Intertanko: World oil shipping routes 'under threat' from piracy

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 11 -- Piracy in the Indian Ocean is rapidly getting out of control and is threatening to disrupt flows of oil to markets in the US and around the world, according to an oil shipping industry association.

“The piracy situation is now spinning out of control into the entire Indian Ocean right to the top of the Arabian Sea over 1,000 miles from the coast of Somalia,” said Joe Angelo, managing director of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko).

“If piracy in the Indian Ocean is left unabated, it will strangle these crucial shipping lanes with the potential to severely disrupt oil flows to the US and to the rest of the world,” Angelo said.

Angelo’s remarks came after pirates off the coast of Somalia captured a Greek-flagged supertanker carrying nearly 300,000 tons of crude oil to the Gulf of Mexico, the second successful attack against an oil tanker by sea bandits in as many days.

The Irene SL was sailing 360 km east of Oman carrying 266,000 tons of crude and a crew of 7 Greeks, 17 Filipinos, and 1 Georgian when it was attacked, officials said. The value of the oil on board was estimated at $150 million.

Intertanko underlined the potential gravity of the hijacking, saying that that the Irene SL’s cargo of Kuwaiti crude represents nearly 20% of total US daily oil imports. This one cargo is 12% of all oil coming out of the Middle East Gulf each day, and 5% of total daily world seaborne oil supply.

“The hijacking by pirates of 2 million bbl of Kuwaiti crude oil destined for the US in a large Greek tanker in the middle of the main sea lanes coming from the Middle East Gulf marks a significant shift in the impact of the piracy crisis in the Indian Ocean,” Intertanko said.

That view was shared by John Drake, a senior risk consultant for London-based security firm AKE, who said the situation is only going to worsen, largely due to the payment of ransoms.

“With rising ransoms, pirates are able to hire more men, bribe more officials and wait longer periods to negotiate,” Drake said.

The Irene SL is the second oil tanker to be attacked in that region in 2 days. On Feb. 8, Somali pirates firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades hijacked the Savina Caylyn, an Italian-flagged Aframax crude tanker transiting the Indian Ocean to Malaysia from Sudan with 80,000 tonnes of oil.

After that attack, Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola, chairman of NATO's Military Committee, said piracy “is spreading across the entire Indian Ocean, a fundamental crossroads for world traffic.”

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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