Pirates seize Greek-flagged VLCC off Somalia

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 1 -- Pirates operating off Somalia have seized another very large crude carrier, this time the Greek-flagged M/V Maran Centaurus, which was enroute from Jeddah to New Orleans.

"About 9 armed pirates attacked the tanker and seized it, 700 miles off the Somali coast, near the Seychelles," said a Greek coastguard official, who said that the 300,294-dwt ship carried a crew of 9 Greeks, 2 Ukrainians, 1 Romanian, and 16 Filipinos.

The vessel's first mate informed the ship-owners, Christen Navigation, of the hijacking, and said that the 28-member crew was well and that the pirates had directed the tanker to sail to a port in Somalia.

Maran Tankers Management Inc., operators and managers of the Maran Centaurus, confirmed the hijacking. Maran said all aboard the ship were being well treated and that the vessel was bound for the area of Hobyo on Somalia’s Puntland Coast.

According to the European Union Naval Force, which conducts antipiracy patrols in the region, the vessel may be anchored off either Hobyo or Harardhere—both of them long considered to be pirate dens in northern Somalia.

Second hijacking
This most recent hijacking is the second of a VLCC in a year by pirates who surprised the shipping world last November by seizing the Liberian-flagged Sirius Star, a VLCC owned by Saudi Aramco and operated by Vela International (OGJ Online, Nov. 24, 2008).

Earlier in November, Somali pirates, firing rocket-propelled grenades at a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker, launched their deepest attack ever into the Indian Ocean, according to the European Union Naval Force (OGJ, Nov. 9, 2009).

The latest hijacking encouraged renewed authorization by the 15-member UN Security Council for measures to combat piracy off Somalia's coast and a resolution against paying ransom for hijacked ships and crew members.

Resolution 1897 gives foreign nations fighting piracy authorization through Nov. 30, 2010, to send warships into Somalia's territorial waters, under an agreement with the Somali government.

The resolution also allows nations to take all necessary and appropriate measures inside Somalia to stop acts of piracy.

The resolution also expresses the concern of the Security Council “that escalating ransom payments and the lack of enforcement of the arms embargo…are fueling the growth of piracy off the coast of Somalia.”

The council’s concern reiterates an earlier statement by the UN's special representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, that paying ransoms to free seized ships had made piracy a “highly profitable business.”

The hijacking of Maran Centaurus follows a meeting last week of the officers in command of the three largest counter piracy task forces in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.

There are 25 ships from 16 different nations conducting antipiracy operations off Somalia in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, part of EU NAVFOR, NATO, CTF 151, or deployed by individual nations such as China, Russia, Japan, India, and others.

The aim of the meeting of naval commanders was to evaluate recent initiatives to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their combined counter piracy forces and discuss ways for improvement.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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