Somali pirates attack another oil tanker

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 9 -- Somali pirates, firing rocket-propelled grenades at a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker, have launched their deepest attack ever into the Indian Ocean, according to the European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor).

“This was the longest range of a pirate attack off the Somali coast ever,” EU Navfor said. The attack on the BW Lion was launched by pirates in two fast attack skiffs 400 nautical miles northeast of the Seychelles and 1,000 nautical miles east of Mogadishu.

“Automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were fired. With increasing speed and evasive maneuvers the master managed to evade the attack. No casualties were reported,” EU Navfor said.

EU Navfor spokesman Comdr. John Harbour said the international transit corridor near the coast is becoming safer due to the international naval patrols, but conceded that the increased vigilance is actually causing the pirates to carry out their attacks farther out to sea.

“Certainly our success to date has pushed the pirates out from their normal hunting grounds,” said Harbour, adding that it wasn't immediately known whether the two pirate skiffs had launched the attacks from a larger mothership.

The attack follows a request by European Union military commanders last week for more warships to boost their antipiracy mission off the coast of Somalia, saying member states need to at least double their current commitments for the next year.

“We need more assets for the Somali basin because of the size of the area,” said French Gen. Henri Bentegeat, the outgoing chairman of the EU Military Committee, on Nov. 4.

“Currently we have 3-4 frigates committed for 2010. We need more, we need probably on a permanent basis between 6-10 frigates in order to cover this very vast area,” he told a news conference.

Bentegeat said there were sufficient warships available for the Northern part of the antipiracy theater in the Gulf of Aden, where vessels of members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the US, and other nations are operating their own patrols together with the EU.

But Bentegeat said that more warships are needed further South along Somalia's Indian Ocean coastline.

Bentegeat’s request for more ships came just days after a US cargo ship and a Dutch oil tanker were attacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean but managed to fend off their aggressors.

The two incidents happened within hours of each other on Nov. 3, about 360 nautical miles off eastern Kenya. Nobody was reported injured in either incident.

Late last year, Somali pirate indicated their determination to escalate attacks on international oil shipping by hijacking the Liberian-flagged Sirius Star, a very large crude carrier owned by Saudi Aramco and operated by Vela International.

At the time, Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, said the pirates hijacked the Sirius Star about 450 nautical miles off Kenya–the farthest out to sea that pirates have ever struck. That distance, according to Christensen, makes them “a threat to many more vessels (OGJ, Nov. 24, 2008, p. 23).”

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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