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Tanker On Move Following Threat To Pirates
post Nov 24 2008, 02:01 AM
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Pirates holding the Sirius Star, the vast crude oil tanker seized a week ago, have moved the vessel because of the risk of Islamist attacks from groups opposed to piracy, according to news agency reports.

Bloomberg reported that the vessel had already been moved from Haradhere, north of Mogadishu, while Agence France Presse reported they were preparing to move it. It is unclear where the vessel is heading.

Moving the vast tanker – four times larger than the previous biggest vessel seized by Somali pirates – represents a considerable risk in shallow coastal waters. The vessel is carrying 2m barrels of oil and could need as much as 17m of water depth to manoeuvre safely. The agency said the pirates, who are demanding a $25m (£17m) ransom, had acted after threats from Al-Shabaab, an Islamist group, to attack the tanker.

Bloomberg reported there had also been threats from the Islamic Courts’ Union, which briefly ruled nearly all of Somalia in 2006.

There were no pirate attacks when the ICU controlled Haradhere, Eyl and other coastal towns used as bases for pirates, who have staged 95 attacks and seized 39 vessels this year.

The Islamists appear to have been particularly enraged by the Sirius Star’s seizure because the vessel is owned by Vela, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Saudi Aramco oil company. Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca and Medina, two of Islam’s holiest sites.

Bloomberg quoted Sheikh Abdulaahi Osman, a commander of Al-Shabaab, as saying the pirates should release the Sirius Star or face armed conflict. “Saudi is a Muslim country and it is a very big crime to hold Muslim property,” he said.

It emerged over the weekend that the Greek-owned chemical tanker MV Genius, which was seized in September, was released with its 19 crew after the owners paid a ransom.

Pirates typically demand a $2m ransom for the release of vessels. Its release lowers the number of vessels held by Somali pirates to 13.

Owners often feel they have little option but to pay ransoms and are often reimbursed by insurers, according to industry insiders. Insurers often see paying a ransom as preferable to paying out for the whole insured value of a vessel – sometimes as much as $100m.

The week since the Sirius Star’s seizure has seen several large shipping companies – including Denmark’s AP Møller-Maersk, one of the largest – announce they will divert vulnerable vessels such as oil tankers, tugs and dry bulk vessels away from the Suez Canal. Many of the attacked vessels have been sailing to or from the canal through the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen.

The Sirius Star’s seizure has also shocked the world shipping industry because it happened 420 nautical miles off the African coast, farther out than any previous attack. The vessel was sailing from the Gulf towards the Cape of Good Hope. The route is heavily used by the largest crude oil tankers, which are unable to use the Suez route and the route previously looked safe from attacks. One shipping company, Taiwan’s TMT, has said it may now keep its ships 2,000 nautical miles from the Horn of Africa.


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