DUBAI, (AFP) – Oil-laden Saudi super tanker Sirius Star seized by pirates in an audacious hijacking way out at sea was Tuesday off the coast of Somalia and the crew is unharmed, the US Navy and the ship’s operators said.
The 318,000 deadweight tonnes Very Large Crude Carrier, the largest vessel to be seized in an epidemic of piracy in the region, was hijacked 450 miles east of Kenya on Sunday.
“The ship is off the coast of Somalia at large, and still under the control of the pirates. There is no information yet about their demands,” a spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet told AFP by telephone.
She had earlier said the huge, oil laden prize, which is three times the size of a US aircraft carrier, was believed heading towards the Somali port of Eyl.
The vessel’s operating company Vela International said crew members are “remaining safe” aboard the ship.
“They are in good health, none of them has been harmed,” said a company official who would not be named.
The company said the tanker was loaded at its full capacity with two million barrels of oil, valued at 100 million dollars.
The hijacking of the Sirius Star was the furthest out to sea Somali pirates have attacked a ship, according the US Navy.
The top US military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, said he was “stunned” by the reach of the Somali pirates.
“I’m stunned by the range of it, less so than I am the size,” Mullen said.
The pirates are “very good at what they do. They’re very well armed. Tactically, they are very good.”
Sirius Star, which is owned by Saudi giant oil company Aramco, carried 25 crew members from Croatia, Britain, Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia, according to a US Navy statement.
The South Korea-built ship, launched earlier this year, is operated by Vela International and registered in Liberia.
The International Maritime Bureau has reported that at least 83 ships have been attacked off Somalia since January, of which 33 were hijacked. Of those, 12 vessels and more than 200 crew were still in the hands of pirates.
Pirates are well organised in the area where Somalia’s northeastern tip juts into the Indian Ocean, preying on a key maritime route leading to the Suez Canal through which an estimated 30 percent of the world’s oil transits.
Last week, the European Union started a security operation off the coast of Somalia, north of Kenya, to combat growing acts of piracy and protect ships carrying aid agency deliveries. It is the EU’s first-ever naval mission.
Dubbed Operation Atlanta, the mission, endorsed by the bloc’s defence ministers at talks in Brussels, is being led by Britain, with its headquarters in Northwood, near London.
Norwegian shipping company Odfjell said on Monday it will no longer sail through the pirate-plagued Gulf of Aden, choosing instead the longer, more expensive but also safer route around Cape of Good Hope.
Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a bloody power struggle that has defied numerous attempts to restore stability.