Somali pirates demand $25 million for Saudi tanker

November 20th, 2008 - 10:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi, Nov 20 (DPA) Somali pirates have demanded $25 million for the release of a Saudi-owned supertanker seized at the weekend, reports said Thursday.Mohamed Said, one of the pirates, gave a deadline of ten days for the ransom to be paid, threatening “disastrous” consequences otherwise, Arabic television channel Al-Jazeera reported.

The Sirius Star, which was hijacked some 830 km southeast of the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa, is anchored near the Somali port of Harardhere, one of several pirate strongholds, while ransom negotiations take place.

The ship, which is owned by Vela International Marine Limited, a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, was carrying a full load of 2 million barrels of oil when it was seized.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said that the owners were in talks with the pirates and it was their decision to pay the ransom or not.

The 25 crew members, from Britain, Croatia, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia, were safe according to the owners, and there were no plans by either the international forces or the Puntland authorities to storm the ship.

Piracy off the Horn of Africa nation has surged in recent months, and the chairman of the African Union said political infighting is feeding the explosion.

Jean Ping linked the piracy surge to a rift within the leadership of Somalia’s transitional federal government and called for UN peacekeepers to be deployed in the nation as soon as possible.

“This is a clear indication of the further deterioration of the situation with far reaching consequences for this country, the region and the larger international community,” the AU said in a statement late Wednesday evening.

The surge in piracy has coincided with a bloody insurgency in Somalia, where ousted Islamists have been fighting to regain control since early 2007.

Many shipping lines are now avoiding or considering avoiding the Gulf of Aden - a busy shipping channel which forms part of the route linking the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal.

Since the Sirius Star was taken, an Iranian cargo ship and a Thai fishing boat have also been seized.

The Sirius Star is the largest vessel taken by pirates and represents their most daring raid yet, despite the presence of international warships.

The surge in piracy has prompted increased patrols by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russia, the US-led coalition forces and France along the Somali coast.

An increased naval presence has not deterred the pirates as they pursue huge ransoms, but they have recently started to suffer losses.

The Indian navy said Wednesday that its INS Tabar stealth frigate, which has been deployed in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy surveillance and patrol operations, destroyed a pirate mothership - the first time a pirate mothership has been destroyed.

The seizure of the Sirius Star took place outside the normal danger areas in the Gulf of Aden, prompting anti-piracy officials to warn that the pirates could be changing their tactics in response to the increased warship presence.

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