Hijacked tanker headed to pirates’ lair

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Hijacked tanker headed to pirates’ lair

The Korean supertanker hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean has entered Somali waters near the pirates’ base but the crew members remain safe, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said yesterday. The European Union Naval Force patrolling the area also issued a statement saying the tanker was in Somali waters.

The Samho Dream, the 300,000-ton ship captured last Sunday, has anchored about 4.5 miles off the coast of Somalia, the Foreign Ministry said in a press release late Wednesday night.

The ship has a crew of five Koreans and 19 Filipinos. It was hijacked about 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) southeast of the Gulf of Aden as it headed from Iraq to Louisiana in the United States, carrying crude oil worth $160 million.

According to the ministry, Samho Shipping Company, the Busan-based operator of the seized ship, has made the first direct contact with the pirates and negotiations for the release of the ship and its crew were expected to begin shortly.

The Korean naval destroyer Yi Sun-sin, which caught up with the Samho Dream Tuesday, continued to keep a short distance from the hijacked ship. The ministry said the pirates warned that if the destroyer got any closer to the tanker, the safety of the crew members would be at risk.

The ministry said the Samho Dream’s captain also asked the Yi Sun-sin not to engage the pirates.

Yesterday, the European Union Naval Force Somalia reported that the Samho Dream had arrived off the coast of Somalia and that it was monitoring the situation. In a phone interview with the JoongAng Daily, the force’s spokesman John Harbour said the pirates were “heavily armed” and they normally carried automatic weapons. Harbour said he didn’t think negotiations for ransom had begun yet.

“The main thing is the pirates have contacted the owner to confirm that the crew are well, to let them know that they have the ship and to let them know that they would like negotiations to start,” Harbour said.

Somali pirates, meanwhile, continue to attack foreign vessels. The EU Naval Force said yesterday pirates hijacked a Turkish vessel with a crew of 25 yesterday off the Kenyan coast.

In another incident, a crew member taken hostage on the hijacked Indian cargo ship Faize Osamani drowned after the ship was used to attack another vessel on Wednesday.

The Associated Press said pirates aboard the Faize Osamani tried to attack the MV Rising Sun, which sent a distress signal picked up by U.S. and Omani forces. A warship from Oman arrived, and nine hostages jumped overboard to escape the pirates.

According to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, one hostage drowned and the other eight were rescued.

By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
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