Somali pirates seized a tanker carrying crude oil from Saudi Arabia to the United States in the increasingly dangerous waters off East Africa, an official said Monday, an attack that could pose a huge environmental or security threat to the region.
The Greek-owned Maran Centaurus was hijacked Sunday about 1,300 kilometres off the coast of Somalia, said Cmdr. John Harbour, a spokesman for the EU Naval Force. Harbour said there were 28 crew members on board the 270,000-tonne ship.
Pirates have increased attacks on vessels off East Africa for the millions of dollars of ransom that can be had. Though pirates have successfully hijacked dozens of vessels the last several years, Sunday's attack appears to be only the second ever on an oil tanker.
In November 2008, pirates hijacked the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star, which held two million barrels of oil valued at about $100 million US. The tanker was released last January for a reported $3 million US ransom after a two-month drama that helped galvanize international efforts to fight piracy off Africa's coast.
Somalia's lawless 3,000-kilometre coastline provides a perfect haven for pirates to prey on ships heading for the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping routes.
The impoverished Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government for a generation and the weak UN-backed administration is too busy fighting an Islamist insurgency to arrest pirates.
Pirates now hold about a dozen vessels hostage and more than 200 crew members. The Maran Centaurus had 28 crew aboard — 16 Filipinos, nine Greeks, two Ukrainians and one Romanian.
Piracy has increased despite an increased presence by international navies patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. The U.S. this fall began flying sophisticated drones over East African waters as part of the fight against piracy.