Somali pirates attack tanker loaded with oil

Saturday's attack highlights the difficulty international forces face in patrolling the waters off Africa's coast.

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In what may be their most brazen attack yet, Somali pirates hijacked a Saudi supertanker stocked with oil Saturday, the US Navy said today.

The incident raises questions about the ability of international efforts to thoroughly monitor the dangerous waters off Somalia's coast, where such attacks have increased by 75 percent this year. Saturday's seizure is believed to be the biggest ship pirates have nabbed, and the hijacking occurred farther off the coast of Africa than pirates have roamed thus far. Now, "even the world's largest vessels are vulnerable," reports the Associated Press (AP).

The MV Sirius Star, owned by Saudi oil company Aramco but flagged by Liberia, was heading to the Caribbean when it was attacked 450 miles off the coast of Kenya.

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According to the The Times (of London) the ship and its 25-member crew, which includes Britons, Croatians, Poles, Filipinos, and Saudi Arabians, are heading toward an area believed to be a safe haven for pirates.

Bloomberg reports that some news outlets have declared the ship has been freed. But the US Navy says the ship is believed to be heading toward the semiautonomous Somali region of Puntland.

An October New York Times article described one area of Puntland as catering to the piracy industry.

Saturday's incursion comes after a spate of recent attacks – a chemical tanker owned by Japan was also seized Saturday – and 11 ships are currently being held while pirates await ransom monies, CNN reports.

But this attack occurred well away from mulitnational forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden, where the majority of the attacks have occurred, reports the AP.

According to Bloomberg, Saturday's attack signals Somali pirates are willing to take more risks.

The most notable previous attack that pirates launched this year was on the MV Faina, a Ukrainian tanker carrying arms, that was seized in September and is among the 11 still being held. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the attack reinvigorated international efforts.

In a Q&A in The Guardian, reporter Peter Walker discusses the rise in pirate attacks in the region:

According to a September article in The Christian Science Monitor, piracy off Somalia's coast surged in 1991 following the government's collapse, but appeared to be under control as recently as two years ago.

The Times (of London) reports Saturday's hijacking has already had a ripple effect on the price of crude.

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