The crew of the Sirius Star, a massive oil tanker, is being held hostage after a group of heavily armed pirates hijacked the ship earlier this week.
Vela International Marine, the Saudi Arabian company that owns the Sirius Star, announced on Nov. 18 that all of the ship’s crew members are believed to be safe. It was also said that they are currently awaiting further contact from the hijackers and that no additional comments would be made until further notice.
The Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) and its crew of 25 were en route from Saudi Arabia to the United States when they were attacked more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombassa, Kenya. This ship was carrying an estimated $100 million worth of oil. The hijacking of the Sirius Star adds to the tally of 15 similar attacks that have taken place in the region recently.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, between January and September of this year, there have been 199 reported incidents of piracy or attempted piracy, 63 of which took place in the Gulf of Aden.
Among the ship’s crew, two are British, two Polish, one Croatian, one Saudi, and 19 are Philippine nationals. “Our first and foremost priority is ensuring the safety of the crew,” said Salah Ka’aki, the president and CEO of Vela International Marine. “We are in communication with their families and are working toward their safe and speedy return.”
According to Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence media, the Sirius Star is being brought by the hijackers to Eyl, Somalia, where approximately 11 other ships are currently being held for ransom. The 360-yard-long tanker is the largest ship ever to be hijacked.
Recently, on Nov. 16, Somali pirates released the Stolt Valor, a hijacked chemical tanker, on a $1.1 million ransom. Ships in the value range of the Sirius Star have been held for ransoms upward of $20 million.
It is a possibility that the ship might be taken back by force due to U.S. interest in the ship’s cargo and British concern over its citizens who are being held hostage by the hijackers, said Stratfor. Counter-action has yet to be confirmed by either country.
Such attacks have become a common issue in the waters off Somalia and are typically carried out by heavily armed groups with weaponry such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers and submachine guns. According to a press release from the Combined Maritime Forces Public Affairs, which works to prevent such attacks, despite their efforts, piracy is still a major problem.
“Our presence in the region is helping deter and disrupt criminal attacks off the Somali coast, but the situation with the Sirius Star clearly indicates the pirates’ ability to adapt their tactics and methods of attack,” said Vice Administrator Bill Gortney, commander of the Combined Maritime Forces. “Piracy is an international crime that threatens global commerce.”
According to Gortney, the best solution to ensure the safety of vessels is for companies to provide their own security. “Embarked security teams would have prevented these successful attacks,” said Gortney. “Companies don’t think twice about using security guards to protect their valuable facilities ashore. Protecting valuable ships and their crews at sea is no different.”
According to Royal Navy Commodore Tim Lowe, deputy commander with the Combined Maritime Forces, in order to better prevent such attacks, forces would also be needed back on land.
“While a military force cannot solve the problem, the solution lies ashore, we welcome the assistance of additional forces,” said Lowe. “The long-term solution to piracy requires an international and inter-agency response. More forces allow us to address this issue and ‘hold ground’ while also continuing our ongoing Maritime Security Operations in the area.”