VLCC attack takes piracy further offshore than ever before
The capture of a laden tanker by three gunmen on Easter Sunday has alerted shipowners to the threat of pirate activity further offshore than ever before.
The 319,430 dwt Samho Dream is understood to be heading for Somalia after being attacked some 900 miles from the coast of Africa as it was sailing from Iraq to the US.
The very large crude carrier, owned by South Korea"s Samho Shipping and registered in the Marshall Islands, was seized close to where a Turkish vessel was hijacked last month.
Details of the weekend attack remain sketchy, with the owner saying little and organisations such as the International Maritime Bureau and EU Navfor still trying to piece together the sequence of events or make contact with the ship that has five South Koreans and 18 Filippinos onboard.
?We do not have a full handle on the situation yet,? said one official who was monitoring events.
A Samho Shipping spokesman told Associated Press that contact with the ship had been lost on Sunday soon after receiving an alert from the captain that the vessel had been boarded by pirates.
Analysts are trying to assess which pirate group has control of the tanker, and how many pirate mother ships may be operating in the waters where the Samho Dream was taken.
Security forces acknowledge that the military presence off the coast of East Africa has driven pirates much further out to sea, with little to protect commercial shipping from the risk of attack in such a vast area.
?If you draw a map of the ocean between India and Africa, it is like looking for a small dot,? said one expert.
South Korea has sent a destroyer that had been on patrol in the Gulf of Aden to intercept the Samho Dream, but such is the distance that it is not expected to catch up with the hijacked tanker for at least a day.
?The government has dispatched our Cheong-hae naval unit to the waters of the Indian Ocean, where the ship hijacked by Somali pirates is assumed to be,? the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.
?The ship is presumed to have been hijacked by Somali pirates,? the ministry said.
Piracy incidents are being reported to the IMB on a daily basis, and with the weather conditions fine and the sea calm, many more attacks are expected in the coming weeks.
Reuters said the cargo of crude oil, estimated to be worth around $170m, was owned by US refiner Valero Energy of San Antonio.
This latest hijack comes a year after the attack on the US-flagged Maersk Alabama containership, which drew worldwide attention to the problem of piracy in the region. Pirates kidnapped the master of the ship, who was later freed after a gun battle and who has now published a book about his capture last Easter.
But despite the outcry that followed that incident, the threat of a piracy attack remains as high as ever.