Pirates Yet to Set Ransom for Saudi Supertanker

Somali pirates holding a Saudi supertanker loaded with crude oil say the ship owner has not contacted them and that they have not yet set a ransom.

A pirate spokesman called Daybad, who only gave one name when he spoke to the British Broadcasting Corp. late Monday, said only intermediaries had contacted them about the supertanker but that they were not reliable.

"We captured the ship for ransom, of course, but we don't have anybody reliable to talk to directly about it," Daybad said. The captain of the Sirius Star, Marek Nishky, told the BBC he and his crew have no complaint and have been allowed to talk to their families.

Somali pirates seized the Sirius Star on Nov. 15 in their most audacious hijacking to date. The vessel is carrying 2 million barrels of crude oil worth about $100 million.

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Somali clan elder Abdisalan Khalif Ahmed told The Associated Press that the supertanker has moved farther from the coastal town of Harardhere. Ahmed said it was moved Sunday to about 28 miles from its earlier location, putting it about 30 miles off the coast of Harardhere.

"Perhaps (the) pirates are afraid the Islamists in town will frustrate their efforts to re-supply the ship," the elder said, referring to Friday's threat by an extremist Islamic group to fight the pirates because they seized a vessel owned by a Muslim.

Ahmed, however, added that the Islamic group — the al-Shabab — had a presence in Harardhere for a while and have not had any problems with pirates who also live in town.

"At the moment, there is no problem between them," Ahmed said.

Somalia, an impoverished nation caught up in an Islamic insurgency, has not had a functioning government since 1991. Somali pirates have become increasingly brazen recently, seizing eight vessels in the past two weeks, including the Saudi supertanker.

There have been 96 pirate attacks so far this year in Somali waters, with 40 ships hijacked. Fifteen ships with nearly 300 crew are still in the hands of Somali pirates, who dock the hijacked vessels near the eastern and southern coast as they negotiate for ransom.

Shipping officials from around the world have called for a military blockade along Somalia's coast to intercept pirate vessels heading out to sea. The head of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, representing most of the world fleet, said Monday that stronger naval action — including aerial support — was necessary to battle rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia.

But NATO, which has four warships off the coast of Somalia, rejected a blockade.

U.S. Gen. John Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander, said the alliance's mandate is solely to escort World Food Program ships to Somalia and to conduct anti-piracy patrols. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that a blockade of ports was "not contemplated by NATO."

In Nairobi, Kenya, meanwhile, the head of U.S. military operations in Africa said he had no evidence that Somali pirates are connected to al-Qaida. The chaos off the high seas is a reflection of the country's political chaos, he said.

The Africom chief, Army Gen. William "Kip" Ward, was asked about alleged connections between pirates and the terror group.

"I think that's a concern that we all would have," he responded.But, he added, "I do not have any evidence that pirates have links to Al Qaeda."