Pirates attack oil tanker off Yemen, crew safe

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Pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) into a fuel oil tanker near the Yemeni port of Aden yesterday morning, but the vessel and its cargo were recovered, the ship manager said.

The 26 crew members on board the Brillante Virtuoso, which was carrying over 141,000 tonnes of fuel oil from Ukraine to Qingdao in China, abandoned ship after pirates fired into their bedroom block in the early hours of yesterday morning.
“The vessel was subject to a pirate attack … some 20 miles from the Port of Aden,” ship manager Central Mare Inc. said in an updated statement.
“The pirate’s RPG assault is thought to have started a fire in the accommodation area, following which they were forced to abandon their attack and leave the scene.”

The Somali piracy crisis is costing world trade billions of dollars a year.

Somali pirate gangs can stay out at sea for long periods using captured merchant vessels as mother ships and have been using Yemen’s remote island of Socotra as a refuelling hub.

A U.S. navy vessel and two tugs from the port of Aden were deployed to the scene, the vessel’s manager said. “It is understood from the salvage team on the scene that the fire onboard is now under control,” it said.

The manager said a salvage team from one of the tugs had connected a towing line to the tanker and was towing it at a speed of about 2 knots to a position further away from the coast and well outside territorial waters in order to drop anchor.
“The fire has died down, and for the moment there is little smoke coming from the accommodation block,” it said.
“Managers are happy to confirm that all crew are safe and they are about to be repatriated.”

The vessel’s master, chief engineer and electrician, for the time being, will remain at the scene onboard the tug and supporting the salvage operation, the manager said.

Armed sea-borne gangs, who are making millions of dollars in ransoms, are becoming increasingly violent.

Last month campaigners calling for stronger action said the number of seafarers killed due to Somali piracy had escalated in the past four years, with 62 merchant sailors losing their lives through torture, execution, suicide and malnutrition.
“The remaining 23 Filipino crew members are now safely on board a U.S. Naval forces vessel, which is heading to Aden where they will be safely repatriated,” Central Mare said on Wednesday.

The U.S. Navy said the USS Philippine Sea, which is part of an international maritime security task force in the region, responded to a distress call from the Liberia-flagged Brillante Virtuoso.
“Upon their arrival, they observed smoke coming from the superstructure of the ship and that the crew had abandoned ship in a life-raft,” the Navy said. “They found no evidence of pirates and concentrated their efforts on assisting the crew members.”

A picture on the U.S. Navy’s website showed plumes of black smoke rising from the tanker and crew members in a life-boat some distance from the vessel.