Somali pirates try to hijack British ship after demanding $10m ransom for captured Saudi supertanker
Somali pirates who captured a Saudi supertanker have narrowly failed in hijacking a British tanker.
The British tanker Trafalgar was suddenly surrounded in the Gulf of Aden by at least eight speedboats.
It was rescued when the German frigate Karlsruhe on patrol 12 miles away sent a helicopter to scare off the pirates who fled at high speed.
The latest audacious attack by Somali pirates comes as they are expected to a record ransom of more than $10million for the release of the Saudi oil supertanker hijacked off the Kenyan coast.
Negotiations over the Sirius Star, packed with two million barrels of crude oil worth $100million (£67m) – enough to supply the whole of France for a day – were said still not to have opened formally.
Meanwhile a Greek carrier and a Thai fishing vessel were the latest to be captured by pirates this week.
Yesterday the Delight, a Hong Kong-flagged ship, loaded with wheat bound for Iran, was captured off the Yemen coast, the latest raid in the Horn of Africa’s perilous waters.
In Bahrain, a U.S. Navy spokeswoman said the Hong Kong-registered ship belonged to Iran’s state shipping lines.
Today the Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein said naval patrols would not stop piracy and appealed for more help to tackle criminal networks.
Officials involved in the release of previous ships claimed that ‘electronic monitoring’ showed the Somali pirates who have take the Sirius ‘were talking’ of at least $10million (£6.7m).
The biggest ship ever hijacked and her crew of 25, including two Britons – a senior officer and the chief engineer – has been anchored off the Somali coast near a pirate stronghold. All the crew are safe, the ship’s operator Vela International said.
Meanwhile the Indian navy has said that one of its warships in the Gulf of Aden has destroyed a ship belonging to pirates operating in the area.
The INS Tabar opened fire on a pirate ‘mother ship’ after it came under attack, according to the Government.
Two more vessels, a Hong Kong cargo ship and a fishing boat, were seized in the Gulf of Aden.
The other vessel, a fishing boat registered in Kiribati, was carrying a crew of 12, the International Maritime Bureau said. Its owners lost contact with the IMB this morning.
But nothing compares with the daring hijacking of the 318,000-ton Sirius Star, three times the size of an aircraft carrier, which was boarded 450 nautical miles southeast of Kenya’s Mombasa port, way beyond the range of previous attacks.
Andrew Mwangura, co-ordinator of the East African Seafarers’ Association, which monitors piracy in the region, said : ‘The world has never seen anything like this … The Somali pirates have hit the jackpot.’
There are fears the hijackings will send oil prices soaring as carriers have to take a longer and safer course around the Cape of Good Hope and the southern tip of Africa, adding an average of two weeks and millions of pounds to the journey.
About 13 per cent of Middle East oil and gas passes the Somali coast and insurance costs have risen tenfold as a result of piracy in the eastern Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
The seizure was carried out despite an international naval response to the growing piracy crisis, including warships from the NATO alliance and European Union, to protect one of the world’s busiest shipping areas.
U.S, French and Russian warships are off Somalia and the Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland, which yesterday handed other pirates over to the Kenyan authorities, opened fire killing two hijackers last week.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said his country would throw its weight behind a European-led initiative to step up security in shipping lanes off Africa’s east coast.
‘This outrageous act by the pirates, I think, will only reinforce the resolve of the countries of the Red Sea and internationally to fight piracy,’ he said.
According to Western officials in East Africa, the Sirius Star was taken in an elaborate and carefully planned operation that began several days ago with the capture of a Nigerian tug.
This was then used as the pirates’ ‘mother ship’ with at least two speedboats aboard.
The tug was able to travel without attracting suspicion and, crucially, far further out into the ocean than any pirates have ventured previously.
The pirates are suspected of targetting the Sirius Star and received details of the shipping lane in which it was travelling from ‘contacts’ operating in the Gulf of Aden over a satellite telephone.
After those on board the tug made visual contact with the £65 million tanker, the two speedboats with up to a dozen pirates aboard were launched and quickly ‘closed in’ on the vessel.
Each boat had at least one satellite telephone with which to keep in touch with the ‘mother ship’ or command vessel.
Rocket propelled grenades are then said to have been fired at the bridge with the warning the ship would be attacked unless it allowed on a ‘boarding party’.
The fully-loaded supertanker was low in the water and therefore easy to board while crews are strictly instructed not to resist once arms have been employed.
‘Once the Captain slowed, the immediate fate of the ship was sealed, it took about 20 minutes’ an official based in the Kenyan capital Nairobi said.
The 1,092 ft tanker, which was only launched in March, is expected to head later tomorrow for the port of Eyl, the pirates’ headquarters and safe haven in the northeast of Somalia.
While more pirates will go aboard, most of the crew from Croatia, the Phillipines, Poland and Saudi Arabia as well as the two Britons, will then be taken ashore and split into at least two groups to make the prospect of a rescue less likely.
In the past, hostages say they have been well treated.
To many in Somalia the pirates are heroes and yesterday Somali fishermen and villagers watched in astonishment as the Sirius Star was anchored off Harardhere, a pirate stronghold some 265 miles by land from their headquarters at the port town of Eyl.
Abdinur Haji, a fisherman, said: ‘I have been fishing here for three decades, but I have never seen a ship as big as this one.
‘There are dozens of spectators on shore trying to catch a glimpse of the large ship, which they can see with their naked eyes.’
The seizure of the vessel, three times the size of an aircraft carrier, followed another high-profile strike earlier this year by the pirates when they captured a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 tanks and other military equipment.
Ammunition and rifles are said to have been taken off for use by the pirates.
They are still holding that vessel and about a dozen others, with more than 200 crew members hostage.
Given that the pirates are well-armed with grenades, machine guns and rocket-launchers, foreign forces in the area are steering clear of direct attacks.
Ship owners are negotiating ransoms in most cases.
Middle East energy analyst Samuel Ciszuk said this would almost certainly be the case with the Sirius.
‘Due to Somalia’s status as a failed state and the anarchic nature of politics in the country, the negotiators have no other option but to respond to the pirates. There is no government which can intervene.’
The ransoms are always paid in cash – and in US dollars. They are delivered by ‘middle men’ usually employed by European and US security companies who receive a form of diplomatic accreditation to move through Kenya.
Sometimes, the cash is actually handed over aboard the seized boat.
Within 24 hours the boat and the crew are then released. The pirates have not once taken the money and failed to release their hostages.
While the ransoms keep rising and the hijackers become better armed with weaponry and expertise purchased with their booty, officials say there is little option but to pay up.
Ransoms are usually a fraction of the cost or a ship or cargo, crews have always been released unharmed and only one in 600 ships using the East African waters is attacked.
The latest in a surge of pirate hijackings has highlighted the vulnerability of even very large ships and the inability of naval forces to intervene once bandits are on board.
In a related incident, eight pirates have been arrested on the high seas by British sailors from HMS Cumberland, after they attacked a Danish merchant vessel. Three pirates were also killed. They are likely to face charges in a court of law in Kenya.
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