokesman said the safety of hostages was paramount and India continued to engage with the Nigerian authorities and other stakeholders closely on the incidents.

The tanker was reportedly attacked and boarded by six pirates while sailing from Luanda, Angola, to Lome with a cargo of fuel oil. Out of the ship’s 21 crew members, the pirates kidnapped 20 Indians, while one Nigerian seafarer is believed to have been left aboard the vessel.

The latest incident comes less than two weeks after 19 crew members were kidnapped from the tanker Nave Constellation off Bonny Island, Nigeria.

With the latest kidnapping, the total number of Indian personnel kidnapped in West Africa since 18 January has gone up to 89.