VLCC hijacked by pirates

  • 17 November 2008

Following on from a spate of piratical activity, a very-large crude carrier (VLCC) has reportedly been hijacked off the East coast of Africa.

It has been reported that the MT Sirius Star was attacked some 450nm south-east of Mogadishu. The Liberian flagged vessel is the largest to be hijacked to date, with deadweight (DWT) of 319,430 tons. Furthermore, the attack has taken place further from the coast than any before. Still onboard the ship are 25 crew.

The vessel, owned by Saudi Arabian interests, was thought to be carrying a cargo of crude oil when she was hijacked on 15 November 2008.

ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Director Pottengal Mukundan stated: “Although this is just the latest of a large spike in attacks off the east coast of Africa, this incident is significant on two counts. Firstly, this is the largest vessel to have been hijacked. Secondly, the distance from the shore would suggest a highly organised operation- this is not mere opportunism.”

The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) has, in 2008, reported a large volume of piratical activity off East Africa, principally centred around the Gulf of Aden. In response to the worsening situation, several navies have dispatched warships to the region in order to safeguard this vital trade route.

This most recent incident echoes a trend of attacks many miles off the Horn of Africa, with pirates reportedly operating from a ‘mother ship’. This attack, however, is at least 100nm further out than any previously reported. Furthermore, a vessel of this size has never before been successfully hijacked.

According to the PRC’s most recent figures for the Gulf of Aden and East coast of Somalia, so far in 2008 there have been 92 attacks on vessels- 36 of which have been successful hijackings. There are currently 14 vessels being held with 268 crew hostage. Between 10 and 16 November 2008, alone, there were 11 attacks in this region with three vessels hijacked and another four fired upon.

“This criminal phenomenon is getting out of control. Unless firm action is taken against the pirates and their motherships from which attacks are launched, the frequency of these attacks will only continue,” said Mr Mukundan.

The IMB urges all shipmasters, owners / managers and those involved in the industry to report piratical or armed robbery incidents to the PRC. The PRC is the only 24 hour manned centre able to receive and process reports of attacks from around the world. This timely, first hand information will enable the IMB to identify high-risk areas to the governments concerned and is the first essential step in the response chain.