“On this day in 2008, the oil tanker MV Sirius Star became the largest ship ever captured when it was hijacked by Somali pirates southeast of the Kenyan coast.
The double-hulled very large crude carrier, or VLCC, is one of 24 tankers owned and operated by Vela, a United Arab Emirates-based subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian state oil company, Saudi Aramco. The colossal Sirius Star is more than 300 metres long and can carry 2.2 million barrels of crude oil, making it a lucrative target.
In November of 2008, Sirius Star was en route from Saudi Arabia to the United States via the Cape of Good Hope. On board were 25 crewmen and tanks fully loaded with 2 million barrels of oil, more than one-quarter of Saudi Arabia’s daily oil production output. The ship alone was estimated to be worth US$150 million, and its cargo at least US$100 million. On Saturday, 15 November, at around 10 in the morning, as the ship passed some 450 nautical miles southeast of the coast of Kenya, a group of Somali pirates hijacked the oil tanker. It was a stunningly brazen and unprecedented attack–the farthest out to sea Somali pirates had struck, and the largest vessel they had hijacked. The pirates turned the ship to shore and anchored it at the Somali port of Harardhere. The next day, they opened ransom negotiations with Vela. On 20 November, the pirates demanded a US$25 million cash ransom, to be delivered to the Sirius Star within a 10-day deadline. As the BBC reported at the time, pirate Mohamed Said stated, “”We do not want long-term discussions to resolve the matter. The Saudis have 10 days to comply, otherwise we will take action that could be disastrous.”” By 24 November, the pirates had reduced their ransom to US$15 million.
After a series of tense negotiations, US$3 million in ransom was dropped by parachute aboard Sirius Star and the ship was freed. All 25 crewmembers–19 Filipinos, two Britons, two Poles, one Croat, and one Saudi Arabian–were let go, unharmed. The tanker sailed back to the port of Fujairah in the UAE and its crew was replaced before it continued on its journey to the US.
The hijacking was one of several attacks on oil tankers in the region, including the MV Faina, Samho Dream, Maran Centaurus, and the Irene SL. It also came weeks after naval forces from NATO, Russia, and India, had stepped up patrol efforts in the Horn of Africa region in response to the MV Faina hijacking seven weeks earlier.
Lieutenant Nate Christensen after the attack, the spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet admitted, “”The hijacking was shocking because it highlighted the vulnerability of even very large ships and pointed to widening ambitions and capabilities among ransom-hungry pirates who have carried out a surge of attacks this year off Somalia. To attack so large a vessel and so far south of Somalia presents a nearly impossible security problem for the anti-piracy naval task force.”””
Credit: U.S. Navy Photo
Caption: The MV Sirius Star on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 anchored off the coast of Somalia.