Pirates on Monday took control of a huge Saudi Arabian crude oil tanker in the Arabian Sea, the US Navy said in a statement, the latest pirate attack near the waters of war-torn Somalia.
By Javier Blas
The tanker, named Sirius Star and owned by Saudi Aramco’s shipping subsidiary Vela International, is capable of carrying about 2m barrels of crude oil, making it one of the largest ships in the world. The tanker was fully loaded, the company said.
“The very large crude tanker Sirius Star was attacked more than 450 nautical miles (about 830km) south-east of Mombasa, Kenya,” the US Navy said from its Persian Gulf headquarter’s in Bahrain.
Vela Marine said in statement that the tanker’s 25 crew were reported to be safe.
The attack on the Sirius Star is the first time pirates have boarded such a large vessel and marks a dramatic escalation in attacks in the waters around the Horn of Africa. Previous attacks were closer to the coast and targeted smaller vessels.
The tanker is more than 330m long – the length of three football pitches and longer than some of the US navy’s aircraft carriers.
The ship is the first tanker to be seized in the Arabian Sea. Its crude oil could be valued at more than $100m and represents about a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s daily oil output. Saudi Arabia is the world largest oil producer.
The crew of 25 includes citizens from Croatia, UK, The Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia, the US Navy said. Vela said response teams had been mobilised and were working to ensure the safe release of the crew and the vessel.
Hijacking pushes prices
The hijacking, together with fresh US dollar weakness, helped to push oil prices higher on Monday.
West Texas Intermediate, the US benchmark, rose $1.40 to $58.44 a barrel in early trading. Brent, the European benchmark, climbed to $55.33, up $1.10 on the day.
The attack on the Sirius Star comes days after the head of the UN body charged with fighting piracy advocated establishing a force to deal with the problem off Somalia and Yemen in the Gulf of Aden.
Efthimios Mitropoulos, secretary general of the International Maritime Organisation, launched the request in an interview with the Financial Times, in which when he described the crisis in the region – the gateway to the Suez Canal – as among the most severe facing the world.
There have been 77 attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Aden this year, with 31 hijacked, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which monitors piracy.
Last week, two Somali pirates were killed in an exchange of fire with Britain’s Royal Navy in the Gulf of Aden, in an incident which underlines the continuing tension caused by piracy off the Horn of Africa.
The two pirates killed in the incident had been on board a Yemeni-flagged dhow that was involved in an attempt to hijack a Danish vessel earlier this month.
The Sirius Star was launched in March in a ceremony at Koje City, South Korea, according to Vela.
Vela’s crude oil tankers usually sail from Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia’s main oil terminal in the Persian Gulf, to the Gulf of Mexico and Europe either sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in the southern tip of Africa, or through the Suez Canal. VLCCs such as the Sirius Star usually sail via the Cape of Good Hope.
Vela International Marine is the sixth largest owner of VLCCs in the world.