x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pirates seek $25m to free Saudi supertanker

Somali pirates who hijacked the Saudi oil supertanker Sirius Star are demanding US$25m in ransom.

Unidentified people on board the oil tanker MV Sirius Star at anchor off the Somalia coast today.
Unidentified people on board the oil tanker MV Sirius Star at anchor off the Somalia coast today.

RIYADH // Somali pirates who commandeered a Saudi-owned supertanker with 25 crew members and US$100 million in crude oil on board are demanding US$25 million (Dh92m) in ransom within 10 days to free the ship. A man who asserted he was one of the hijackers told Agence France-Presse they wanted "$25 million from the Saudi owners of the tanker". The man, who gave his name as Mohammed Said and said he was speaking from the ship, added that the pirates "do not want long-term discussions" and that "the Saudis have 10 days to comply, otherwise we will take action that could be disastrous". A spokesman for the US Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, which is monitoring the situation, said he could not confirm what the pirates might be demanding in negotiations with the tanker owners. Lt Nathan Christensen said the US does "not anticipate sending ships on scene". He said the ship, known as the Sirius Star, is anchored 13km to 16km offshore from the Somalia town of Harardhere. Prince Saud al Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, told reporters in Rome today the ship's owners, Dubai-based Vela International Marine Ltd, were talking to the pirates. Reached by phone today, a spokesman for Vela, a wholly owned subsidiary of the state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco, said he could not "confirm or deny" reports the shipping company was negotiating with the hijackers. He also declined to confirm if $25m was being demanded as a ransom. The Vela spokesman, who requested anonymity, did say the shipping company believes that the crew members, who are mostly Filipino, are still unharmed. The government-run Saudi Press Agency has not mentioned the seizure of the full-laden Sirius Star on Sunday. Its capture has led to international demands for stronger measures to end the piracy that has been plaguing vital oil shipping lanes in recent years. Ship owners and seafarers' groups have demanded that their navies take military action. Naval officials, meanwhile, said ships would have to hire private security crews to ward off pirates. There is widespread agreement, too, that eliminating piracy altogether will require re-establishing political order in Somalia, the failed African state that is now largely in chaos. The country has been mired in bloody power struggles between various militias since the 1991 ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre, who was the president. Most pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden and bordering Indian Ocean are Somali and they are being given safe havens in their homeland. The Jeddah-based Arab News daily called yesterday for immediate and direct moves against the pirates. "The root problem, as we all know, is the implosion of Somalia," its editorial said. "But the world cannot wait until law and order is re-established in Somalia? It could be years before that happens? It is no exaggeration to say that the Kingdom's very economy is at stake here." The paper added that in the past, piracy was only stamped out after "major maritime powers" decided to pursue the buccaneers "and destroy them in their lairs". The Sirius Star, about the size of an aircraft carrier, is the largest ship yet taken by pirates and its capture was the farthest from Somalia. Egypt in particular has been alarmed by the piracy surge, fearing that if left unchallenged, it will force a drop in traffic through its Suez Canal, which is one of the country's top three foreign currency earners. Egypt's concerns were on display today when it hosted a meeting in Cairo of representatives from six Arab countries to discuss emergency measures to deal with sea piracy. The envoys were planning to discuss setting up a piracy monitoring centre, organising joint manoeuvres by Arab navies and developing a warning system for ships navigating the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, according to the Associated Press. Some ship owners have already ordered their tankers to avoid the Gulf of Aden and take the much longer route around Africa's Cape of Good Hope. That may have been what the Sirius Star was doing when it was hijacked about 725 kilometres off the coast of Kenya in the Indian Ocean. cmurphy@thenational.ae