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Armed Somali Pirates Demand Ransom for Hijacked Oil Tanker

By Linda Gradstein | The Media Line

March 15, 2017

Militia men stand on the beach in the central Somali town of Hobyo as a hijacked Korean supertanker lies anchored on the horizon on August 20, 2010. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
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Calls for ships to be more careful

Armed pirates off the coast of Somalia who hijacked an oil tanker with eight Sri Lankan crew on board are demanding a ransom for the release of the vessel, according to the UN Naval Force. The pirates seized the Comoros-flagged tanker on Monday, in the first such act of piracy in the region since 2012.

“We know the vessel has been moved to another town down the coast and the owner and the pirates are in communication,” Ben Lawellin, the project manager for the Horn of Africa at Oceans Beyond Piracy, an NGO that deals with piracy.

He said the ship, which was carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, was approached by two skiffs, who then boarded the tanker. The amount of the ransom demanded is not known, but the pirates usually start out demanding about $20 million, and eventually settle on several million dollars, experts said, adding that any talk of the ransom amount only increases demands.

Lawellin said that it is too early to determine if this kidnapping is the beginning of a new trend or a one-time occurrence. Defence analysts said that the crew was that the quiet of the last few years had made many in the industry complacent.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency charged with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships, has issued a list of what it calls “best management practices,” on ways to avoid piracy.

“To prevent future attacks, ships are advised to follow IMO guidance and best management practices – specifically, to register with MSCHOA, report to UKMTO (The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) office in Dubai acts as the primary point of contact for merchant vessels and liaison with military forces in the region), implement IMO guidance and Best Management Practices, and follow the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC),” Natasha Brown, spokesperson for the IMO told The Media Line.

In the case of the tanker, the crew did not follow the IRTC, which advises ships to stay away from an area called the Socotra gap, a small island off the tip of Somalia that is actually part of Yemen.

“Taking the Socotra gap saves time and fuel so many do it,” Graeme Gibbon- Brooks, CEO of Dryad Maritime, a private maritime security company, told The Media Line. “It is only 74 miles wide and it is a choke pint. It is easier for the pirates to just hang around the center of the channel and take vessels going through. It is extremely unwise to take the Socotra gap.”

Not only did the kidnapped tanker do so, other ships continued to use it even after the kidnapping, he said. The vessel was an easy target because it was slow, low in the water and close to the coast.

“The real problem is that people became far too relaxed,” he said. “What happens next is crucial. Somali piracy had been effectively contained, by naval forces applying pressure. What is most crucial is that the ship not be used as a mother ship,” meaning a launch-pad for further attacks.

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