Somali pirates seize oil tanker heading for US

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 Greek-owned Maran Centaurus was hijacked on Sunday about 1 300km off the coast of Somalia, said Commander John Harbour, a spokesperson for the EU Naval Force. Harbour said there were 28 crew members on board the 300 000-tonne ship.

Pirates have increased attacks on vessels off East Africa for the millions of dollars of 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-to-date on an oil tanker.

In November 2008, pirates hijacked the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star, which held two million barrels of oil valued at about $100-million.
The tanker was released last January for a reported $3-million ransom after a two-month drama that helped galvanise international efforts to fight piracy off Africa’s coast.

Somalia’s lawless 3 000km coastline provides a perfect haven for pirates to prey on ships heading for the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

The impoverished Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government for a generation and the weak United Nations-backed administration is too busy fighting an Islamist insurgency to arrest pirates.

Pirates now hold about a dozen vessels hostage and more than 200 crew members. The Maran Centaurus had 28 crew aboard—16 Filipinos, nine Greeks, two Ukrainians and one Romanian.

Piracy has increased despite an increased presence by international navies patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

The US this autumn began flying sophisticated drones over East African waters as part of the fight against piracy. - Sapa-AP

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