Norwegian shippers to divert tankers from Suez Canal, another ship seized

As Somali pirates seized a Thai fishing boat Tuesday, Nov. 18, their third in three days, the Norwegian Odfjell SE announced its 90-tanker fleet would henceforth sail around Africa rather than the Suez Canal after the Saudi Sirius Star supertanker was hijacked hundreds of miles off the Kenyan coast Saturday.
The multinational naval force patrolling the Somali coast did not intervene in the seizure of the tanker laden with $100 million worth of Saudi crude and 25 crew. Also Tuesday, pirates seized a Hong Kong-flagged Iranian wheat ship the Delight in the Gulf of Aden. It was bound for Bandar Abbas with the same number of crew.
The Saudi giant tanker is anchored near Harardhere on the Somali coast as its owners the Dubai-based Vela International Marine Ltd., a subsidiary of Saudi oil company Aramco, negotiates terms for its release.
Saud al Faisal, foreign minister of the world’s biggest oil producer, offered to join an international initiative against piracy in the Red Sea area, which he called “a disease like terrorism,” but did not elaborate. The kingdom’s French-equipped navy, which has 18,000-20,000 personnel,has never taken part in any high-seas fighting.
Never before have the pirates seized a vessel as large as the Sirius Star (319,430 dwt) and so far out to sea, 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that Somali pirate bands work largely hand in glove with al Qaeda’s Horn of Africa network and are a key source of funding for the Somali Islamist rebels.
Since the beginning of 2008, they have seized 36 vessels – freighters, arms ships and yachts. Only 16 were freed, almost all of them against hefty multimillion dollar ransoms. The Ukrainian arms ship seized in September is still held with its crew. Sunday, Nov. 16, the Danish Stolt Valor chemical tanker was recovered for $1.1 million, but the Japanese 20,000-ton cargo ship Chemstar Venus was seized a few hours later.
debkafile‘s sources note that the pirates taunt US, NATO and Russian warships patrolling the ocean off Somalia. They watch to see which way the warships are heading and their well-equipped speedboats make for quarry in the opposite direction. They also take advantage of the lack of coordination between the various fleets deployed specifically to curtail piracy.
According to Lloyd’s List, the pirates are unlikely to be scared off launching attacks on merchant shipping, despite the killing of two – and perhaps three – of their number in a recent shoot-out with the British Royal Navy. The naval vessels are too few to cope with the expanding scourge.

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