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[B]Pirates Seize Oil Tanker, U.S.-Bound, Off Somalia [/B]
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
NAIROBI, Kenya — Somali pirates have struck again, seizing an oil tanker loaded with $20 million in crude that was headed from Saudi Arabia to the United States, naval authorities said Monday.
According to European naval reports, nine pirates hijacked the tanker and its crew of about 30 about 800 miles offshore and headed back toward pirate havens along the coast of central Somalia. The Somali pirate business appears to be back in full swing after a brief lull this summer that some attributed to increased naval patrols but that may have had more to do with the monsoon season. Now that the seas are calm, the pirates have resumed operations, acting with even greater sophistication.
“They have definitely increased their capacity and their ability to stay out at sea for longer,” said Cyrus Mody, manager of the International Maritime Bureau in London.
The pirates — many of them penniless former fishermen from Somalia’s war zones — appear to be positioning themselves in the middle of the ocean on mother ships and then, for attacks, deploying on motorized dinghies, mere ants compared to the mammoth ships they capture.
The pirates seem to have shifted from the Gulf of Aden, where dozens of ships were attacked in 2008 but which is now heavily patrolled, to the vast stretch of ocean between the African mainland and the picturesque Seychelles islands.
In the past two months, 38 ships have been attacked and 10 hijacked, the International Maritime Bureau said. That number includes the sailboat of a British couple who were taking the trip of a lifetime. The couple’s kidnappers have threatened to kill them unless a seven-figure ransom is paid.
The hefty international naval presence, with an average of 20 warships per day cruising off Somalia’s coast, is simply not enough to halt the pirates.
“It’s 2.5 million square miles we’re dealing with,” said Lt. Matt Allen, a spokesman for the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain. “It’s a very large area. It’s a daunting task.”
The vast ransoms paid for commercial vessels seem to be drawing more and more Somalis. Piracy used to be dominated by two clans, the Saleban, based in Xarardheere, and the Majeerten, who brought hijacked ships back to a small beach town called Eyl. Now, according to witnesses in Somalia, many other clans are involved, even Bantus, a minority group best known as farmers.
No immediate claims of ransom were reported for the tanker, the Maran Centaurus. The ship, listed at 300,000 tons, is owned by a Greek company and was heading to New Orleans from Jidda, Saudi Arabia, according to European naval authorities.