NAIROBI, Kenya – Somali pirates seized a tanker carrying crude oil from Saudi Arabia to the United States in the increasingly dangers waters off East Africa, an official said Monday, an attack that could pose a huge environmental or security threat to the region.
The Greek-owned Maran Centaurus was hijacked Sunday about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) off the coast of Somalia, said Cmdr. John Harbour, a spokesman for the EU Naval Force. Harbour said there were 28 crew members on board the 300,000-ton ship.
Pirates have increased attacks on vessels off East Africa for the millions of dollars of ransom that can be had. Though pirates have successfully hijacked dozens of vessels the last several years, Sunday’s attack appears to be only the second ever on an oil tanker.
In November 2008, pirates hijacked the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star, which held 2 million barrels of oil valued at about $100 million. The tanker was released last January for a reported $3 million ransom.
Pirates now hold about a dozen vessels hostage and more than 200 crew members. The Maran Centaurus had 28 crew aboard — 16 Filipinos, nine Greeks, two Ukrainians and one Romanian.
Piracy has increased despite an increased presence by international navies patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. The U.S. this fall began flying sophisticated drones over East African waters as part of the fight against piracy.