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Pirates take control of Saudi oil tanker - US Navy

  Pirates have taken control of a Saudi-owned oil supertanker off east Africa, the US Navy said on Monday.

A Saudi supertanker hijacked by pirates with a $100 million oil cargo in the largest ever such seizure has reached the coast of north Somalia, a regional maritime group said on Tuesday.

“Some people are saying they have spotted a huge vessel off Eyl. It must be the supertanker,” Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers’ Association, told Reuters. He was referring to a remote coastal village used by Somali pirates who have been terrorizing ships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean this year. They have driven up insurance costs, forced some firms to go round South Africa instead of through the Suez Canal, and secured millions of dollars in ransoms.

The Sirius Star is the first oil tanker to have been seized by pirates in the area. The huge vessel can hold up to two million barrels of crude oil. “We don’t have any reports of any damage to the ship,” said Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the US Fifth Fleet. “We are evaluating the situation,” he said when asked whether the navy was taking action to rescue the tanker. He was unable to say how much crude was on the ship. The vessel has 25 crew from Croatia, Britain, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia, the US Navy said in a statement. The tanker was attacked 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya, it said.

The capture of Sirius Star 450 nautical miles southeast of Kenya’s Mombasa port, and way beyond the Gulf of Aden where most attacks have taken place this year, is their boldest strike. The seizure was carried out despite an international naval response, including from the NATO alliance and European Union, to protect one of the world’s busiest shipping areas. “The world has never seen anything like this,” added Mwangura, whose Mombasa-based group has been monitoring piracy for years. He said the pirates would probably keep the Sirius about eight miles off Eyl, which is heavily protected.

Pirates, often based in anarchic Somalia, have made shipping routes off east Africa among the most dangerous in the world.

The Saudi vessel had been headed for the United States via the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. The route is a main thoroughfare for fully laden supertankers from the Gulf, the world’s biggest oil exporting region. Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter, sending around 7 million barrels per day (bpd) to global markets. The ship is Liberian-flagged, and owned and operated by state oil giant Saudi Aramco’s shipping unit Vela International.



Mwangura, who bases information on shipping groups in the region plus relatives of both crew and pirates, said he believed a hijacked Nigerian tug was used as a “mother-ship”. Mwangura said he believed the Somali pirates might have had help from others, possibly Nigerians and Yemenis, for this attack, given its distance from Somalia and the scale of the attack. However, he said he had no firm evidence of that. (Reuters)