Superpowers’ Armed Naval Might Fails to Deter Pirates in Speedboats

November 19th, 2008 - by admin

Barbara Surk & Tarek El-Tablawy / AP & Borzou Daragahi & Edmund Sanders / LA Times – 2008-11-19 22:56:30

Somali Pirates Take Saudi Tanker in Open Ocean
Barbara Surk & Tarek El-Tablawy / Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (November 18, 2008) — In a dramatic escalation of high seas crime, Somali pirates hijacked a Saudi supertanker loaded with crude oil hundreds of miles off the coast of east Africa — defeating the security web of warships trying to protect vital shipping lanes.

The takeover demonstrates the bandits’ heightened ambitions and capabilities: Never before have they seized such a giant ship so far out to sea. Maritime experts warned that the broad daylight attack, reported by the U.S. Navy Monday, was an alarming sign of the difficulty of patrolling a vast stretch of ocean key to oil and other cargo traffic.

The MV Sirius Star, a brand new tanker with a 25-member crew, was seized at about 10 a.m. Saturday more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya, the Navy said. The area lies far south of the zone where warships have increased their patrols this year in the Gulf of Aden, one of the busiest channels in the world, leading to and from the Suez Canal, and the scene of most past attacks.

The massive supertanker would seem to present a daunting target for the pirates, who usually operate in small speedboats. At 1,080 feet, it is the length of an aircraft carrier and can carry about 2 million barrels of oil.

But experts said its crew may have felt a false sense of security so far from shore, even though pirates repeatedly have demonstrated their skill in taking down big prizes.

Details of Saturday’s attack were not known, but in past seizures, pirates have used ropes and ladders to climb the hull — and on large ships, the crew often doesn’t notice them until it’s too late. On the Sirius Star, the attackers probably would have had to scale about 30 feet from the water to the deck.

Pirates have been spreading their attacks southward into a vast area of the Indian Ocean that is extremely difficult and costly to patrol, maritime security experts said.

“It had been slightly easier to get it under control in the Gulf of Aden because it is a comparatively smaller area of water which has to be patrolled, But this is huge,” said Cyrus Mody, manager of the International Maritime Bureau.

The pirates were taking the captured tanker and crew to anchor off the Somali port of Eyl, said Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the Navy’s 5th Fleet. The port on Somalia’s northeastern coast has become a pirate haven, and a number of ships are already being held there as pirates negotiate ransoms.

Christensen said the Sirius Star was carrying crude, but he could not say how much. Fully loaded, the ship’s cargo would be worth about $100 million. But the pirates would have no way of selling crude and no way to refine it in Somalia. Instead, they are likely to demand a ransom, as they have in the past.

“It’s the largest ship we’ve seen hijacked and one attacked farthest out on the sea,” Christensen said. The capturing of the oil tanker represents a “fundamental shift in the ability of pirates to be able to attack merchant vessels.”

With most attacks ending with million-dollar payouts, piracy is considered the biggest moneymaker in Somalia, a country that has had no stable government for decades.

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Concern Grows as Pirates Hijack 2 More Ships
Borzou Daragahi & Edmund Sanders / Los Angeles Times

NAIROBI, Kenya (November 19, 2008) — Pirates prowling the treacherous waters off the coast of Somalia hijacked two more ships Tuesday, the seventh and eighth vessels seized in the past two weeks, amid growing international concern about a 21st century version of an ancient security threat.

The Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship Delight and its 25-person crew were captured late Tuesday morning off the coast of Yemen, Beijing’s New China News Agency reported, citing the official Maritime Search and Rescue Center. It was hauling 36,000 metric tons of wheat to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, the news service reported.

Also Tuesday, a Thai fishing boat with 16 crew members was seized in the Gulf of Aden as it traveled toward the Mideast, according to Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau.

Meanwhile, the 1,000-foot-long Sirius Star, an oil tanker hijacked by suspected Somali pirates Saturday, was moored off the central coast of Somalia, the boat’s operator said. The ship was anchored Tuesday several miles off the coast within sight of a Somali fishing region considered a haven for seafaring bandits, the U.S. military in the Middle East said.

“The ship is anchored off the coast near Harardhere, a traditional pirate stronghold,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the Fifth Fleet, based in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain.

Piracy in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden has become a menacing scourge, threatening shipping lanes and driving up insurance costs. The pirates often stage maritime heists from Somalia, a lawless land with a weak central government facing an insurgency by Islamists. Using speedboats that swarm the targets, the machine-gun-toting Somali pirates take control of merchant ships and then hold the vessels, crew and cargo for ransom.

In addition to the Sirius Star and Delight, the International Maritime Bureau has reported at least eight other attacks by pirates on shipping in the region since Nov. 10, most of them warded off by seamen aboard the targeted vessels.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in Nairobi shortly after the hijacking of the Sirius Star was announced, Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein bemoaned the effect of piracy on his nation, which is beset by poverty, hunger and a rebellion by Islamic militants.

“Piracy is disturbing everything in Somalia, disturbing normal life, disturbing trade and commerce, disturbing the movement of humanitarian aid,” he said Tuesday.

Hussein praised stepped-up efforts by the international community to combat piracy in the region, which has included the dispatch of warships from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “We are happy to see the international community really trying to intervene,” he said. “I hope this will produce some positive effects.”

Officials of the Saudi Arabian company operating the Sirius Star scrambled to secure the crew, the $120 million ship and up to 2 million barrels of oil worth more than $100 million.

“Our first and foremost priority is ensuring the safety of the crew,” said Salah Kaaki, president and chief executive officer of Vela International Marine Ltd., based in Dubai, operator of the Saudi-owned ship.

Vela said the tanker’s 25-person crew includes 19 Filipinos, two Britons, two Poles, a Saudi and a Croat.

“We are in communication with their families and are working toward their safe and speedy return,” Kaaki was quoted as saying

The announcement said the company is awaiting further contact from the pirates in control of the vessel, which maritime experts say might have been the largest ship ever hijacked.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.