Pirates seize Saudi tanker

March 3, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Mar  3 – Somali pirates have captured a small Saudi tanker and its crew of 14 in the Gulf of Aden, a Kenyan maritime official said Wednesday.

The MT Al Nisr Al Saudi, a 5,136 deadweight-tonne tanker, was seized Monday with its Greek captain and 13 Sri Lankan crew members, said Andrew Mwangura, who heads the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme.

"It was on its way from Japan to Jeddah" in Saudi Arabia, he said.

Mwangura said the pirates had commandeered the ship, which has Saudi owners and managers, back towards one of their bases on the Somali coast.

"I can confirm that. The Saudi product tanker Al-Nisr Al-Saudi was hijacked on Monday the 1st, with its 14-member crew, including its Greek captain," said John Harbour, spokesman for the European Union\’s anti-piracy naval mission.

"She is now anchored in front of the pirate stronghold of Garaad. The EU Naval force Atalanta is monitoring the situation," he told AFP by phone.

The Al Nisr al Saudi, is much smaller than the Saudi-owned colossus that pirates captured in 2008, in a hijacking that brought Somali piracy to the world\’s attention.

The Sirius Star, a tanker measuring a third of a kilometre in length and carrying two million barrels of crude oil, was eventually released in January 2009 in exchange for a ransom estimated at around eight million dollars.

The capture of the Sirius Star sparked global fears that Somalia\’s rag-tag army of pirates — equipped with rudimentary skiffs, grapnels and kalashnikovs — could disrupt maritime traffic on one of the globe\’s busiest trade routes.

The Saudi juggernaut\’s capture largely contributed to speeding up international response to the growing number of attacks by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, through which around 100 ships sail each day.

The EU launched its Atalanta mission in a bid to secure the vital shipping lane, joining forces with US-led and NATO missions, as well as other warships dispatched by other naval powers.

The unprecedented naval deployment failed to curb piracy figures as Somalia\’s marauding ransom hunters moved south and started venturing further out in the less heavily-patrolled Indian Ocean, notably towards the Seychelles.

The Al Nisr Al Saudi\’s capture Monday is a relatively rare case of pirates beating the foreign armada\’s vigilance in the Gulf of Aden in recent months.


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