A hijacked Saudi supertanker carrying two million barrels of oil is reported to have dropped anchor off the coast of Somalia. Pirates captured the vessel more than 800 kilometers off the coast of Kenya on Saturday. The company that owns the tanker says the 25 crew members are believed to be safe. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, the ship's owner is hoping to negotiate an end to the spectacular seizure.
The head of the East African Seafarers' Association in Mombasa, Kenya, Andrew Mwangura, says negotiations for the release of the $140 million oil tanker and its multi-national crew of 25 have begun. He says he expects the pirates to demand a far higher ransom for the release of the vessel than the $1.2 million the pirates have previously demanded from ship owners.
"We are informed that they are already in touch with the ship owner but we do not know how far they [negotiations] have gone," said Mwangura.
According to Mwangura and other maritime officials, the enormous weight of the cargo would have limited the 330-meter supertanker to a top speed about 14 knots - slow enough for armed pirates in fast attack boats to come alongside.
British maritime journalist David Hughes says although the newly-built Sirius Star sits higher in the water than older tankers, it would not have been difficult for experienced gunmen to board her.
"The modern one is higher than an old one," he said. "We are talking 10 to 15 meters. Not easy. Still, you could get a ladder up."
The hijacking of the vessel, the largest ever taken by pirates, took place despite the presence of warships recently deployed by the United States, the NATO alliance and the European Union to protect one of the world's busiest shipping areas.
Many of the warships have been conducting their patrols in the narrow shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden, where the number of successful piracy attacks on merchant ships have dropped significantly in the past month.
But Monday's attack occurred 830 kilometers off the coast of Kenya in wide open waters that navies cannot adequately cover. The United States' top military officer, Navy Admiral Michael Mullen told reporters that he was stunned by the pirates' ability to operate so far from shore.
Journalist David Hughes says the attack signals a potential catastrophe for the global maritime industry. "It means that nowhere from somewhere down the middle of the Indian Ocean and westward is safe," he said. "And that means you essentially cannot have normal merchant shipping in that huge area."
The U.S. Navy has not said whether it is considering taking military actions to rescue the tanker.