Somali Official Vows to Rescue Hijacked Supertanker 'By Force If Necessary'

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The pirates who seized a Saudi oil supertanker in a brazen hijacking dropped anchor near a Somalia fishing village as a Somali official vowed to rescue the vessel and "use force if necessary."

The ship anchored near the impoverished village of Harardhere, a pirate stronghold some 265 miles by land from Eyl, where the U.S. Navy believes the ship is heading.

Abdullkadir Musa, the deputy sea port minister in northern Somalia's Puntland region, said that his forces would rescue the ship if it anchored anywhere near Eyl.

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Musa's comments came as the Somali pirates who hijacked the tanker over the weekend have begun to negotiate with the vessel’s owners and have taken the ship toward Eyl, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday.

The Saudi-owned Sirius Star, which was carrying two million barrels of oil valued at $100 million was captured with its multi-national crew, including two Britons, 450 miles off the coast of Kenya on Sunday.

The owners of the ship, which was hijacked over the weekend and is believed to contain about $100 million in oil, grappled with how to respond Tuesday, as naval forces patrolling the region said they would not intervene to stop or free the captured vessel.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called the hijacking "an outrageous act" and said "piracy, like terrorism, is a disease which is against everybody, and everybody must address it together."

Speaking during a visit to Athens on Tuesday, he said Saudi Arabia would join an international initiative against piracy in the Red Sea area, where more than 80 pirate attacks have taken place this year.

He did not elaborate on what steps the kingdom would take to better protect its vital oil tankers. Saudi Arabia's French-equipped navy has 18,000-20,000 personnel, but has never taken part in any high-seas fighting.

"All 25 crew members are reported to be safe and the vessel is fully laden," said a spokesman, adding that a response team was established to ensure the safe release of the ship and its crew.

It remains under the control of pirates, a spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet said. However crew members are "remaining safe", according to the ship's operating company Vela International.

The 318,000 ton tanker, three times the size of an aircraft carrier, is not only the largest ship yet to be hijacked by increasingly audacious pirates, but the furthest out to sea than any previous attacks.

Adm. Michael Mullen, the U.S.' top military officer in the region said he was "stunned" by the reach of the Somali pirates.

"I'm stunned by the range of it, less so than I am the size," said Mullen. The pirates are "very good at what they do. They're very well armed. Tactically, they are very good," he said.

Its capture raises fears that international patrols nearer the coast and in the Gulf of Aden will not be enough to protect vital trade routes as pirate gangs become ever more audacious.

Sirius Star, which is owned by Saudi giant oil company Aramco, carried 25 crew members from Croatia, Britain, Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia, according to a U.S. Navy statement.

The South Korea-built ship, launched earlier this year, is registered in Liberia.

NATO said Tuesday it had no immediate plans to intercept the hijacked Saudi supertanker.

Two vessels — the Greek frigate HS Themistokles and the Italian destroyer ITS Durand — are escorting cargo ships chartered by the World Food Program to carry food aid from Mombasa to Mogadishu. The British frigate HMS Cumberland is conducting deterrence patrols in the Gulf of Aden, where it was engaged in a firefight last week with pirates attempting to hijack a Danish ship.

The vessels have been dispatched to the region under a U.N. mandate to escort vessels chartered by the World Food Program to Somali ports, and to conduct patrols designed to deter pirates from attacking merchant ships transiting through the Gulf of Aden.

"NATO's mandate is not related to interception of hijacked ships outside the patrol area," Appathurai said. "I'm not aware that there's any intention by NATO to try and intercept this ship."

The Times of London and Associated Press contributed to this story.