Wednesday, February 9, 2011

U.S.-Bound Supertanker Hijacked by Pirates Off Oman

A 1,100-foot supertanker carrying Kuwaiti oil to the U.S. was seized by pirates off eastern Oman today, the first hijacking of a vessel that size since April.

The Irene SL has 17 Filipinos, seven Greeks and a Georgian on board, according to a statement on the website of the European Union’s anti-piracy force. It is carrying 270,266 metric tons of oil destined for the Gulf of Mexico, Enesel SA, its owner, said in an e-mailed statement.

“The vessel was attacked by armed men in skiffs,” Enesel said in the statement. “For the moment there is no communication with the vessel.”

Pirates hijacked a record 53 ships and 1,181 crew members in 2010, most of them off Somalia, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau. Average ransom payments rose to $5.4 million last year, compared with $150,000 in 2005, according to Louisville, Colorado-based One Earth Future Foundation, a non-profit group.

The Irene SL is a double-hulled tanker built in 2004 and in the last three months has traveled to destinations including the Persian Gulf, Malaysia and South Korea, according to ship- tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. It was heading for the Suez Canal, the Egyptian waterway connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, according to EU Navfor.

The tonnage being held is equal to 1.98 million barrels, according to a calculator on the website of the Energy Information Administration. Kuwait crude sells for $84.84 a barrel when being shipped to the U.S., valuing the cargo at about $168 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

‘Increasing Capabilities’

The last supertanker to be hijacked was the Samho Dream in April, according to the IMB. It was released in November. This year there have been 58 attacks reported worldwide as of yesterday, 45 of which were off Somalia, Cyrus Mody, an IMB manager in London, said by phone today. A total of eight ships was hijacked, he said.

“They are definitely increasing capabilities and capacity to go out and stay out for” longer, Mody said. Pirates are operating in areas not seen before, including an attack 60 miles off Minicoy Island, he said. The island is across the Arabian Sea from Somalia, toward southwestern India.

Pirates are outwitting attempts by the international community to stop them, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki- moon said on Feb. 3.

Escalating attacks are driving some tankers to sail around southern Africa rather than through the Suez Canal, adding about 12 days to a journey from Saudi Arabia to Houston, said Luis Mateus, an analyst at Riverlake Shipping SA, a broker in Geneva.

About 30 anti-piracy ships are deployed daily in the region by groups including the EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The European Naval Force patrols about 2 million square nautical miles, or an area 10 times the size of Germany.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alistair Holloway in London at

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