Somali pirates release Saudi tanker Sirius Star

Eric Watkins
Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 13 -- Somali pirates released the Saudi Arabian-owned supertanker MV Sirius Star after receiving a $3 million ransom, according to officials and a negotiator for the bandits.

"It is expected that the ship will get under way in the next 24 hours," said Lt. Virginia Newman, a spokeswoman for the Combined Maritime Forces based in Bahrain, which oversees the wider region. Newman said it was likely that "a considerable sum" had been paid in ransom.

Mohamed Said, a negotiator with the pirates that held the Saudi tanker for nearly 2 months, said the ship had been released and was traveling to safe waters, a point reportedly confirmed by the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Kenya.

The ship owner, Saudi Arabia's Vela International Marine Ltd., declined to comment on the reported release, despite a photo taken by the US Navy showing a parachute apparently dropping the ransom from a small aircraft to the tanker.

The Sirius Star, bearing a load of crude valued at $100 million, was seized in the Indian Ocean on Nov. 15, more than 800 km southeast of Mombasa, Kenya, marking a sharp escalation of the high seas piracy that has normally been confined to the coastal waters of Somalia.

Even as the Sirius Star was poised for release, Somali pirates have stepped up their attacks on other ships in the region.

On Jan. 2, a naval mission of the European Union thwarted attempted seizure of a Greek tanker by pirates off Somalia, according to a statement by the Greek merchant marine ministry.

"Today at about 9:50 a.m. local time, an attempt was made by pirates to seize the Kriti Episkopi tanker which was sailing under the Greek flag in the Gulf of Aden near the coast of Somalia," the Greek ministry said. The pirates were driven away by a Spanish warplane and a Dutch frigate, the ministry said.

Several days later, Somali pirates seized a small Yemeni diesel tanker which was carrying around 2,000 tonnes of diesel fuel to the Yemeni port of Nashtoon.

The pirates, who have continued their attacks despite international efforts to stop them, were this week warned by the US Navy of a new international naval force under US command will soon begin patrols in the region.

The warning follows passage of a UN Security Council resolution in December that authorizes countries and multi-national organizations involved in tackling piracy to "undertake all necessary measures in Somalia, including its airspace" to prevent "acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea."

Resolution 1851 (2008), which was drafted by the US, will be in force for a year.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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