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Pirates Target Ships in Channel Handling 17% of Oil Trade

Pirates Target Ships in Channel Handling 17% of Oil Trade
The Japanese-owned commercial oil tanker M/V Guanabara sails in the Strait of Hormuz on March 6, 2011. The tanker received assistance from the guided-missile destroyer USS Bulkeley and the Turkish navy frigate TCG Giresun after a report of of piracy and four pirates were detained. Photographer: Anna Wade/US Navy via Bloomberg

Somali pirates, driven north by monsoon rains, will probably attack more tankers navigating the Strait of Hormuz, which handles 17 percent of the global trade in oil, according to AKE Group, an adviser to insurers.

Pirates from the East African country tried to hijack an oil tanker and a container ship as close as 60 miles to the waterway in the past month, according to John Drake, a senior risk consultant at Hereford, England-based AKE. The tankers will be targeted because they generate the most ransom, he said. A secondhand supertanker is worth about $82 million and a cargo of 2 million barrels of oil about $200 million.

Ransom payments have risen 36-fold in five years, averaging $5.4 million a ship, and hijackings reached a record last year, according to One Earth Future Foundation, a non-profit group based in Louisville, Colorado. The raids are adding at least $2.4 billion to transport costs because vessels are being diverted onto longer routes to avoid attacks off east Africa.

“Pirates are making a lot of money from captured oil tankers,” Drake said. “They are the ships that are yielding the most ransoms.”

The strait, connecting the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, is deemed by the U.S. to be the most important chokepoint for oil supply. Shipments through Hormuz accounted for 17 percent of oil traded in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Department. The Middle East is the world’s largest region for loading crude oil.

Hormuz Attacks

The attacks over the past month were the closest ever by pirates to Hormuz of any reported, according to Cyrus Mody, the London-based manger of the International Maritime Bureau. The London- and Kuala Lumpur-based organization has been collating data on attacks since 1992.

“These attacks could be a one-off, or maybe they are testing the waters,” said Mody. “There’s no doubt they have the ability to move around quite significantly.”

As well as monsoon weather conditions, the pirates may be moving nearer to the Persian Gulf to evade naval patrols closer to their own coastline and in the Gulf of Aden, Drake said.

About 30 anti-piracy ships are deployed daily in the region by groups including the European Union and NATO. The European Naval Force patrols about 2 million square nautical miles, or an area 10 times the size of Germany.

Somali pirates have widened the zone in which they operate over the last three years to find easier targets and avoid the warships. They ranged as far south as Madagascar last year and to within about 100 miles north of the Maldives in the east, reports from the IMB show.

Strikes by Somali pirates surged to a record this year, with 154 vessels attacked and 21 hijacked, according to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre.

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