New ships seized as supertanker anchors off Somalia

November 19th, 2008 - 12:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi/Mogadishu, Nov 19 (DPA) Somali pirates seized two new ships Tuesday as the hijacked Saudi Arabian supertanker Sirius Star anchored near the Somali port of Harardhere, Somali and US Navy officials said Wednesday.The Sirius Star, which was sailing under a Liberian flag, was seized Saturday by Somali pirates 450 nautical miles south-east of
the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa.

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

“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 two million barrels of oil, meaning its cargo is worth in the vicinity of $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.

Later in the day, a vessel flying a Hong Kong flag and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines was hijacked in the Gulf
of Aden, said Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.

There was no information about the status of the crew, its cargo or where it was headed, but Christensen said pirated ships typically
head to Somalia.

Chinese state media reported that the ship had 25 crew members and was carrying wheat to Iran.

The BBC also reported that a fishing boat registered in Kiribati and its 12 crew was hijacked.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister called the hijacking of the Sirius Star 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

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

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.

Prior to the latest two seizures, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said there had been 92 attempts at piracy off the coast
of Somalia this year, 36 of them successful.

Sixteen ships are now being held, along with around 300 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.

The European Union has also authorized a force of between five and seven frigates, which is expected to arrive in the Gulf of Aden early December.

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

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