Somali Pirates Seize 300,000 tonnes Of Oil

Somali pirates seized a tanker carrying crude oil from Saudi Arabia to the United States in the increasingly dangerous waters off East Africa, an official said on Monday, an attack that could pose a huge environmental or security threat to the region.

The Greece-flagged Maran Centaurus was hijacked on Sunday about 1,300 kilometres off the coast of Somalia, said Cmdr John Harbour, a spokesman for the EU Naval Force. Harbour said it originated from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and was destined for the United States. The ship has 28 crew members on board, he said.

The shipping intelligence company Lloyd’s List said the Maran Centaurus is a “very large crude carrier, with a capacity of over 300,000 tonnes.” Officials could not immediately say how many barrels of oil were on board, but its value would be in millions of dollars.

Pirates have increased attacks on vessels off East Africa for the millions in ransom that can be had. Though pirates have successfully hijacked dozens of vessels the last several years, Sunday’s attack appears to be only the second ever on an oil tanker.

The hijacking of a tanker increases worries that the vessel could crash, be run aground or be involved in a fire fight, said Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at London-based think-tank Chatham House.

Pirates typically use guns and rocket-propelled grenades in their attacks, and some vessels now carry private security guards, but Middleton said oil tankers do not.

Costly exercise

“You’re sitting on a huge ship filled with flammable liquid. You don’t want somebody with a gun on top of that,” Middleton said. “Financially it’s a very costly exercise because the value of oil is so volatile. If it is held for a long time and the price of oil drops, they could lost millions of dollars.”

In November 2008, pirates hijacked the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star, which held two million barrels of oil valued at about $100 million (Dh367 million).

The tanker was released last January for a reported $3million ransom after a two-month drama that helped galvanise international efforts to fight piracy off Africa’s coast.

International concerns

Somali pirates are a separate group of criminals from the Al Qaida affiliated Islamist militants who control large areas of southern Somalia, but each time pirates hold such valuable and explosive cargo it raises international concerns.

In late 2007, pirates hijacked a chemical tanker carrying up to 10,000 tonnes of highly explosive benzene. Initially, American intelligence agents worried terrorists from Somalia’s Islamist extremist insurgency could be involved, and might try to crash the boat into an offshore oil platform or use it as a gigantic bomb.


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