Negotiations for hijacked Saudi oil tanker begin

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

MV Sirius Star off the coast of Somalia on November 19.

Vela International Marine, the Saudi Arabian company that owns the MV Sirius Star oil tanker which was captured by pirates on November 15, has begun negotiations with the Somali pirates.

The Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal said that talks had begun, but he did not say whether a ransom would be paid. Vela International Marine, which is owned by state-owned Saudi Aramco, would only say it is "working toward [the crew's] safe and speedy return."

"We do not like to negotiate with pirates, terrorists or hijackers," said Saud al Faisal in Rome, after speaking with Franco Frattini, the Foreign Minister of Italy.

Dubai-based television network Al Jazeera broadcast an audiotape of a man who said he was with the pirates. He identified himself as Farah Abd Jameh.

"Negotiators are located on board the ship and on land. Once they have agreed on the ransom, it will be taken in cash to the oil tanker. We assure the safety of the ship that carries the ransom. We will mechanically count the money and we have machines that can detect fake money," the man said. He did not mention any specific amounts for the ransom.

Cquote1.svg We do not like to negotiate with pirates, terrorists or hijackers. Cquote2.svg

—Saud al Faisal, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia

The British Foreign Office released a statement Wednesday which identified two of the crew as chief engineer Peter French and second officer James Grady. The rest of the 25-man crew are from Croatia (1), Poland (2), Philippines (19) and Saudi Arabia (1). They are all reported to be safe.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that the Royal Navy was coordinating a European response.

Dominique Montecer, the director of operations at GEOS Group, a corporate risk management firm, cast doubt on a military response.

"Everything is possible but it would take extraordinary means and organization, and the risk of an ecological disaster is very high. They are sitting on a bomb," Montecer said.

The Gulf of Aden

"It's certainly a very complex environment to work in — a Liberian-flagged vessel, owned by a Saudi company, in Somali waters, with so many different nationalities on board," said Lt. Nate Christensen of the United States Navy when asked about the possibility of taking back the Sirius Star by force.

"Shipping companies are already making decisions not to go through the Gulf of Aden, and making the decision to take the much longer route around the south of Africa," said Peter Hinchcliffe, marine director of the International Chamber of Shipping. "And with the increase in intensity of attacks, that is something that is going to be much more frequent. It's adding let's say an average of two weeks to the passage time."

Since the capture of the Sirius Star, pirates in the Gulf of Aden have taken at least three other ships. These include a Chinese ship carrying wheat, a Greek bulk carrier, and a Thai fishing vessel.

Pirates stand guard aboard the MV Faina on October 19.

The International Maritime Bureau reports that Somali pirates currently hold 14 ships along with an estimated 250 crew members. Since January, there have been over 30 hijackings in the area, while another 60 ships have been attacked.

Among the ships still held is the Ukrainian cargo ship MV Faina, which has a cargo of 33 Russian T-72 battle tanks, as well as other weapons. The Faina was hijacked on September 25.

Meanwhile, the Indian Navy has reported that it encountered and destroyed what it called a pirate "mother ship" on Tuesday. India dispatched frigate INS Tabar last month to protect its merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden. The pirate vessel reportedly threatened the Indian frigate after it was hailed.

Several NATO members, as well as Russia, India and Malaysia have all sent warships to the region to protect merchant shipping in the area. The Combined Task Force 150, formed as a multinational coalition in the War on Terrorism, was restructured in 2006 to aid in anti-piracy efforts.


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