The oil-laden Saudi super tanker hijacked this weekend by Somali pirates is anchored off the Somali port of Haradhere, an official from the nearby northern breakaway state of Puntland told AFP Tuesday. (UPDATED)
Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade, an advisor to the president of Somalia’s breakaway state of Puntland, said The Sirius Star was now off the coast at the pirate lair of Harardhere, some 300 kilometers (180 miles) north of Mogadishu.
"We have been receiving some information and we now know that the ship is anchored near Harardhere," Qabowsade told AFP.
The biggest act of piracy yet by the marauding Somali bandits was condemned by Saudi Arabia with its foreign minister calling piracy a growing "disease" and experts saying few ships are now safe in the Indian Ocean.
On Saturday, pirates operating off the coast of Kenya or Tanzania, at least 450 nautical miles from their homeland seized their biggest prize to date with the Sirius Star, a Saudi-owned supertanker laden with crude oil.
By capturing a crude tanker the size of three soccer fields, ever more daring Somali pirates have defied international naval action and shown that few ships sailing the Indian Ocean can be safe.
"This is incredibly far from Somalia.... It puts a huge ring around Somalia where it isn’t safe for international shipping," said Roger Middleton, consultant researcher for London-based think-tank Chatham House.
Somali piracy, which started years ago with attacks targeting mainly trawlers fishing illegally in Somali waters, has acquired new dimensions over the past two years of violence and lawlessness on the mainland.
The ransom pirates are expected to demand for the 150-million-dollar (120-million-euro) tanker and its 100-million-dollar cargo may dwarf that of the MV Faina, a Ukrainian cargo seized in September and carrying combat tanks destined for south Sudan.
The U.S. navy announced the hijacking on Monday and admitted surprise at the pirates expanded area of operations and range of targets.
"Our presence in the region is helping deter and disrupt crimali coast, but the situation with the Sirius Star clearly indicates the pirates’ ability to adapt their tactics and methods of attack," Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said in a statement.
The attack on the MV Faina had drawn unprecedented international attention to the phenomenon, spurring Western navies into action.
NATO dispatched vessels and European countries joined forces to set up a special unit aimed at securing a corridor for the busy shipping bottle-neck around the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal.
With more than 80 attacks since the start of the year alone, around a third of them successful, operators in the world’s merchant fleet have worried that Somali piracy could start to have a serious impact on world trade.
Egypt, for which Suez Canal fees are a major foreign currency earner, convened a crisis meeting earlier this month, anticipating that shipping companies may start looking at alternative routes.
Although it remains unclear where the Sirius Star was heading, smaller tankers than this one -- a brand new 318,000 deadweight ton Very Large Crude Carrier -- would pay in excess of 250,000 dollars to cross the canal.
The world's largest tug operator, Svitzer, and Norway's Odfjell have already announced they will err on the safe side and route their ships around the Cape of Good Hope from now on despite the cost of the massive detour.
While international naval action has been praised for escorting food aid deliveries to Somalia, experts argue they will remain relatively powerless to stem piracy.
"These pirates are able to operate in deep water, so they’re a needle in a haystack," Nick Davis, head of UK-based Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions, told AFP.
He said even a ship the size of the Sirius Star was relatively easy for pirates -- operating from a mother ship in the area -- to take over once they had approached their target.
The pirates modus operandi is to approach the ship from the stern with two or three speedboats that far outpace their prey and throw grapnels tied to rope ladders to hook the bridge and board.
The 330-metre (1,080-foot) Sirius Star has a crew of only 25, it cruises on auto-pilot most of the time and nobody was likely to have bonboard security. What the ships need to do is be properly protected and ensure that the ships security is sufficiently up-to-date," Davis said.