Pirates capture Saudi oil tanker off coast of Kenya

Other News Materials 18 November 2008 05:31 (UTC +04:00)

A Saudi Arabian oil tanker with a 25-member crew was captured by Somali pirates off the coast of Kenya, officials in the US military and British Foreign Office confirmed Monday.

The tanker Sirius Star, which was sailing under a Liberian flag, was 450 nautical miles south-east of the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa when it was taken over by pirates, a spokeswoman for the US Navy's 5th Fleet told the BBC.

Crew members were said to be from Croatia, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia, while a British Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that two British citizens were also aboard. Vela International, which owns the ship, said it was carrying a full load of 2 million barrels of oil.

The company said the ship's entire crew was reportedly safe.

The pirates are believed to have set the tanker on a course for the Somali coast. Their goal is believed to be the city of Eyl in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of northern Somalia.

The incident occurred well outside the usual danger zones off the Horn of Africa.

The ship is believed to be the largest taken by pirates in a series of hijackings in the area over the past months. There have been 63 pirate attacks on ships reported off the Somali coast this year.

At least twelve ships with about 250 crew members continue to be held by pirates. Those include a Ukrainian freighter that was captured while carrying 33 armoured military tanks.

Earlier hijackings prompted increased patrols by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as by the United States and France, along the Somali coast.

US 5th Fleet spokeswoman Jane Campbell stated that the US military, in addition to patrolling the area, had warned shipping companies to act "proactively" in the fight against pirates.

The area to be protected however was simply to large to be provided with 100-per-cent security against piracy, she added.

Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, said "our presence in the region is helping ... but the situation with the Sirius Star clearly indicates the pirates' ability to adapt their tactics and methods of attack.

"Shipping companies have to understand that naval forces cannot be everywhere. Self-protection measures are the best way to protect their vessels, their crews, and their cargo."

Meanwhile, Norwegian shipping company Odfjell SE announced Monday that it will begin to reroute its ships away from the Gulf of Aden and around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid pirate attacks.

The company said in a statement that it would no longer expose its crews "to risk of being hijacked and held for ransom by pirates."

The decision will increase sailing time and delay deliveries.

The surge in piracy off Somalia has coincided with a rise in violence in Somalia itself, where authorities in the central and southern region are battling a bloody insurgency.

The weak central government has been unable to suppress either the insurgency or the growing piracy. Somalia has been engulfed in chaos and civil war since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.