Pirates firing guns and rocket propelled grenades hijacked an Italian oil tanker in the Indian Ocean and diverted the medium-sized vessel towards Somalia, Italian Navy and European Union officials said.
Seaborne gangs are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, and despite successful efforts to quell attacks in the Gulf of Aden, international navies have struggled to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean owing to the vast distances involved.
Ship industry associations have warned that over 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil supply passing through the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea was at high risk from better equipped Somali pirates, who are able to operate further out at sea and for longer periods using mother ships, Reuters reports.
The attack on the Savina Caylyn took place some 500 miles off the coast of India and 800 miles off Somalia, an Italian Navy spokesman said on Tuesday, adding that no-one among the crew of 17 Indians and five Italians was reported hurt.
“It is heading west, in the direction of Somalia,” Commander Paddy O’Kennedy, spokesman for the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) said later on Tuesday. “This is what we expected at this stage.”
EUNAVFOR said the vessel was boarded early on Tuesday after a sustained attack by one small high speed craft known as a skiff with five pirates firing small arms and four rocket propelled grenades.
An Italian navy frigate was heading to the scene but was some 600 miles away.
Responding to the growing threat, London’s marine insurance market has expanded the stretch of waterways deemed high risk from seaborne raiders to include the Gulf of Oman and a wider stretch of the Indian Ocean.
“The piracy crisis off Somalia is spiralling out of control — seafarers are being tortured and executed,” said Graham Westgarth, chairman of INTERTANKO, an association whose members own the majority of the world’s tanker fleet.
“If the piracy situation is not dealt with, there is the potential for oil flows coming out of the Middle East Gulf, and between Asia and the West, to be disrupted,” he told Reuters.
Forcing the original crew to operate hijacked ships at gunpoint, pirates can now launch attacks during stormy monsoon seasons using the vessels as giant mother ships.
The Rome foreign ministry said the incident showed the need for “even greater international collaboration against piracy.”
TANKERS SEEN HIGHLY PRIZED
A study showed that maritime piracy costs the global economy between $7 and $12 billion a year, with Somali piracy in particular driving up the cost of shipping through the Indian Ocean. Pirates last year received a record $9.5 million ransom for the release of the Samho Dream South Korean oil tanker.
“Pirates have made a lot of money out of previously released tankers so they will now be viewed as a highly attractive prize,” said John Drake, a senior risk consultant with security firm AKE Ltd.
J. Peter Pham, an African security adviser to U.S. and European governments and private companies, said tankers were inviting targets despite it being more difficult to seize them than slower bulk carriers which are easier to board.
“The value of their cargo as petroleum prices continue to rise as well as the fear of the environmental damage should it spill make a larger ransom more quickly paid,” he said.
The Aframax-type tanker can carry a maximum of just over 700,000 barrels of oil with the Savina Caylyn’s maximum cargo value estimated at $63 million. The largest crude tankers carry maximum cargoes of between 2 to 3 million barrels of oil.
O’Kennedy said the anti-piracy task force was monitoring the movement of the ship but was no longer in direct contact.
“The last communication was when the pirates were on board and then we lost all contact,” he said.
The ship is carrying a load of crude for the European oil trading company Arcadia. It was sailing from the Bashayer Oil Terminal in Sudan and was destined for Pasir Gudang port in Malaysia, according to Reuters Freight Views.