Riyadh, Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has stated that the owners of the Saudi supertanker “Sirius Star” are negotiating for its release after Somali pirates hijacked it a few days ago.
His statement came as authoritative Saudi sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the hijackers seized control of the tanker by using weapons that included shoulder-held anti-armor “RPJ” missives, adding at the same time that a Saudi team is closely watching the incident’s developments and the efforts to release the tanker, its cargo, and its crew. They also disclosed that efforts were underway to persuade Somali tribes to intervene to speed up the release.
Official sources meanwhile said the Saudi Embassy in Nairobi was holding meeting with [Somali] government officials to persuade tribal leaders to solve the crisis and release the Saudi tanker. An informed Saudi source also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the hijackers seized the tanker under threat of heavy weapons, among them the anti-armor “RPJs.” On his part, Prince Khalid Bin-Saud Bin-Khalid, the Saudi Foreign Ministry under secretary, asserted to Asharq Al-Awsat that his ministry was doing its role in this case on the instructions of the political leadership and foreign minister.
Prince Khalid, who is a member of team appointed to follow up developments in the tanker’s hijack, added that “ARAMCO” Company and the insurance company took the measures that are usually followed in such cases but he preferred not to give more details about these measures. He asserted however that there is a big government interest in this issue by the Saudi political leadership and said: “The Foreign Ministry is performing its role with the other concerned parties. This is the situation at present.”
Elsewhere, Nabil Khalaf Ashur, the ambassador of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to Kenya, told Asharq Al-Awsat in a telephone interview from Nairobi that the real identity of the hijackers was not determined so far (yesterday afternoon), adding that there were no contacts between the kidnappers and the embassy. He said: “Contacts are being made between the embassy and the his Excellency the Somali prime minister, the first deputy, the Somali ambassador in Kenya, and also former Somali Prime Minister Hassan Abshar, and Puntland President Addi Musa for the purpose of mediating with the tribal and clan leaders to intervene and release the Saudi tanker.”
The Saudi ambassador pointed out that Dr. Nizar Madani, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, and also Prince Khalid Bin-Saud, the Foreign Ministry under secretary, were following up all the contacts with the Somali officials and leaders. He stressed that all the ongoing contacts were aimed at securing the peaceful release of the tanker and its crew and expressed the hope that these contacts would bear fruit and bring about their return as soon as possible.
On its part, the international “Vela” Company which owns the Saudi supertanker refused to comment on the contacts between it and the hijackers. Mahir Sabur, the company’s press spokesman, stressed in a telephone contact with Asharq Al-Awsat from the company’s base in Dubai the company’s concern for the crew’s safety. When asked directly whether the company was asked for a ransom for releasing the vessel, he merely said: “No comment.”
A spokesman for the US Fifth Fleet told Asharq al-Awsat that the Fifth Fleet was receiving periodic hourly reports assuring them about the safety of those detained on board the Saudi tanker. He stressed that the Saudi vessel was anchored alone near the Somali coasts that were totally free from any ships from other countries, “which makes it very difficult to fight them if international efforts were not united because they are experienced in the use of weapons and have high technical abilities. It becomes very difficult to resist them when they seize a ship because they have hostages.”