News & Current Affairs

November 19, 2008

Saudi owners ‘talking to pirates’

Saudi owners ‘talking to pirates’

Sirius Star

The Sirius Star has 25 crew – who are said to be unharmed

The owners of a Saudi Arabian oil tanker hijacked by Somali pirates are negotiating a possible ransom, the Saudi foreign minister has said.

The Sirius Star is the biggest tanker ever hijacked, carrying a cargo of two million barrels of Saudi oil – worth more than $100m (£67m).

Saudi’s Prince Saud al-Faisal did not confirm whether a ransom was likely to be agreed, but said talks had begun.

Meanwhile, the Indian navy says it has sunk a suspected pirate “mother ship”.

INS Tabar sank what was believed to be a Somali pirate “mother ship” after it failed to stop for investigation and instead opened fire in the Gulf of Aden, an Indian navy statement said.

We do not like to negotiate with either terrorists or hijackers. But the owners of the tanker, they are the final arbiters of what happens
Prince Saud al-Faisal

The captive crew on the Sirius Star include two British citizens, two Poles, one Croatian, one Saudi national and 19 Filipinos.

The Britons include Peter French, the chief engineer on board the vessel.

The other is Second Officer James Grady, from Strathclyde. Their families released a statement on Wednesday saying they hoped they would be home safely very soon.

There has been a surge in piracy incidents off the coast of Somalia during 2008. On Tuesday, a cargo ship and a fishing vessel became the latest to join more than 90 vessels attacked by the pirates this year.

The pirates who seized the MV Sirius Star and its 25 crew on Saturday are a sophisticated group with contacts in Dubai and neighboring countries.

Much of their ransom money from previous hijackings has been used to buy new boats and weapons as well as develop a network across the Horn of Africa, he adds.

‘Scourge’ of seas

Asked whether a ransom was being negotiated, the Saudi foreign minister said the decision rested with the owners of the tanker.

Map showing areas of pirate attacks

“We do not like to negotiate with either terrorists or hijackers. But the owners of the tanker, they are the final arbiters of what happens there,” Prince Saud al-Faisal said.

“What we know is that we are going to join the task force that will try and eradicate this threat to international trade.”

The tanker’s Dubai-based operators, Vela International Marine Ltd, would not confirm or deny negotiations were taking place.

“Given the sensitive nature of the situation, and to ensure the safety of the crew members, we are not prepared to make any public statement on this issue,” a spokesman told AFP.

The UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said piracy was “a scourge wherever it appears anywhere in the world and at the moment the scourge is focused in the Gulf of Aden”.

He said the Royal Navy was co-ordinating the European response to the incident.

Shipping companies are now weighing up the risks of using the short-cut route to Europe via the Gulf of Aden and Suez canal.

However, travelling around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope would add several weeks to average journey times and substantially increase the cost of goods for consumers.

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November 18, 2008

Hijacked oil tanker nears Somalia

Hijacked oil tanker nears Somalia

The Sirius Star oil tanker (undated image)

The Sirius Star’s cargo has an estimated value of $100m

A giant Saudi oil tanker seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean is nearing the coast of Somalia, the US Navy says.

The Sirius Star is the biggest tanker ever to be hijacked, with a cargo of 2m barrels – a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s daily output – worth more than $100m.

The vessel was captured in what the navy called an “unprecedented” attack 450 nautical miles (830km) off the Kenyan coast on Saturday.

Its international crew of 25, including two Britons, is said to be safe.

The ship’s operator, Vela International, said a response team had been mobilized to work towards ensuring the safe release of vessel and crew.

Map showing areas of pirate attacks

The hijacking was highly unusual both in terms of the size of the ship and the fact it was attacked so far from the African coast.

The seizure points to the inability of a multi-national naval task force sent to the region earlier this year to stop Somali piracy, he says.

The US Fifth Fleet said the supertanker was “nearing an anchorage point” at Eyl, a port often used by pirates based in Somalia’s Puntland region.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the pirates involved were well trained.

“Once they get to a point where they can board, it becomes very difficult to get them off, because, clearly, now they hold hostages,” he told a Pentagon briefing in Washington.

Oil price rises

Hijackings off the coast of East Africa and the Gulf of Aden – an area of more than 1m square miles – make up one-third of all global piracy incidents this year, according the International Maritime Bureau.

THE SIRIUS STAR
The Sirius Star oil tanker (image from Aramco website)
Length of a US aircraft carrier
Can carry 2m barrels of oil
Biggest vessel to be hijacked

They are usually resolved peacefully through negotiations for ransom but, given the value of the cargo in this instance, a military response has not been ruled out, our correspondent says.

At least 12 vessels – including the Ukrainian freighter MV Faina, which was seized in September – remain captive and under negotiation with around 250 crew being held hostage.

This month alone, pirates have seized a Japanese cargo ship off Somalia, a Chinese fishing boat off Kenya and a Turkish ship transporting chemicals off Yemen.

War-torn Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991.

The South Korean-built Sirius Star was seized as it headed for the US via the southern tip of Africa, prompting a rise in crude oil prices on global markets.

The route around the Cape of Good Hope is a main thoroughfare for fully-laden supertankers from the Gulf.

With a capacity of 318,000 dead weight tonnes, the ship is 330m (1,080ft) long – about the length of a US aircraft carrier.

Owned by the Saudi company Aramco, it made its maiden voyage in March.

As well as the two Britons, the ship’s crew members are said to be from Croatia, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia.


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September 27, 2008

Pirates ‘want $35m for tank ship’

Pirates ‘want $35m for tank ship’

Experts say piracy has become big business in the area

Pirates who seized a Ukrainian ship off the coast of Somalia have reportedly demanded a ransom of $35m (£19m) to release the vessel and its crew.

The pirates earlier warned against any attempt to rescue the crew or cargo of the MV Faina, which is carrying 33 battle tanks destined for Kenya.

Pirates have seized dozens of ships near Somalia’s coast in recent months.

A Russian Navy vessel is heading to the region and the US says it is monitoring developments in the area.

A spokesman for the pirates, who gave his name as Jalal Jama Ali, told a Somali website that the group were prepared to negotiate with the Kenyan government, but would not release the vessel unless the ransom was paid.

‘Global security problem’

On Friday, Ukrainian Defence Minister Yury Yekhanurov confirmed 33 Russian T-72 tanks and “a substantial quantity of ammunition” were aboard the Faina.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the ship had a crew of 21 and was sailing towards the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

The ship’s captain had reported being surrounded by three boats of armed men on Thursday afternoon, it said.

Earlier reports suggested that the cargo had been destined for south Sudan, but Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua confirmed the tanks were heading to Kenya.

“The cargo in the ship includes military hardware such as tanks and an assortment of spare parts for use by different branches of the Kenyan military,” he said.

Security analyst Knox Chitiyo told the BBC the latest incident showed the waters off Somalia’s coast had become a “global security problem”.

“Piracy has become big business and there seems to be no concerted response to the problem,” said Mr Chitiyo, from the London-based Royal United Services Institute.

Authorities in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland say they are powerless to confront the pirates, who regularly hold ships for ransom at the port of Eyl.

Battles and looting in Mogadishu
Life in Somalia’s pirate town

Senior UN officials estimate the ransoms pirates earn from hijacking ships exceed $100m (£54m) a year.

Pirate “mother ships” travel far out to sea and launch smaller boats to attack passing vessels, sometimes using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Last week, France circulated a draft UN resolution urging states to deploy naval vessels and aircraft to combat such piracy.

France, which has troops in nearby Djibouti and also participates in a multi-national naval force patrol in the area, has intervened twice to release French sailors kidnapped by pirates.

Commandos freed two people whose boat was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden earlier this month and in April, six arrested pirates were handed over to the French authorities for trial.

Russia announced on Friday it would start carrying out regular anti-piracy patrols in the waters off Somalia to protect Russian citizens and ships. A warship had been sent to the area earlier this week, it said.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered from continual civil strife.

September 18, 2008

Greek ship attacked off Somalia

Greek ship attacked off Somalia

Map

A Greek-owned ship has been attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

The fate of the crew members – who are said to be of Filipino origin – is not known.

According to an official at the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the ship was hijacked by armed pirates on its way to Kenya.

Pirates operating out of war-torn Somalia regularly attack vessels using the major commercial shipping routes off the country’s waters.

The threat of hijack and robbery has hampered the delivery of much-needed aid to people affected by the conflict.

The Greek vessel is the 13th ship seized by pirates off Somali waters in the last two months, Noel Choong of the IMB told the Associated Press news agency.

He said this latest attack indicated that Somali pirates had expanded their area of operations southwards from the Gulf of Aden, targeting vessels off the coast of Mogadishu.

A multinational naval force patrolling the area had been informed of the attack, Mr Choong said.

Earlier this week, French commandos rescued two sailors who were being held for ransom by pirates believed to be based in the port of Eyl in Somalia’s Puntland region.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered from continual civil strife.

Battles between Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government soldiers have forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in the last 18 months.

September 16, 2008

France frees sailors from pirates

France frees sailors from pirates

French commandos capture Somali pirates (11 April 2008)

French commandos arrested six alleged pirates in April

French commandos have freed two sailors seized by pirates off the Somali coast, the French presidency has said.

One pirate was killed in the operation and another six captured, it said.

The couple were seized in a sailing boat in the Gulf of Aden earlier this month by pirates who reportedly wanted a ransom of some $1.4m (£0.8m).

President Nicolas Sarkozy said the French operation should serve as a warning, and called for international efforts to counter escalating piracy.

France will not allow crime to pay
President Nicolas Sarkozy

The waters off Somalia, which is wracked by conflict, are among the most dangerous in the world. Attacks by pirates are common and hamper the delivery of food aid.

In the latest reported incident, a Hong Kong-owned tanker was seized late on Monday in the Gulf of Aden.

International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Center told the AFP news agency that 22 crew members were taken hostage.

French commandos launched a similar raid against Somali pirates in April.

‘Safe and sound’

President Sarkozy said the 30-man operation had taken just 10 minutes.

He said he had given the go-ahead late on Monday when it was clear that the pirates were heading for the lawless port of Eyl, where many well-armed pirate gangs are based.

He said it would have been too dangerous to free them if they arrived in Eyl, reports Reuters news agency.

map
Puntland encourages such steps and calls on other governments whose nationals are being held to do the same thing the French have done
Bille Mohamoud Qabowsade
Puntland spokesman

A minister in the semi-autonomous Puntland region recently told the BBC that when he visited Eyl, he could see at least 10 boats being held by pirates there.

“The two French nationals are safe and sound,” the French statement said.

Tahiti-based sailing enthusiasts Jean-Yves and Bernadette Delanne were on their way from Australia to France, through the Gulf of Aden, when they were captured on 2 September.

“This operation is a warning to all those who indulge in this criminal activity,” Mr Sarkozy said at a press conference on Tuesday. “France will not allow crime to pay.”

“I call on other countries to take their responsibilities as France has done twice.”

Attacks against fishing boats, cargo ships and yachts have surged over recent months and foreigners, who can be exchanged for large ransoms, are frequent targets.

Warships from France and other nations have been patrolling the Somali coast to protect ships carrying aid to the country, where up to a third of the population needs food aid.

On Monday, European foreign ministers agreed to set up a “co-ordination unit” to improve security patrols.

France, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has a military base in neighbouring Djibouti.

Welcomed

In April, French commandos made six arrests in a helicopter raid on Somali pirates after they had been paid a ransom to free the crew of another French yacht.

The six seized alleged pirates were handed over to French justice officials to be tried.

According to Reuters, the pirate group holding the Delanne couple were also demanding the release of their compatriots held in France.

Authorities in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland welcomed the French move.

Puntland’s administration claims it is powerless in the face of the growing power of the pirates, who are well-armed and employ a lot of people.

“The state of Puntland encourages such steps and calls on other governments whose nationals are being held to do the same thing the French have done,” Puntland presidential adviser Bille Mohamoud Qabowsade told AFP.

The IMB says pirates off Somalia use “mother ships” that travel far out to sea and launch smaller boats to attack passing vessels, sometimes using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Somalia has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered from continual civil strife.

Battles between Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government soldiers have forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in the last 18 months.

September 5, 2008

Malaysia deploys navy to Somalia

Malaysia deploys navy to Somalia

Map

Malaysia is sending three navy ships to the coast of Somalia to protect merchant vessels from piracy.

The ships, carrying troops and helicopters, are expected to begin patrolling in the Gulf of Aden in the next few days.

Two Malaysian tankers from the shipping line MISC Berhad were seized last month by Somali pirates.

The seas off Somalia, close to busy shipping routes, have some of the highest rates of piracy in the world.

The country has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered from continual civil strife.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said the ships being deployed would provide protection for five MISC Berhad vessels, and would not launch rescue operations.

Counting ships

Officials in the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland say the ships are being held at the port of Eyl, a lawless outpost controlled by gangs.

Puntland’s minister for mines, who is leading a delegation to investigate the hijackings, told from a hill overlooking the port that he could count eight captured vessels.

He said another two were reported to be on their way to Eyl.

The delegation had spoken to local elders, he said, but it had not approached the pirates.

The latest vessel to be hijacked was an Egyptian ship which was reported missing on Thursday.

Earlier this week a French sailing boat with two crew was seized.

Pirates holding that boat are reportedly seeking a ransom of more than $1m (£0.56m).

Puntland’s ports minister said after the capture of the French boat that pirates in the region were well-armed and employ a lot of people.

He said there was little co-ordination between those trying to tackle them.

In June, the UN Security Council voted to allow countries to send warships into Somalia’s waters to tackle the pirates, but the ports minister complained that international vessels “don’t intervene”.

August 23, 2008

Somali insurgents ‘take key port’

Somali insurgents ‘take key port’

Wounded man in Mogadishu

Mogadishu’s main market was also bombed on Tuesday

Islamist insurgents in Somalia say they have taken control of the southern port of Kismayo amid fighting that has left dozens of people dead.

A spokesman for al-Shabab, Mukhtar Robow, told the BBC his militia had wrested the city from a local clan militia during a third day of clashes.

A UN official said about 100 people had been killed and up to 25,000 displaced.

There has also been fierce fighting in the capital, Mogadishu, and hijackings by pirates off the north Somali coast.

Al-Shabab is a radical wing of the Union of Islamic Courts, which ruled much of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted and launching a rebellion.

Humanitarian crisis

Kismayo, Somalia’s third city, is strategically important because it serves as a port for the south of the country.

On Friday at least 15 people were reported to have died in the Kismayo fighting and 18 injured, with dozens killed over three days of clashes.

I saw a single wheelbarrow full of bread being mobbed by a crowd of people
Kismayo resident

Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that about 100 people had been killed in Kismayo and as many as 25,000 displaced.

“After four hours [the fighting] ended up in the northern corner of the town, now the town seems to be under the control of al-Shabab,” a human rights worker in the port told on Friday.

Residents said Islamist fighters were patrolling the streets, and that sporadic shooting was continuing in parts of the city.

The fighting is said to have caused an acute humanitarian crisis.

Many people have no access to food and all business activity is reported to have stopped.

“The last three days of fighting has severely affected the town, where people remained in doors,” one resident said.

“Now I am out, to my surprise, I saw a single wheelbarrow full of bread being mobbed by a crowd of people.”

Market hit

In Mogadishu on Thursday, some mortars landed near the compound of President Abdullahi Yusuf, who was out of the country.

Another landed near a mosque in the busy Bakara market, killing at least six people, a witness told the BBC.

Map of Somalia

Witnesses said government troops and their Ethiopian allies responded by opening fire, killing several civilians.

At least 20 people were reported to have been killed in fighting in the capital, though the city was calm on Friday.

Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in December 2006, to oust Islamist forces from Mogadishu.

The police chief in the capital said people who wanted to sabotage talks in neighboring Djibouti between Somalia’s provisional government and its Islamist rivals were behind the most recent violence, our correspondent reports.

Piracy

Somalia has been without a functioning national government since 1991 and has suffered ongoing civil strife.

The UN’s World Food Programme is expanding its programme to feed 2.4 million people in Somalia by the end of the year.

Aid efforts have been hampered by the violence, and the delivery of aid has been threatened by piracy near Somalia’s coast.

On Friday, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said pirates had seized a German cargo ship off the Somali coast a day earlier.

Earlier, a Japanese tanker and an Iranian bulk carrier had been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden, a busy international shipping route to the north of Somalia.

An IMB spokesman said a warship from an international force was tracking the hijacked ships.

Another ship, a Malaysian oil tanker with 39 crew was captured in the same area on Tuesday.

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