DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Somali pirates hijacked a supertanker off the Kenyan coast, seizing the Saudi-owned ship loaded with crude and its 25-member crew, the U.S. navy said Monday.
Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. navy’s 5th Fleet, said the pirates hijacked the Sirius Star — a newly commissioned ship owned by Saudi oil company Aramco — 830 kilometres southeast of Mombasa, Kenya.
He said the pirates were taking the ship to a Somali port of Eyl where hijacked vessels are often held.
Somali pirates have seized several ships off the Horn of Africa coast in the past week, but the latest hijacking — of a tanker the size of an aircraft carrier — marked a dramatic escalation.
The pirates are trained fighters, often dressed in military fatigues, using speedboats equipped with satellite phones and GPS equipment. They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rockets launchers and various types of grenades.
The 330-metre tanker seized Saturday can carry about two million barrels of oil.
Christensen said the Sirius Star was carrying crude at the time of hijacking, but he did know how much. He also had no details about where the ship was sailing from and where it was headed.
The ship was sailing under a Liberian flag. The crew includes citizens of Croatia, Britain, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said there were at least two British nationals aboard the ship, but said he could offer no further details on the vessel or what had happened to it.
The Sirius Star was built in South Korea’s Daewoo shipping yards and commissioned in March.
An operator with Aramco said there was no one available at the company to comment after business hours.
Calls went unanswered at Vela International, the Dubai-based marine company that operated the ship for Aramco.
As pirates have become better armed and equipped, they have sailed farther out to sea in search of bigger targets, including oil tankers.
A NATO flotilla of seven ships, as well as a Russian frigate and Indian vessels, are in the Gulf of Aden to help the U.S. 5th Fleet in anti-piracy patrols and to escort cargo vessels.
The 5th Fleet said it has repelled about two dozen pirate attacks since Aug. 22 in the gulf, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and is one of the world’s busiest waterways with some 20,000 ships passing through it each year.
The Associated Press