S. Korean warship catches up with hijacked tanker

0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily via Agencies, April 7, 2010
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A South Korean navy destroyer caught up with a hijacked supertanker carrying about $160 million of crude oil and was maneuvering nearby in the Indian Ocean, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

South Korean-operated, Singapore-owned Samho Dream supertanker is seen in this undated handout. [Agencies]

The supertanker, on its way from Iraq to the United States, is believed to have been hijacked by Somali pirates, the latest high-value bargaining chip for the sea bandits. Similar seizures of oil supertankers in the waters off the coast of lawless Somalia have yielded ransoms as high as $5.5 million.

South Korea's navy received a call Sunday from the South Korean-operated 300,000-ton Samho Dream saying three pirates had boarded it and then lost contact.

At the time, the tanker was about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) southeast of the Gulf of Aden. It has 24 crew -- five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos. South Korea quickly diverted a navy destroyer from anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden to pursue the hijacked tanker.

The destroyer caught up and began operating near the hijacked supertanker as of early Tuesday South Korean time, which was late Monday where the ships were operating, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The tanker was sailing toward Somalia's coast, the ministry said. It declined to offer further details, including the exact location of the tanker and destroyer, citing operational security and safety concerns.

South Korea's navy said that the destroyer is armed with a Lynx helicopter, 40 ship-to-ship and ship-to-air missiles and artillery. About 300 sailors and marines, including a 30-member search and inspection team, are aboard the warship, according to the navy.

A maritime analyst doubted the South Korean warship would launch an assault on the pirates believed to be holding Samho Dream because such action would put the crew at great risk. Its highly volatile cargo prevents crews from carrying guns on board or even lighting cigarettes while on deck.

"The reason why an assault is extremely hazardous is you have to be able to suppress the pirates and take control back as fast as possible. If you don't take control fast, there is a greater risk to the crew," said Graeme Gibbon Brooks of Dryad Maritime Intelligence in Britain.

Previously, when Somali pirates have captured supertankers, naval forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden have only moved close to the pirate lairs where the vessels have been anchored to monitor them until they are released.

This was the case when a Greek-flagged oil supertanker was seized in November last year and a Saudi supertanker was hijacked in November 2008.

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