A South Korean navy destroyer ispursuing an oil supertanker believed to have been hijacked bypirates in the Indian Ocean off Somalia, officials said, in thelatest case of suspected piracy that has plagued internationalshipping.
The tanker was believed to be carrying more than $150 millionworth of crude oil.
The warship had been in the Gulf of Aden on anti-piracyoperations and was ordered to move toward the South Korean-operatedtanker's expected location in Somali waters nearly 1,000 miles(1,500 kilometers) southeast, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said.
The South Korean destroyer will need a little over a day tocatch up to the tanker, ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun saidMonday.
"We're doing this in cooperation with the ships of ourallies," Kim said, declining further comment citing efforts to"ensure the safety of the crewmen and the success of possiblenegotiations."
The navy received a call Sunday from the Samho Dream supertankersaying three pirates had boarded, and then there was no morecontact, a ministry official said late Sunday. She spoke oncondition of anonymity in line with ministry policy.
The vessel operator said Monday it had lost contact with theship. "We currently cannot reach the Samho Dream's captain," ChoYong-woo of Busan, South Korea-based Samho Shipping, told TheAssociated Press. He said the ship is owned by a Singaporeancompany.
The tanker was sailing from Iraq to the U.S. state of Louisianawith 24 sailors - 5 South Koreans and 19 Filipinos - on board, theministry said.
The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs said in astatement that officials were coordinating with the MarshallIsland-flagged ship's principal, the local manning agency and thePhilippine embassies in Nairobi and Seoul "for the earlyresolution of the case."
The Samho Dream had no security detail because Somali pirateswere believed to be inactive in the area where the tanker wasseized, Cho said.
The 300,000-ton-class vessel was about 930 miles (1,500kilometers) southeast of the Gulf of Aden at the time of theapparent hijacking, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The Samho Dream can carry approximately 260,000 tons of crudeoil, said an employee at Samho Shipping, who asked not to be nameddue to the sensitivity of the issue.
That would be about 1.9 million barrels, which at current oilprices is worth approximately $160 million.
Valero Energy Corp., an oil and gas refining company based in
San Antonio, Texas, said it owns the cargo on board the tanker, butcould not confirm the hijacking.
"We've had reports to that effect, but there's been no officialconfirmation," said Bill Day, a spokesman for Valero. But, headded, "Everything points to that."
Since 2006, four South Korean vessels have been hijacked bySomali pirates, with some being held for months, though all wereeventually released.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and itslawless coastline is a haven for pirates. Multimillion-dollarransoms have become a way to make money in the impoverished nation.
In one deal involving a hijacked South Korean tuna fishingvessel, eight South Korean hostages were set free along with nineIndonesians, five Vietnamese and three Chinese after a ransom ofmore than $800,000 was paid to a Somali militant group.
Somalia is located along the Gulf of Aden, which connects theRed Sea and the Indian Ocean and is one of the world's busiestwaterways with some 20,000 ships passing through each year.
An international flotilla, including warships from the UnitedStates, the European Union, NATO, Japan and China, has beenpatrolling the area to deal with the attacks that have endangeredthe vital sea lane that links Asia to Europe.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun