Atul Aneja

Pirates demand $25 million to release supertanker

Piracy forcing shippers to avoid the less-expensive Suez Canal route

Russia is likely to strengthen its naval presence in the area

DUBAI: Somali pirates are demanding a ransom of $25 million for the release of the hijacked Saudi supertanker amid concerns that piracy has begun to hit commercial shipping along the vital Suez Canal route.

“We are demanding $25 million from the Saudi owners of the tanker. We do not want long-term discussions to resolve the matter,” Mohamed Said, speaking on behalf of the pirates, told AFP. Supertanker Sirius Star has been anchored at Haradhere, off the Somali coast.

“The Saudis have 10 days to comply, otherwise we will take action that could be disastrous,” warned Mr. Said. Vela International, a subsidiary of the Saudi Aramco, which has been operating the supertanker, neither confirmed nor denied whether negotiations had commenced.

“Given the sensitivity of the situation and concerns about the safety of the crew members, we are not in a position at this point of time to make any further comment,” a spokesperson of Vela International told The Hindu over telephone.

However, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal said in Rome the owners of the tanker had begun negotiations. The Sirius Star, with a 25-member crew, was hijacked 800 km east off the Kenyan coast on Sunday.

The hijacking has caused ship-owners to demand a more robust response for protection from foreign navies deployed in the area. They point out that signatories to the United Nations Law of Sea Convention are legally obliged to ensure free flow of commerce in international waters.

Piracy is also forcing ship-owners to avoid the less-expensive Suez Canal route, close to the piracy-hit Gulf of Aden. However, it is estimated that taking the longer alternative route around the Cape of Good Hope will cost shippers an additional $100,000 to $500,000. Ships sailing around the South African coast will consume more fuel as well and sail longer by 15-17 days.

Besides, the quantum of international trade is likely to go down as there are less ships available in the world that are seaworthy enough to sail the longer Cape route. Analysts say that insurance premiums for ships are also beginning to climb because of the piracy hazard.

Larger deployment

Meanwhile, the sinking of a pirate “mother vessel” by the Indian Navy on Tuesday is apparently generating fresh interest among foreign navies for larger deployments around Somalia’s waters. Russia is likely to send more vessels to join its one ship in the area, the Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, said a Navy spokesman on Thursday. South Korea said that is planning to deploy a 4,500-tonne warship early next year.

Among the Arab littoral countries of the Red Sea, Yemen has been seeking help from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to counter piracy. On Thursday, representatives from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan and Somalia met in Cairo to discuss ways to combat piracy. So far, around 15 warships from various countries have been positioned to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden.