Apr 5, 2010 11:38 AM by Katie Durio
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - A South Korean navy destroyer rushed toward a U.S.-bound supertanker believed to have been hijacked by Somali pirates with up to $160 million of crude oil on board, officials said Monday, the latest bold seizure in the Indian Ocean.
Valero Energy Corp., an oil and gas refining company based in San Antonio, said it owns the cargo on board the tanker, but could not confirm the hijacking.
"We've had reports to that effect, but there's been no official confirmation," said Bill Day, a spokesman for Valero. But, he added, "Everything points to that."
The tanker's highly volatile cargo prevents crews from carrying guns on board or even lighting cigarettes while on deck. It was unclear what the warship would do once it reached the tanker since firing on the vessel would risk igniting the oil or leaking it into the sea.
The warship had been in the Gulf of Aden - one of the world's busiest and most dangerous shipping lanes - on anti-piracy operations. The 300,000-ton-class tanker was about 930 miles
southeast of the gulf at the time of the apparent hijacking Sunday, according to the Foreign Ministry. It has 24 crew - five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos.
The warship was ordered to move toward Somali waters where the South Korean-operated tanker was expected to be taken. The destroyer will need a little over a day to catch up to the tanker, ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said Monday.
"We're doing this in cooperation with the ships of our allies," Kim said, declining further comment citing efforts to "ensure the safety of the crewmen and the success of possible
The navy received a call Sunday from the Samho Dream supertanker saying three pirates had boarded, and then there was no more contact, a ministry official said late Sunday. She spoke on
condition of anonymity in line with ministry policy.
The vessel operator said Monday it had lost contact with the ship. "We currently cannot reach the Samho Dream's captain," Cho Yong-woo of Busan, South Korea-based Samho Shipping, told The Associated Press. He said the ship is owned by a Singaporean
The tanker was sailing from Iraq to the U.S. state of Louisiana with its 24 sailors, the ministry said.
The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that officials were coordinating with the Marshall Island-flagged ship's principal, the local manning agency and the
Philippine embassies in Nairobi and Seoul "for the early resolution of the case."
The Samho Dream had no security detail because Somali pirates were believed to be inactive in the area where the tanker was seized - several hundred miles from Somalia, Cho said.
The waters surrounding the Horn of Africa nation, including the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, are known to be among the world's most dangerous. An international flotilla, including warships from the United States, the European
Union, NATO, Japan and China, has been patrolling the area to protect the vital sea lane that links Asia to Europe.
But pirates have also shown an ability to strike farther afield, on the high seas.
In November, a Greek-flagged oil supertanker, traveling from Saudi Arabia to New Orleans, was hijacked in open water, hundreds of miles off the Somali coast. It was traveling with no escort
because warships patrolling the dangerous waters were stretched too
thin. It was eventually freed after a $5.5 million ransom was paid.
In November 2008, a Saudi tanker's hijacking led to heightened international efforts to fight piracy off the Horn of Africa. A $3 million ransom secured the return of the ship.
The Samho Dream can carry approximately 260,000 tons of crude oil, said an employee at Samho Ship.