The MT Apecus dropped anchor off Nigeria’s Bonny Island shortly after sunrise. Sudeep Choudhury was at the end of a draining shift on deck. Looking towards land, he could make out dozens of other ships. On the shoreline beyond them, a column of white oil storage tanks rose out of the ground like giants.
He had breakfast and then made two phone calls. One to his parents – he knew they worried about him, their only child – and one to his fiancee, Bhagyashree. He told her that everything was going to plan and that he would call her again later that day. He then clambered into bed for a sleep.
It was 19 April, 2019. The small, ageing oil tanker and its crew of 15 had spent two days sailing south from the port of Lagos to the Niger Delta, where oil was discovered in the 1950s by Dutch and British businessmen seeking a swift fortune. Although he knew that vicious pirates roamed the labyrinthine wetlands and mangroves of the delta, Sudeep felt safe that tropical South Atlantic morning. Nigerian navy boats were patrolling and the Apecus was moored just outside Bonny, seven nautical miles from land, waiting for permission to enter port.
The warm waters of the Gulf of Guinea, which lap across the coastline of seven West African nations, are the most dangerous in the world. It used to be Somalia, but now this area is the epicentre of modern sea piracy. Of all the seafarers held for ransom globally last year, some 90% were taken here. Sixty-four people were seized from six ships in just the last three months of 2019, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which tracks such incidents. Many more attacks may have gone unreported.