Pirates who seized a Saudi supertanker earlier this week were nearing a Somali port on Tuesday, where they were expected to begin negotiations for the release of the crew and cargo.
The Sirius Star is three times the size of an aircraft carrier and believed to be carrying more than $100 millions worth of crude oil.
Piracy is a multi-billion dollar industry off the coast of Somalia, where commercial ships are routinely seized for the value of the cargo and to ransom the crew.
This undated picture made at an unknown location shows the the MV Sirius Star a Saudi oil supertanker which has been hijacked by Somali pirates. The owner of a Saudi oil supertanker hijacked by Somali pirates over the weekend said the 25 crew members are safe and the ship is fully loaded with crude — a cargo worth about US$100 million at current prices. Dubai-based Vela International Marine Ltd., a subsidiary of Saudi oil company Aramco, said in a statement Monday, Nov. 17, 2008, that company response teams have been set up and are working to ensure the release of the crew and the vessel.(AP Photo/Fred Vloo)
Despite anti-piracy efforts by the U.S., NATO and other European powers in the Gulf of Aden, the pirates have widened their field of operation. The Sirius Star was hijacked in the Indian Ocean, 450 miles off the coast of Kenya.
The vessel reportedly appears to be heading for the coastal village of Eyl in the semi-autonomous province of Puntland — a known pirate base.
The attacks have driven up insurance costs, forced some ships to go round South Africa instead of through the Suez Canal and secured millions of dollars in ransoms.
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“They have money; they have power and they are getting stronger by the day,” says Abdi Farah Juha who lives in the regional capital, Garowe.
They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars; new guns,” he says.
“Piracy in many ways is socially acceptable. They have become fashionable.”
Most of them are aged between 20 and 35 years – in it for the money.
And the rewards they receive are rich in a country where….
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Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, says the hostages held at sea by pirates makes military intervention difficult and dangerous…..(AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
The top US military officer said Monday he was “stunned” by the reach of the Somali pirates who seized a Saudi supertanker off the east coast of Africa, calling piracy a growing problem that needs to be addressed.
But Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there were limits to what the world’s navies could do once a ship has been captured because national governments often preferred to pay pirates ransom.
“I’m stunned by the range of it, less so than I am the size,” Mullen said of the seizure of the Sirius Star Sunday by armed men.
The huge, oil laden prize, which is three times the size of a US aircraft carrier, was some 450 miles east of Kenya when it was boarded, he said.
That is the farthest out at sea that a ship has been seized in the latest surge of piracies, according to Mullen.
The pirates, he said, are “very good at what they do. They’re very well armed. Tactically, they are very good.”
“And so, once they get to a point where they can board, it becomes very difficult to get them off, because, clearly, now they hold hostages.
“The question then becomes, well, what do you do about the hostages? And that’s where the standoff is.
“That’s a national question to ask based on the flag of the vessel. And the countries by and large have been paying the ransom that the pirates have asked,” he said.
Mullen said the number of successful piracies have gone down, but the incidence of ship seizures were way up.
“It’s got a lot of people’s attention and is starting to have impact on the commercial side, which I know countries raise as a concern,” he said.
“And so there’s a lot more focus on this. It’s a very serious issue. It’s a growing issue. And we’re going to continue to have to deal with it,” he said.
An undated photo of the Sirius Star in South Korean waters.
The Sirius Star — a crude “super tanker” flagged in Liberia and owned by the Saudi Arabian-based Saudi Aramco company — was attacked on Saturday more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya.
The crew of 25, including British, Croatian, Polish, Filippino and Saudi nationals, are reported to be safe.
U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet Cmdr. Jane Campbell said the super tanker weighs more than 300,000 metric tons and “is more than three times the size of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.”
Oil industry insiders say a tanker of this size can carry up to 2 million barrels of oil, and the ship’s operator, Dubai-based Vela International Marine Ltd, says it is fully laden.
A U.S. Navy spokesman said the tanker is approaching Eyl, Somalia, on the Indian Ocean coast. It is routine procedure for pirates to take hijacked ships to shore, where they will keep them while they discuss negotiations.
A multinational naval force including vessels from the U.S., the UK and Russia has been patrolling the Indian Ocean waters seas near the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, following a sharp increase in pirate attacks in the region.
Somali Pirates Capture Biggest Prize Ever: “Supertanker” Loaded With Oil
Somali Pirates, After Grabbing Biggest Prize, Negotiate for Loot
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