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Friday, July 8, 2011

New dimension in the piracy threat – tanker Brillante Virtuoso fired at.

The threat of piracy is looming large and there are many new dimensions of this ugly aggression.  In the past few years there are many reported incidents of attacks  by Somali Pirates who had captured vessels, kept them under their custody demanding huge ransoms for months together – the ship owners paying ransom and securing release of the ship and its crew.  

If one had thought that the aim of these unorganized thugs is only plundering money and the threat to the vessel is not so real as they might not destroy, then the thinking is flawed !

Ancient Somalis are credited with the domestication of camels and in the earlier days, Somalia developed lucrative trade network connecting Egypt, Greece, Persia and Roman empire.  They reportedly used maritime vessels known as beden to transport their cargo.  The Bedens are considered as the longest surviving sewn ship in East Africa.  An average Beden ship measures 10m or more and is strengthened with a substantial gunwale, and they reportedly use stone anchors to prevent their ships from being drawn to the shore when fishing.  Sewn boats are clinkered i.e., a method of fixing wooden planks, iron plates that the planks overlap along their edges.  

From pioneers to boat construction to plundering pirates – a journey of misguided youth of the Nation due to economy, politics, poverty,  geography and many other social factors !!!

Most of the vessels that pass by the Gulf of Aden are tankers  due to its location in the Arabian Sea  closer to the important canal shipping route of Suez.  Due to the cargo that is carried in these vessels – crude oil – they are sitting ducks and are potentially explosive and extremely dangerous.   In a recent attack by the Pirates, fire broke out on the oil tanker; though large scale oil disaster stands averted, it certainly has sent chilling message to all involved reminding the dangerous possibilities of oil disaster and oil spill causing huge marine pollution.  

Pirates reportedly  fired a rocket-propelled grenade at oil tanker 900-foot Brillante Virtuoso  off the Yemeni coast, starting a fire aboard the vessel.  The 26 crew members on board the, which was carrying over 141,000 tonnes of fuel oil from Ukraine to Qingdao, China, abandoned ship after pirates.  The pirate's RPG assault is thought to have started a fire in the accommodation area, following which the crew  were forced to abandon their attack and leave the scene.  

The threats are ever increasing as Somali pirate gangs can stay out at sea for long periods using captured merchant vessels as mother ships and have been using Yemen's remote island of Socotra as a refuelling hub.  US Navy claimed to have a navy vessel and two tugs deployed for salvage.  The vessel was being slowly moved towards safety.  There are reports that the fire has been put down,  crew had been rescued from life rafts and reportedly there is no risk of any oil spill.

This is an incident highlighting the violent and ugly face of the pirates who have demonstrated their lawlessless and ruthlessness when it comes to money.  This incident also demonstrates that they would go for the kill irrespective of the size of the vessel.  The vessel Brillante Virtuoso reportedly was a suezmax tanker.   A vessel with  about 1 million barrels of fuel oil on fire could easily be a great marine disaster.   Though a large-scale oil disaster appears to have been avoided, news of the fire on the 1 million barrels tanker will revive security fears on a shipping route that has suffered increasingly bold attacks from Somali pirates.

Suezmax is a naval architecture term for the largest ship measurements capable of transiting the Suez Canal, and is almost exclusively used in reference to tankers.  In places other than high seas, the navigation would be hampered by the draft (maximum depth below waterline), and height due to the Suez Canal Bridge. The current channel depth of the canal allows for a maximum of 20.1 m (66 ft) of draft, meaning a few fully laden supertankers are too deep to fit through, and either have to unload part of their cargo to other ships ("transhipment") or to a pipeline terminal before passing through, or alternatively avoid the Suez Canal and travel around.  The typical deadweight of a Suezmax ship is about 240,000 tons.  Similar terms of Panamax, Malaccamax and Seawaymax are used for the largest ships capable of fitting through the Panama Canal, the Strait of Malacca and Saint Lawrence Seaway, respectively.

With regards
S. Sampathkumar

1 comment:

  1. The only solution to the Somali pirates menace is to have a combined attack on them by all the nations.