Somali pirates captured a Greek-flagged supertanker carrying an estimated US$150 million worth of oil to the Gulf of Mexico, the second successful attack against an oil tanker by sea bandits in two days, officials said.
Such vessels can command higher ransoms because of the value of the crude on board. Owners of the oil may want to resolve hostage situations quickly, particularly if oil prices are dropping, a situation that can cost owners millions of dollars more than the pirate ransom will.
Still, ransom prices are on the rise. One last year reached US$9.5 million, and the increasing prizes have provided even more incentive for pirates to launch attacks.
Pirates hold 29 ships and roughly 660 hostages.
The Irene SL was sailing 200 nautical miles (360km) east of Oman with a cargo of 240 tonnes of crude oil and a crew of seven Greeks, 17 Filipinos and one Georgian when it was attacked on Wednesday, the ministry said. The Associated Press estimated the value of the oil at more than US$150 million, based on the amount being carried and a price of US$87 a barrel.
The tanker was sailing from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Mexico. The ministry said authorities had lost contact with the ship since the attack.
The Piraeus-based shipping firm First Navigation Special Maritime Enterprises confirmed its ship had been attacked, but had no further comment.
The Irene SL was the second oil tanker to be attacked in that region in two days. On Tuesday, Somali pirates firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades hijacked an Italian-flagged oil tanker in the Indian Ocean that had been heading from Sudan to Malaysia.
Meanwhile, a South Korean fishing boat freed after four months of captivity by Somali pirates linked up with a EU warship yesterday, and crew members were confirmed safe, Seoul said.
The 241-tonne crab fishing vessel and its 43 crew members — two South Koreans, two Chinese and 39 Kenyans — were freed on Wednesday after being seized on Oct. 9.
The Keummi 305 refueled in international waters and has started sailing for the Kenyan port of Mombasa under escort by a Finnish warship, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.
It is expected to reach Mombasa on Wednesday, the ministry said.
Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying no ransom was paid. The vessel’s owner had gone bankrupt, complicating ransom negotiations.
In related news, India yesterday warned of an increased threat to shipping off its southwest coast, as 28 suspected Somali pirates were brought to Mumbai for questioning.
Coastguard Inspector General S.P.S. Basra said there had been a rise in pirate attacks on merchant vessels within 450km to 550km of India in recent months and shipping had been warned to steer clear of danger areas.
His warning came as 28 Somalis suspected of hijacking a Thai fishing vessel and using it as a “mothership” to launch attacks in the Indian Ocean were paraded before the media on a coastguard ship moored off Mumbai.
They were detained on Sunday after a Greek-flagged ship reported coming under attack off the Indian coast. The navy operation freed 24 Thais and Burmese held captive since the boat was seized off Djibouti in April last year.