Pirates seize another tanker off Yemen

Eric Watkins
Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 31 -- Pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden, shrugging off recent military and political developments aimed at curbing their activities, hijacked the MV Longchamp, a German tanker bound from Europe to the Far East with a cargo of liquefied petroleum gas.

The tanker was seized before dawn on Jan. 29 by seven pirates in a corridor patrolled by EU naval forces off southern Yemen, about 95 km from the port of al-Mukalla.

German firm Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which manages the Bahamas-flagged vessel, reported that crew members—12 Filipinos and an Indonesian—were safe and that no ransom demands have yet been made.

This month there have been 15 attacks on vessels and three ships seized, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center.

Actions against pirates
More than a dozen warships from the US, UK, France, Germany, and Iran now patrol Somali waters, and China and South Korea have ordered warships to the region to protect their vessels and crews.

In addition, Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada on Jan. 28 ordered the Japanese navy to prepare ships to join the international fight, as the island nation depends on shipping for oil and other imports. Hamada said his dispatch order was an interim measure until Parliament passes a formal law outlining the ships' activities in their mission.

The decline in successful attacks since foreign navies rushed to the busy sea lane had raised optimism that piracy was being curbed, but the outlaws are finding ways to evade the warships. They pay "partners" in other countries for inside information on ships' routes, timetables, guards, and other information, and thus know which vessels are unguarded and when and where to strike them. Success has made them bolder.

The Sirius Star, bearing a load of crude valued at $100 million, for example, was seized in the Indian Ocean on Nov. 15, more than 800 km southeast of Mombasa, Kenya, marking a sharp escalation of high seas piracy; previously it had been confined to Somalia's coastal waters (OGJ Online, Jan. 13, 2009).

Somali pirates also captured the Saudi Arabian-owned MV Sirius Star supertanker on the high seas, releasing it earlier in January after receiving a $3 million ransom.

Insurance rates rising
At a UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute conference on piracy off Somalia held in Turin, Italy, Jan. 28, International Maritime Bureau Director Pottengal Mukundan said insurance rates are rising because more claims must be paid in the wake of the increasing acts of piracy and the threat of them.

Until recently traditional piracy—taking cargo, money, and equipment from crews—was not considered a major issue for the insurance industry. But concern is mounting that ransom in the millions of dollars being paid for ships, cargoes, and crews off Somalia and Nigeria may become a "business model" for other pirates globally, especially off Southeast Asia and eastern South America, said Dieter Berg, head of marine insurance at the German firm Munich Re.

Curbing piracy
In developments aimed at curbing piracy in the Somalia region, Kenya has agreed to prosecute pirates captured by the US Navy, which announced plans to increase its anti-piracy efforts.

In addition, on Jan. 29, nine countries in the region adopted the Djibouti code of conduct on the repression of piracy, agreeing to establish piracy information centers in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Sanaa, Yemen; and Mombasa, Kenya.

"[It] is the first regional mechanism established for African and Arab nations," said Koji Sekimizu, the director of the Maritime Safety Division at the International Maritime Organization.

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