Hijacked supertanker anchors off Somali coast (Lead)

November 18th, 2008 - 11:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi/Mogadishu, Nov 18 (DPA) A Saudi Arabian supertanker hijacked by pirates has anchored near the Somali port of Harardhere, a Somali official said Tuesday.The tanker Sirius Star, which was sailing under a Liberian flag, was seized Saturday by Somali pirates 830 km southeast of the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa.

“We received information from our sources that the Saudi tanker arrived near Harardhere this morning,” Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade, a senior adviser to president of the semi-autonomous Puntland region, told DPA.

“We can’t try to rescue it unless we have permission from the owners and also external help,” he added.

Harardhere is around 400 km from the pirate stronghold of Eyl, where the hijackers often take ships and keep international warships at bay by holding crew members hostage.

Ship owner Vela International, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabian oil company Saudi Aramco, said in a statement on its website that the ship was carrying a full load of crude oil when it was seized.

The Sirius Star, which is 330 metres long, can carry up to 2 million barrels of oil, meaning its cargo is worth around $100 million.

However, the pirates, who operate out of small launches from a mothership, do not have the capability to unload the crude and are expected to hold the ship to ransom.

The ship’s 25 crew members, who are from Britain, Croatia, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia, are all safe, Vela International said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister called the hijacking an “outrageous act” and said that piracy must be fought.

“Piracy, like terrorism is a disease which is against everybody, and everybody must address it together,” Prince Saud al-Faisal said in Athens following talks with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni.

The US Navy, which operates a security patrol in the Gulf of Aden, also said it had no plans to intervene in what it called a “hostage situation”.

“We don’t see this as a military mission but as a criminal act at sea,” Commander Jane Campbell, a Bahrain-based spokeswoman for the US Navy’s 5th fleet, told DPA. “The lives of crew members could be threatened.”

No contact has yet been made with the pirates, but Vela International said it had set up response teams to negotiate the safe release of the crew members and the tanker.

The ship is the largest taken by pirates in a series of hijackings in the area over the past months and represents their most daring raid yet.

The attack took place well outside the normal danger areas in the Gulf of Aden. Anti-piracy officials said this showed that hijackers were changing their tactics to avoid international warships that have been deployed in the area.

“We are concerned … for pirates to come so far out, this means they can then go to any part of the ocean to hijack ships,” Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Centre, told DPA.

The Gulf of Aden is a busy shipping channel which forms part of the route linking the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez canal.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) says there have been 92 attempts at piracy off the coast of Somalia this year, 36 of them successful. Fourteen ships are currently being held, along with 268 crew.

Amongst the ships being held is Ukrainian freighter, the MV Faina, which was captured while carrying 33 military tanks to Mombasa.

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.

However, the pirates appear undaunted by the increased naval presence and continue to attack ships in search of multimillion-dollar ransoms.

A report released by London-based independent think tank Chatham House in October said that pirates had scooped up to $30 million from ransoms in 2008.

The surge in piracy off Somalia has coincided with a rise in violence in Somalia itself, where authorities in the central and southern region are battling a bloody insurgency.

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