x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Piracy on a massive scale

The seizure of the supertanker Sirius Star has sparked calls for an international effort to counter attacks by Somali pirates.

This undated handout photo released on Nov 18, 2008, by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine engineering in Seoul shows the 330 meter long Sirius Star tanker, owned by Saudi oil company Aramco, conducting a trial run in an undisclosed location.
This undated handout photo released on Nov 18, 2008, by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine engineering in Seoul shows the 330 meter long Sirius Star tanker, owned by Saudi oil company Aramco, conducting a trial run in an undisclosed location.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said yesterday the hijacking of a Saudi supertanker with a cargo of US$100 million (Dh367m) worth of oil would trigger an international campaign against piracy, which he compared to terrorism. Prince Saud al Faisal said Saudi Arabia would throw its weight behind a European-led initiative to step up security in the busy shipping lanes off Africa's east coast, where the Sirius Star was seized on Saturday.

"This is an initiative that we are going to join and so are many other countries of the Red Sea," he told a news conference after meeting the Greek foreign minister in Athens. "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. "Piracy is against everybody. Like terrorism, it is a disease that has to be eradicated."

The hijacked supertanker anchored yesterday off the notorious Somali pirate port of Harardhere, about 300km north of Mogadishu, an official from the nearby northern breakaway Puntland state told Agence France-Presse. "We have been receiving some information and we now know that the ship is anchored near Harardhere," said Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade, the Puntland presidential adviser. This appeared to be confirmed in separate comments by a US navy spokesman in Bahrain.

Also yesterday Xinhua news agency, quoting the China Maritime Search and Rescue Centre, said a Hong Kong cargo ship, Delight, was hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden near Yemen. It was carrying 25 crew members and 36,000 tonnes of wheat. The Sirius Star, the size of three football fields and the largest ship seized by Somali pirates, was hijacked on Saturday about 830km off the Kenyan coast, the farthest out to sea Somali bandits have operated.

The US navy and a spokesman for the vessel's Dubai-based operating company, Vela International, said the ship's 25 crew members - from Croatia, Britain, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia - were safe. Shipping analysts and navy officials said the latest seizure suggested ships could not be guaranteed safe passage through the Indian Ocean. "This expands the reach of the pirates to an area that's around 2.8 million square miles [7.25m sq km]," said Cdr Jane Campbell, a spokesman for the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. "That is larger than the Mediterranean and Red Sea combined.

"Even with coalition vessels and vessels in the area from countries like Russia and Malaysia, this is an absolutely massive area to cover." Nato is considering whether to extend its anti-piracy operation, Operation Atlanta, off the coast of Somalia beyond next month, a spokesman said yesterday. "There will be a second discussion in Nato referring to a potential longer-term role," James Appathurai told reporters in Brussels. Nato has four ships on patrol in the waters, with two protecting UN food aid convoys to the strife-torn Horn of Africa country.

Ali al Ayashi, Yemen's deputy foreign minister, said officials from Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan would meet in Cairo tomorrow to try to forge a strategy to fight piracy in the area. The seizure of the Sirius Star has prompted Simon Stonehouse, the chairman of the London-based Joint Hull Committee, a group representing vessel insurers, to urge shipping lines to "seriously consider" sailing around Africa rather than through the Gulf of Aden to avoid pirates.

The British navy yesterday handed over to the Kenyan authorities eight suspected Somali pirates captured during an incident at sea on Nov 11, said Bob Ainsworth, the British armed forces minister. More than 200 crew members and 14 vessels are being held hostage by pirates in and around Somalia, including the MV Faina and MV Centauri, both seized in September. Analysts attribute the high number of pirate attacks to violent unrest in Somalia. "Somalia does not have, right now, the capacity to police its own people," said Cyrus Mody, the manager of the International Maritime Bureau. "This is one of the main reasons we are seeing so many attacks in the area."

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ousting of Mohamed Siad Barre, the former president. The coup touched off a bloody power struggle that has continued to this day. jspollen@thenational.ae * Additional reporting by Hugh Naylor, Reuters and AFP