Processing Magazine

Somali pirates hijack tanker carrying $20 million US-bound oil

December 1, 2009
According to the Associated Press, Somali pirates hijacked a U.S.-bound supertanker carrying $20 million in crude. The Greek-flagged tanker — traveling from Saudi Arabia to New Orleans — had no escort when it was hijacked because naval warships are stretched too thin. The problem has been further exacerbated because pirates have expanded their operations to hundreds of miles out at sea. The hijacking, one year after seizure of a Saudi supertanker led to heightened international efforts to fight piracy off the Horn of Africa, has highlighted the difficulty of keeping ships safe in the region — particularly oil tankers. While some ships traveling in the region have been outfitted with high pressure water guns and piercing noisemakers to repel pirates, even this is shunned on oil tankers for fear of triggering a response from pirates armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades. There is also the threat that an accident or gunfight could lead to a leak that would devastate thousands of miles of ocean or coastline. Twenty percent of global shipping — including eight percent of global oil shipments — is funneled into the narrow, pirate-infested Gulf of Aden that leads through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. The route is bordered on one side by the failed state of Somalia and on the other by the increasingly unstable country of Yemen. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says about 5 percent of daily oil shipments pass down the east African coast and around South Africa''s Cape of Good Hope, which is where the Maran Centaurus appeared to be headed. The Maran Centaurus is carrying around 275,000 metric tons of crude, which at current market rates means the oil would be worth just more than $20 million. The vessel is only the second oil tanker captured by Somali pirates.