The Future of Piracy (Updated)
We’re beginning to see the future of piracy unfold in the seas south of the Horn of Africa. Somali pirates have captured an oil tanker belonging to Saudi ARAMCO:
JIDDA, Saudi Arabia: Pirates captured a Saudi-owned supertanker loaded with more than $100 million worth of crude oil off the coast of Kenya, seizing the largest ship ever hijacked, United States Navy officials said Monday.
The hijacking follows a string of increasingly brazen attacks by Somali pirates in recent months, but this appears to be the first time that pirates have seized a full oil tanker.
“This is unprecedented,” Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the Fifth Fleet, told Reuters. “It’s the largest ship that we’ve seen pirated. It’s three times the size of an aircraft carrier.”
The attack took place despite an increased multinational naval presence off the Somali coast, where most of the recent hijackings have taken place. The pirates are generally heavily armed, and travel in speedboats equipped with satellite phones and GPS equipment.
I’ve been predicting this unwelcome development for some time. I don’t believe that either the oil-exporting or oil-importing nations can allow this to go unchallenged. To date the pirates have mostly been demanding ransoms for captured ships, crews, and cargoes and the ransoms have grown higher as their prizes have become richer. However, that’s not the only possibility.
If the pirates can seize prizes of this size with impunity, I have little doubt that fences will step up to take the oil itself off their hands. It seems to me that could have serious consequences for the world oil trade itself.
Perhaps we’ll be seeing Saudi naval vessels escorting the country’s own ships soon. The Royal Saudi Navy hasn’t had much of a chance to exercise its abilities, compared to the Army and Air Force, so this might be useful.
As I noted before piracy in the Caribbean and Atlantic was only tamped down by the United States and the United Kingdom in the 19th century with a combination of changes in the law and naval might. If the Saudi navy isn’t up to the task, the world’s great navies may be called on once again.
This AP news update would appear to suggest that the tanker remains in the hands of the pirates:
MOGADISHU, Somalia — A Somali official is vowing to rescue a hijacked Saudi oil supertanker “by using force if necessary.”
Abdullkadir Musa is the deputy sea port minister in northern Somalia’s Puntland region, which is a hotspot for piracy. He says that if the ship anchors anywhere near Eyl — where the U.S. says it’s heading — then his forces will rescue it.
The tanker was hijacked over the weekend. Its owners grappled with how to respond Tuesday, as naval forces patrolling the region said they would not intervene to stop or free the captured vessel.
That would seem to contradict earlier reports that the vessel had been freed, a story which I haven’t seen confirmed anywhere.