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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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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