Somali pirates who hijacked a Saudi supertanker moved the vessel from its location at the port city of Harardhere, in the autonomous Puntland region, after Islamist militias threatened to attack them and rescue the ship. Both the exiled Islamic Courts Union and the Shabaab insurgent group issued threats to attack the pirates if they don’t free the ship. “Saudi is a Muslim country and it is very big crime to hold Muslim property,” the Shabaab’s Sheikh Abdulaahi Osman said. “I warned again and again those who hold the ship must free it unconditionally or armed conflict should be the solution. If they don’t free the ship, we will rescue it by force.” The ICU called seizing the ship a “major crime.”
Somali pirates have been holding the Sirius Star, laden with 2 million barrels of oil worth about $110 million, since seizing it with its 25-strong crew on Nov. 15, about 420 nautical miles (833 kilometers) off Somalia. The pirates are demanding a $25 million ransom. The vessel is owned by Saudi Arabia‘s state shipping line, Vela International Marine Ltd.
The taking of the Sirius Star, which can carry more than one-fourth of Saudi Arabia’s daily oil output, helped send prices above $58 a barrel. And the fact that it was nabbed 450 miles off Kenya’s coast is a sign of growing reach by the pirates, who have tended to stay closer to the Gulf of Aden, a choke point for traffic through the Suez Canal.
The day after the Sirius Star was seized, the Indian warship INS Tabar, a Russian-made frigate, got into a sea skirmish with suspected Somali pirates about 525 kilometers southwest of Oman’s Salalah port. The Tabar apparently sank a pirate “mother ship,” sending three pirate speedboats fleeing for safety and thwarting the attempted hijacking of an Indian cargo ship. (Bloomberg, Nov. 23; CSM, Nov. 20; CNN, CSM, Nov. 19)