Wednesday, November 19, 2008
NATO has no plans to intercept the Saudi supertanker hijacked by Somali pirates since its warships in the area have no mandate to board captured merchant vessels by force, a spokesman said Tuesday. NATO officials have said the hijacking of the 318,000-ton UAE-owned MV Sirius Star on Saturday took place in a part of the Indian Ocean far removed from the area where an alliance flotilla has been operating since last month. The four-ship contingent was dispatched to the region under a U.N. mandate to escort vessels chartered by the WFP to Somali ports, and to conduct patrols designed to deter pirates from attacking merchant ships transiting through the Gulf of Aden. Two warships - the Greek frigate HS Themistokles and the Italian destroyer ITS Durand - are escorting cargo ships chartered by the World Food Program to carry food aid from Mombasa to Mogadishu. A Turkish frigate, the TOG Gokova, and the British frigate HMS Cumberland are conducting deterrence patrols in the Gulf of Aden, where they engaged in a firefight last week with pirates attempting to hijack a Danish ship. The area where the Sirius Star was attacked, located about 520 miles (833 kilometers) southeast of Kenya - closer to Tanzania than Yemen - is far outside the range in which Somali pirates are normally considered a threat.
"This attack took place a thousand miles away from where one would normally expect this type of attack to take place," Alliance spokesman James Appathurai told reporters. "The NATO ships could have intervened to prevent the seizure had they been there ... but what they don't have the mandate to do is to board ships that have already been hijacked to free the crew." "NATO's mandate is not related to interception of hijacked ships outside the patrol area," Appathurai said. "I'm not aware that there's any intention by NATO to try and intercept this ship." Attacks on the 20,000 commercial vessels sailing around the Horn of Africa are up 70 percent this year. The pirates are reported to use some of the $100 million they received in ransom payments to acquire better and faster boats, global positioning systems and satellite phones that help them in locating the merchant ships. A number of shipping companies are said to be considering rerouting their vessels from transiting through the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal, and instead sending them around the Cape of Good Hope. Experts say this is a much longer journey that would add 12-15 days to the trip at a cost of btw $20,000-$30,000 a day to the cost of the journey. The attack on the Sirius Star is not the first time that pirates have targeted an oil tanker. In April, they used rocket propelled grenades in a failed effort to board the Takayama, a Japanese tanker.