News & Current Affairs

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 19, 2008

North Korea ‘to restore reactor’

North Korea ‘to restore reactor’

Hyun Hak Bong (19 September 2008)

Hyun Hak Bong said the US was making unreasonable demands

North Korea has stopped disabling the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and is making “thorough preparations” to restart it, a foreign ministry official has said.

Hyun Hak-bong said that Pyongyang had suspended work to put the plant out of action because the US had not fulfilled its part of a disarmament-for-aid deal.

When asked when it would be restored, he said: “You’ll come to know soon.”

Last month, North Korea said Washington had not removed it as promised from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Pyongyang was expecting to be removed after finally submitting a long-delayed account of its nuclear facilities to the six-party talks in June, in accordance with the disarmament deal it signed in 2007.

It also blew up the main cooling tower of the Yongbyon facility in a symbolic gesture of its commitment to the process.

For its part, the US says it will refuse to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism until procedures by which the North’s disarmament will be verified are established.

‘Robber-like’

Mr Hyun claimed the process of decommissioning the plutonium-producing reactor at the Yongbyon plant was 90% complete.

But he said Pyongyang would respond to the US by halting the process and “proceeding with works to restore [the reactor] to its original status”.

South Koreans watch a cooling tower blowing up, file image
The main cooling tower at Yongbyon was blown up earlier this year

“You may say we have already started work to restore them,” he told reporters in the border village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone before sitting down for talks with South Korean officials on sending energy aid to the North.

Mr Hyun also warned the US not to push for inspectors to verify the disarmament process work already undertaken, saying it was never part of the six-party deal.

“The US is insisting that we accept unilateral demands that had not been agreed upon. They want to go anywhere at any time to collect samples and carry out examinations with measuring equipment,” he said. “That means they intend to force an inspection.”

The diplomat said compelling Pyongyang to permit a “robber-like inspection method in the name of an international standard” would exacerbate tensions.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it will fulfil the deal struck at six-party talks to supply the North with a million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent in exchange for nuclear disablement.

Nearly half has been delivered and AFP news agency quoted a South Korean negotiator, Hwang Joon-kook, as saying the rest would be sent.

“We also want to make sure that the six-party process does not go backward,” Mr Hwang was quoted as saying.

Some South Korean officials have expressed doubt over whether the North’s claims to be reconstructing Yongbyon are genuine or a ploy to exert pressure on Washington.

In separate remarks by North Korea’s Mr Hyun, he reiterated North Korea’s rejection of reports that leader Kim Jong-il remains in ill health after suffering a stroke. He called the reports “sophism by evil people”.

‘Year to restore’

Earlier this month, reports in Japan, backed up by South Korea’s foreign ministry, claimed the North Koreans were actively reconstructing Yongbyon.

The US later said plant workers appeared to be moving equipment out of storage, but that there was no effort to reconstruct it.

Experts believe Yongbyon would take a year to restore, a view supported by a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report.

The IAEA said the regime had already removed large quantities of essential nuclear materials from Yongbyon even before it agreed to dismantle the plant.

August 8, 2008

India court okays UK mine project

India court okays UK mine project

Dhongria girl

The tribals say the mines will destroy their livelihoods

The Indian Supreme Court has allowed the British company Vedanta Resources to go ahead with a controversial bauxite mining project in Orissa state.

But, the court said, the company will have to pay for the development of the region out of its profits.

The region is considered sacred by tribes who live in the area and is protected by the constitution.

The Supreme Court has also allowed South Korean steel firm Posco to build a $12 billion plant in the same state.

Environmental and tribal activists have opposed Vedanta’s plans saying the mines will force people from their homes and destroy their livelihoods.

The tribes have said they would “fight to the death rather than leave their sacred home” in the Niyamgiri mountains.

The company has an agreement with the state government to set up a bauxite refinery in the Niyamgiri mountains.

In India, both the state and central government back the Vedanta plan as part of efforts to industrialise and exploit the mineral resources of underdeveloped eastern India.

The Supreme Court told the Indian unit of Vedanta, Sterlite Industries, that it will have to pay 10% of its profits or 100m rupees (whichever is more) for the development of the region.

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