Speculation rife about piracy or fire on board Tamaya 1, registered in Panama, who last known position was on 21 April near Gambia and Senegal

An abandoned oil tanker has washed up on the shores of Liberia in west Africa, prompting an investigation – and speculation over the fate of the ship’s crew.

Oil tanker Tamaya 1 washes up on Liberia beach with no crew or lifeboats

Local reports cite a source in Liberia’s port authority who said the vessel’s owner might have had no money to pay crew members. Photograph: Preston Veteran Gaylor/Facebook

The Tamaya 1, which is registered in Panama, ran aground on a beach near Robertsport last Wednesday (May 4), apparently without a crew or lifeboats. On Thursday the Liberia national police and bureau of immigration inspected the ship, days after local residents first discovered it on the beach.

The 64-meter (210ft) tanker’s last known position was on 21 April near Gambia and Senegal, well north of Liberia along the west African coast. The ship was en route to the Senegalese port of Dakar.

The Liberia national police and the Liberia maritime authority did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

“Our best bet is that the vessel’s owner might have gone broke and had no money to pay crew members,” a source at the nation’s port authority told the Liberian Daily Observer. “And therefore, the crew abandoned the ship.”

Asked about why maritime authorities had responded so slowly to the mystery of a crewless oil tanker, the source said: “Robertsport does not have a seaport.”

After several days beached on the shoreline, the ship was reportedly looted and vandalized and speculation was rife that pirates or a fire had caused the crew to abandon the ship. Since investigation began, police have tried to keep civilians away from the ship.

Although tankers were once prized by pirates off the African coasts, the long decline in oil prices combined with a sustained military campaign have reduced hijackings. Off west Africa, piracy has been largely held south of Liberia, in the waters off Nigeria and Ghana.

Source: TheGuardian