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Wednesday, January 20, 2010


We live in a civilized world – in a complex society characterised by International trade, urbanism and market capitalism. It is believed that there are powerful Governments in existence and that offenders are punished. Centuries ago, there was a Welshman – Bartholomes Roberts who captured or sunk over 400 ships.

This plunderer was killed by the British and law restored.  When it comes to transporting material in huge quantities – it is the Ship and there are bulk carriers which transport material in bulk (unpacked). An oil tanker, also known as a petroleum tanker, is a ship designed for the bulk transport of oil. Oil tankers are often classified by their size as well as their occupation. The size classes range from inland or coastal tankers of a few thousand metric tons of deadweight (DWT) to the mammoth ULCCs of 550,000 DWT.

Early December 2009, another oil tanker on its way from Saudi Arabia to the US fell victim to Somalian Pirates – hundreds of miles off the coast of Africa. Here are some details of the Greek tanker Maran Centaurus

Ship Type: Tanker
Year Built: 1995
Length x Breadth: 332 m X 58 m
DeadWeight: 299900 t
Speed recorded (Max / Average): 14.1 / 14 knots
Flag: Greece [GR]
Call Sign: SXOT
IMO: 9073050, MMSI: 239696000

It was reported that a gang of nine pirates hijacked the Greek-flagged 300,000 tonne supertanker on Sunday 800 miles (1,287km) close to the Seychelles.

It is touted to be one of the largest vessels seized by Somali pirates, who regularly mount attacks on some of the 20,000 ships that pass through the Suez Canal between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean each year. This attack prompted warnings that the seas from the Suez canal to the Seychelles would soon be too dangerous for insurers to underwrite cargoes passing through the area. The facility of this operation underlines the ease with which pirates can prey on ships far out to sea despite dozens of European Union, Nato and other warships.
Interestingly here is another view of piracy, though not entirely acceptable. It states that Piracy in waters off Somalia did not start with the influx of capital and ideas from a criminal organization, the first Somali pirates were satisfying a basic need. Fishermen faced with a dimishing fishery caused, in part, by pollution of the Gulf Of Aden started catching less fish. This was not the only motivation of early pirates. Supply and demand would have compensated for the decreased stock considering that Somalia currently has the 7th highest birth rate in the world but with grain subsidies to Africa driving down food prices throughout the continent, coupled with the increased cost, mostly fuel related, of operating a fishing boat, the Somali fishermen began having trouble meeting the most basic needs of their families. Soon a few turned to piracy and, once they proved it to be successful, then criminal organizations moved in. ofcourse there would never be any justification of adoption of unethical means even for just ends, and this is no article aimed at teaching ethics.

Worst was store for the owners and operators of the vessel as this vessel known previously as Astro Centaurus, could ill afford any fire fight. Pirates typically use guns and rocket-propelled grenades in their attacks and some vessels now carry private security guards, but according to experts it is not the practice in oil tankers where it is a case of a ship filled with flammable liquid and nobody wants somebody with a gun on top of that. It is feared that even a prolonged delay could cause loss of millions of dollars owing to volatile movement in prices.

Somalia, which has been without a functioning government since 1991, and has been a lawless State - Horn of Africa has become a haven for pirates and insurgents. They held another super tanker Sirius Star with 318000 tonnes was worth a fortune at $ 100 million approx and was released on para drop of reported $ 3 million. A boat filled with pirates capsized after they left the Sirius Star. Five reportedly drowned. One body washed ashore with a plastic bag containing $150,000 (close to 70 lakhs in Indian Rupees)in cash. There was another stash in MV Faina.

The recent one beats them all as a jackpot t with a reported ransom of record $6M . It is now reported in BBC and other media that the vessel Maran Centaurus alongwith its crew of 28 were released after the dropping of ranson on board the ship. The tanker was carrying about 275,000 metric tonnes of crude. At an average price of about $75 (£46) a barrel, the cargo is worth more than $20 million. 

These uncouth uneducated robbers operate purely business and not as any political movement and this multimillion dollar pay offs is turning out to be the most lucrative economic activity in Somalia. The pirates are turning more and more sophisticated, ruthless and hard bargainers. The range of the gangs is increased by the use of mother ships from which smaller, faster skiffs with outboard motors launch their attacks.   Just to strengthen their bargaining capacity, they use delay tactics and this vessel was released after 50 day ordeal despite reports of gun battles between factions over sharing the booty.

Though the actual amount would seldom be confirmed there are reports that the Greek warship FS Salamis monitored the situation and there were two helicopters which intervened the dispute between the pirates in sharing. Two planes delivered huge bundles of cash pushed out of the back of one with a parachute – though the brokers also use bank transfers or speed boats sometimes.

The tanker management Maran Tankers Management Inc stated that its crew os 9 Greeks, 16 Filipinos, 2 Ukrainians, and a Romanian — are safe and well. It is also reported that the tanker left Somalia escorted by a Greek frigate and headed towards Durban.

It does not augur well for the Shipping industry or the peaceful countries that the attacks in the region have significantly increased though there is false happiness that the success has gone down owing to strong presence of international forces.

With regards – S Sampathkumar.

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