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 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 14, 2008

Two die after Paris boat accident

Two die after Paris boat accident

A father and his six-year-old son who were trapped in a sunken pleasure boat which hit a bridge pillar on the River Seine in Paris have died, say police.

The pair were underwater near Notre Dame cathedral for 20 minutes before divers pulled them from the vessel.

Ten others were rescued from the water after the vessel sank. All 12 on board were French nationals, police said.

Officials are investigating if the boat collided with a larger tourist vessel before hitting the Archeveque bridge.

Paris police headquarters said the father and son died overnight in hospital after the accident just before 2200 local time (2100 BST) on Saturday.

The 10 other people rescued were said to have been hurt, but it is not known if their injuries were serious.

The Seine is always busy with pleasure boats on Saturdays but serious accidents are extremely rare.

September 1, 2008

Australia WWII wreck probe begins

Australia WWII wreck probe begins

HMAS Sydney, pre-1941

The wreckage of the Sydney was found earlier in 2008

An inquiry into Australia’s worst naval disaster is to begin hearing evidence from former war veterans.

Some 645 sailors died when HMAS Sydney was lost in a battle with a German cruiser off Western Australia in 1941.

HMAS Sydney was regarded as the pride of the Australian navy and defense officials say the investigation is “important unfinished business”.

The inquiry will be run by Sir Terence Cole, who presided over a hearing into Australia’s AWB oil-for-wheat scandal.

He is trying to uncover the truth behind one of Australia’s most enduring wartime mysteries.

HMAS Sydney perished after being attacked by a German ship, the Kormoran, which was disguised as a Dutch merchant vessel.

It too sank but the majority of its crew survived.

Australian War Memorial]

None of the Sydney’s crew survived, but the Kormoran’s crew did

But all on board the Sydney were lost and over the years various theories about their demise have emerged as the nation became fascinated with this naval tragedy.

Historians have been unable to unlock the secrets of that day in November 1941.

They have provided no explanation as to why such a superior vessel was sunk by a German boat sailing under a false flag.

There was speculation that the Australian cruiser was really sunk by a Japanese submarine – even though Japan had not yet entered the war.

The wrecks of both HMAS Sydney and the Kormoran were finally located by divers earlier this year.

This week the inquiry will hear from former Australian navy personnel who sailed with the Sydney before it sank more than 65 years ago.

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