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Thursday, March 4, 2010    

Somali pirates target, capture a Saudi oil tanker

ABU DHABI — Somali pirates have captured a Saudi crude oil tanker with a crew of 14.   

The tanker, identified as Al Nisr Al Saudi, was intercepted and boarded by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden on March 1, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The pirates have been looking to grab one of these tankers for a long time," an official said.

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The European Union Naval Force confirmed the capture of the Saudi tanker, which operated outside the route patrolled by Western warships. EU officials said the 5,136-ton Saudi ship had been empty during the piracy.

"The ship was heading to Jedda and has a crew of 14," the EU force said. The master of the ship is Greek and the nationality of the rest of the crew has not been confirmed. They are all believed to be well. The ship was outside the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor and was not registered on MSCHOA. The vessel is now in the vicinity of Garacad, a well know pirate stronghold."

In 2009, Saudi Arabia joined a Western-led anti-piracy task force that has been operating in the Arabian Sea and Red Sea. The Royal Saudi Navy has reported foiling at least one piracy attempt in the Gulf of Aden.

So far, Somali pirates have been holding six ships and 132 sailors. The pirates have requested millions of dollars in ransom for the release of the vessels.

Officials said Somali pirates have expanded operations over the last year. They said the pirates were expected to intensify attacks on merchant shipping over the next three months as the seas turn calm.

Hours after the reported capture of the Saudi warship, the Western task force disrupted another Somali piracy attempt. NATO said a Danish Navy warship attacked and sank a Somali pirate command vessel in the Indian Ocean. The Western alliance said the pirate vessel had been coordinating attacks on merchant ships.

"This was a very well executed operation," Cmdr. Christian Rune, commander of NATO's anti-piracy mission, said.

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