Armed pirates have hijacked a U.S.-bound oil tanker carrying about $200 million worth of crude off the coast of Oman. Authorities say the Greek-flagged vessel has a crew of 25, including 17 Filipinos, seven Greeks and one Georgian.
This is the second pirate seizure of an oil tanker in as many days. Experts say that while the price tag of the vessel’s cargo is shocking, it is the location of the incident that is far more alarming.
Suspected Somali pirates captured the supertanker Irene SL early Wednesday off the coast of Oman as it was transporting some 2 million barrels of Kuwaiti crude oil destined for the United States.
Bill Box is the communications manager for INTERTANKO, an association whose members own about three-quarters of the world’s tanker fleet. The Irene SL falls under this group.
Box said that with one hijacking, the pirates were able to seize one-fifth of the United States’ total daily imports of crude oil, worth an estimated $200 million. He emphasized, though, the real cause for concern is the location of Wednesday’s incident.
"The pirates are spreading their net much wider right out over the Indian Ocean, all the way over toward the coast of India," said Box. "I mean, this hijacking of this Irene SL happened 1,000 miles from the coast of Somalia."
Box said this area is right in the middle of the main shipping lanes that connect the Persian Gulf and the rest of the world.
Wing Commander Paddy O’Kennedy is the spokesman for the European Union’s anti-piracy force. He said pirates have a longer reach now because more are operating from so-called "motherships," larger vessels that serve as launching pads for smaller ships to carry out attacks. He said this has allowed pirates to launch more attacks year-round.
"At the moment, the northeast monsoon is blowing," said O’Kennedy. "In the past, they hadn't been able to get off the beach because of the size of the waves. Now the weather is really not having much of an effect because they're using these motherships."
O’Kennedy said his organization is teaching shipping companies how vessels can better defend themselves against armed assaults. He said training and sea patrols, however, are not going to make Somali piracy go away.
"In terms of how we can solve this problem, we’re not going to solve it at sea; we know that," said O’Kennedy. "We’re not deterring piracy because the business model is just too rewarding for Somalis."
O’Kennedy notes that Somali pirates have made hundreds of millions of dollars by hijacking ships for ransom in recent years. He said only by helping Somalis create an effective government can the problem be solved.
According to the EU’s anti-piracy task force, pirates currently are holding at least 30 ships and more than 700 hostages.