Pirates hijack one-fifth of daily U.S. oil imports in one attack

u.s. oil imports

Somali pirates, operating from mother ships, are preying on strategic shipping lanes in the Arabian Sea. Image: CC Pennykall/Wikimedia Commons

Pirates plundered a gigantic treasure Thursday in the form of a supertanker hauling $200 million worth of crude oil. The supertanker Irene SL, en route to the U.S., was hijacked off the coast of Oman. The seizure of the Irene SL is the second in two days in the region and maritime authorities are saying the piracy problem is spiraling out of control.

Somali pirates hit the jackpot

Pirates suspected of being from Somalia commandeered one-fifth of total daily U.S. imports in one hijacking, according to INTERTANKO, an association of the world’s tanker owners. Armed men in skiffs firing rocket propelled grenades overwhelmed the 25-member crew of The Irene SL, a 1,000-foot long tanker that was carrying 270,266 metric tons of oil worth $200 million to the Gulf of Mexico. The Irene SL is the first supertanker to be hijacked since April, when Somali pirates seized the Samho Dream. On Wednesday Somali pirates seized an Italian tanker carrying more than $60 million worth of oil in the Indian Ocean and sailed it toward Somalia. It is not yet known where the Irene SL is heading.

Somali pirates casting a wider net

International navies have been successful at quelling pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia. But the Irene SL was hijacked 1,000 miles from the Somali coast. Piracy emerged off Oman in 2009 as pirates started using mother ships to operate further out to sea. The shipping industry warns that more than 40 percent of the world’s oil supply passes through the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, which doesn’t have the strong naval presence of the Gulf of Aden. Navies have had more difficulty containing piracy in the vastness of the Indian Ocean.

2010 a good year to be a pirate

Pirates hijacked 53 ships and 1,181 crew members in 2010, a record. Most of the vessels were seized off Somalia, according to the International Maritime Bureau. In 2005 the average ransom payment to pirates was $500,000. In 2010, ransom payments were $5.4 million, according the nonprofit group One Earth Future Foundation. Last November Somali pirates collected a record one-time ransom payment of $9.5 million for handing over the Samho Dream. According to the European Union anti-piracy task force, currently at least 30 ships and more than 700 hostages are being held for ransom by pirates.



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