Saudi supertanker on the move

Confusion surrounds the fate of a hijacked Saudi supertanker following reports the Somali pirates moved the ship for fear of an attack by al Shabab.

View taken on November 25, 2008 from an helicoper flying over the French frigate Le Nivose leaving Djibouti harbour on its way to escort a convoy of commercial ships in the Gulf of Aden. Pirates in the region, who have hijacked more than 90 vessels this year, are demanding 25 million dollars (19.7 million euros) in ransom for the fully loaded Saudi oil tanker with a 100-million-dollar cargo and a crew of 25 they hijacked on November 15. European shipowners welcomed an EU decision Monday that allows its anti-piracy mission off the Somali coast to use force if necessary. 

AFP PHOTO ERIC CABANIS *** Local Caption ***  776063-01-08.jpg
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MOGADISHU, SOMALIA // Confusion surrounds the fate of a hijacked Saudi supertanker following reports the Somali pirates moved the ship for fear of an attack by al Shabab, the Islamic group at the centre of Somalia's insurgency. Somali pirates seized the Sirius Star on Nov 15 in their most audacious hijacking to date off the coast of this lawless country. The vessel is carrying 2 million barrels of crude oil worth about US$100 million (Dh367m).

The British Broadcasting Corporation reported today that they contacted a pirate on board the Sirius Star who said the ship owner has not contacted them and that they have not yet set a ransom. The BBC said the pirate identified himself as Daybad. "We captured the ship for ransom, of course, but we don't have anybody reliable to talk to directly about it," Daybad said. The captain of the Sirius Star, Marek Nishky, told the BBC he and his crew have no complaint and have been allowed to talk to their families.

On Friday, al Shabab vowed to fight the pirates. Somali clan elder Abdisalan Khalif Ahmed said the ship moved about 45 kilometres on Sunday from its earlier location, putting it about 50km off the coast of the coastal village of Harardhere. "Perhaps (the) pirates are afraid the Islamists in town will frustrate their efforts to resupply the ship," he told The Associated Press today.

A security official in Yemen said today that Somali pirates who hijacked the Yemeni cargo ship Adina in the Arabian Sea last week were asking for a $2m ransom to release the ship. The cargo is construction material. The police chief of Yemen's Hadramout province, Ahmed Mohammad al Hamedi, said the ship is owned by a Yemeni company but is carrying a foreign flag, which he would not specify. He said there were three Yemenis, three Somalis and two Panamanians on board.

The Yemen ship was travelling between Mukalla, a port in southern Yemen, to the southern island of Suqutra, when it was hijacked. Somalia, an impoverished nation caught up in an Islamic insurgency spearheaded by al Shabab, has not had a functioning government since 1991. There have been at least 96 pirate attacks so far this year in Somali waters, with 40 ships hijacked. Fifteen ships with nearly 300 crew are still in the hands of Somali pirates, who dock the hijacked vessels near the eastern and southern coast as they negotiate for ransom.

Shipping officials from around the world have called for a military blockade along Somalia's coast to intercept pirate vessels heading out to sea. The head of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, representing most of the world fleet, said yesterday that stronger naval action - including aerial support - was necessary to battle rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia.

But Nato, which has four warships off the coast of Somalia, rejected a blockade. US Gen John Craddock, Nato's supreme allied commander, said the alliance's mandate is solely to escort World Food Program ships to Somalia and to conduct anti-piracy patrols The Nato secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that a blockade of ports was "not contemplated by Nato." In neighbouring Kenya, the head of US military operations in Africa said he had no evidence that Somali pirates are connected to al Qa'eda, but said the allegations are "a concern we all would have."

Western governments have expressed concern that some pirate ransoms - some $30m this year alone - could end up in the hands of extremists with links to terror groups in Somalia. * AP