Talks under way to free Saudi supertanker

The Saudi owners of the Sirius Star are in negotiations with Somali pirates who have demanded a ransom for the supertanker laden with $100-million of oil they hijacked at the weekend.

As international anger continued to mount on Wednesday over a situation described by the International Maritime Bureau as “out of control”, an Indian naval vessel sank a Somali pirate ship.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said countries don’t like to negotiate with terrorists or hijackers but the final decision rests with the owners of the ship.

“I know that the owners of the tanker, they are negotiating on the issue,” the prince said Wednesday in Rome when asked about media reports that the owners were in talks with the pirates over a possible ransom.

The company that operates the Sirius Star has remained tight-lipped about the claims of negotiations.

“We cannot confirm, nor deny” reports of negotiations with the hijackers, said Mihir Sapur, the spokesperson of Vela International, a subsidiary of Saudi oil giant Saudi Aramco.

Al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite television channel, broadcast an audio tape it said was of one of the pirates making a ransom demand.

“Negotiators are located on board the ship and on land. Once they have agreed on the ransom, it will be taken in cash to the oil tanker,” said the man identified as Farah Abd Jameh, who did not indicate the amount to be paid.

Seized in the Indian Ocean about 800km off the African coast, the Sirius Star is now anchored at the Somali pirate lair of Harardhere, according to local officials.

The super-tanker was loaded to capacity with two million barrels of oil when it was seized along with its crew of 25—19 from the Philippines, two from Britain, two from Poland, one Croatian and one Saudi.

It was the largest ship yet taken by Somali pirates and the attack furthest away from Somalia.

Indian frigate INS Tabar, one of dozens of warships from several countries protecting shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden, attacked a Somali pirate ship late on Tuesday after coming under fire, navy spokesperson Nirad Sinha said.

It was the first time a pirate mother ship had been destroyed, in the most significant blow to pirates to date.

Pirates use mother ships, generally hijacked trawlers or deep-sea dhows, to tow speedboats from which they launch their attacks with grapnel hooks tied to rope ladders before neutralising the crews at gunpoint.

The incident came as shipping groups reported a new surge in hijackings off Somalia, with three captured since the Sirius Star was taken at the weekend.

Andrew Mwangura, from the East African Seafarers’ Association, said a Thai fishing boat, a Hong Kong-registered freighter, the Delight, and a Greek bulk carrier were seized on Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden.

On Wednesday, pirates released another Hong Kong-flagged ship, MV Great Creation, and its 25 crew seized two months ago, Mwangura said, adding it was unclear whether a ransom was paid.

Noel Choong, head of the piracy reporting centre at the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, said “the situation is already out of control”.

But the United States, which also has warships patrolling off Somalia to protect commercial ship, said a military approach was not the answer to a surge of piracy off the Horn of Africa.

“You could have all the navies in the world having all their ships out there, you know, it’s not going to ever solve this problem,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

“It requires a holistic approach from the international community at sea, ashore, with governance, with economic development,” he told reporters.

Morrell said at least 18 ships are currently being held for ransom by Somali pirates, along with 330 mariners taken hostage.

This year there have been 95 attempted ship seizures by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, 39 of them successful, he said.—AFP


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