Pirate attacks forcing shipping companies to change routes

Increasing attacks by pirates off Somalia's coast has many shipping companies rerouting their vessels, forcing them to make much longer trips in an effort to sidestep potentially violent takeovers, industry officials said Friday.

New routes could raise freight rates by 30 per cent, says maritime official

Increasing attacks by pirates off Somalia's coast has many shipping companies rerouting their vessels, forcing them to make much longer trips in an effort to sidestep potentially violent takeovers, industry officials said Friday.

This undated picture taken at an unknown location shows the MV Sirius Star, a huge Saudi oil tanker that has been hijacked by Somali pirates. ((Christian Duys/Associated Press) )
One of the world's biggest shippers, Denmark's A.P. Moller-Maersk, said Thursday it was sending some of its 50 oil tankers around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa rather than navigate the now notorious Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast.

Other shipping companies, including Norway's Frontline Ltd., which transports much of the Middle East's oil to areas around the world, were considering similar moves, said international tanker association Intertanko.

If shipping companies were to direct their vessels around South Africa instead of through the Gulf of Aden en route to the Suez Canal and beyond, there would be a "series of negative repercussions," said the head of the International Maritime Organization, Efthimios Mitropoulos.

Each journey would require an extra 750 metric tons of fuel and emit an extra 2,335 tons of carbon dioxide, Mitropoulos said during a UN Security Council debate on Somalia.

A journey from the Saudi oil port of Ras Tanura to the European port of Gibraltar would double in length and take almost 12 days longer if ships took the route around the Cape of Good Hope, he said. The current route takes tankers into the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean.

Freight rates could initially more than double and eventually settle at about 25 to 30 per cent higher, he added.

Pirates take 8 ships in last 2 weeks

The speculation over the future use of the Gulf of Aden shipping lane comes as eight vessels have been seized in the last two weeks alone — including a massive Saudi supertanker loaded with $125 million worth of crude oil.

Seventeen vessels and more than 300 crew members remain with Somali pirates. They include a Ukrainian ship loaded with weapons.

Pirates dock the hijacked ships near the eastern and southern Somali coast and negotiate for ransom. Although the Saudi ship owners were among those talking with the pirates, no exact figure for the oil tanker's ransom could be confirmed Thursday.

In a rare victory, an Indian warship, the INS Tabar, sank a suspected pirate "mother ship" in the Gulf of Aden and chased two attack boats Tuesday. The Gulf of Aden is one of the world's busiest waterways. Roughly 11 per cent of the world's seaborne petroleum passes through the Gulf of Aden.

But the brazen pirate attacks have continued unabated. The enfeebled Somali government — itself caught up fighting an increasingly successful Islamic insurgency — has been unable to confront the pirates.

The African Union urged the UN on Thursday to speed up sending peacekeepers to Somalia, in an attempt to curb incidents of piracy that have spiralled out of control.

Jean Ping, chair of the African Union Commission, said in Nairobi on Thursday that increasing piracy was "a clear indication of the further deterioration of the situation, with far-reaching consequences for [Somalia], the region and the larger international community."

New sanctions for those involved in Somali violence: UN

The United Nations Security Council, in a bid to curb other violence in Somalia, voted unanimously on Thursday to impose sanctions on anyone engaging in or contributing to violence in the country.

Sanctions against an accused party would include the freezing of assets and a travel ban, although the 15-member council did not define which individuals or entities would be affected. That is expected to be decided later by a sanctions committee.

The British-drafted resolution also targets anyone obstructing delivery of humanitarian assistance to Somalia, where hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes.

"The prime goal of this is ... to stem the flow of arms into Somalia, which is causing such mayhem there," Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawers told reporters.

Somalia has been in virtual anarchy since the collapse of a dictatorship 17 years ago. Islamists now control most of the south. Feuding, heavily armed clan militias hold sway in many other areas and a weak, Western-backed interim government has little authority outside the capital of Mogadishu.

It is unclear how the resolution will affect Somali pirates, although it could be aimed at local officials suspected of aiding the pirates.

Meanwhile, the International Maritime Bureau, an anti-piracy watchdog, advocated for more aggressive action against the well-organized bandits who have attacked 95 ships this year in the Gulf of Aden and hijacked 39 of them.

Besides India, NATO, the United States, Russia and several other countries have warships patrolling on anti-piracy missions off Somalia.

Patrolling NATO warships work to prevent hijackings, but are hampered by lack of a mandate to bring the hijackers to justice. Many European countries also have restrictions on how far their ships can go in engaging the pirates.

"The UN and international community must decide how to solve this grave problem, as it's clearly getting worse and out of control," said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting centre.

With files from Reuters, the Associated Press