Monday, November 17, 2008

Head of Joint Chiefs 'Stunned' by Pirate Attack on Supertanker

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2008 -- Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said he was shocked by the piracy of a Saudi Arabian supertanker 450 nautical miles off the coast of Kenya in the Arabian Sea.

Mullen, speaking during a Pentagon news conference today, said the Sirius Star was attacked more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya. News reports indicate the pirates have hijacked the ship and are heading for the Somali port of Eyl.

The ship is owned by a Saudi Arabian oil company and flagged in Liberia. Its crew of 25 includes citizens of Croatia, Great Britain, The Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia.

“I'm stunned by the range of it, less so than I am of the size,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The pirates have proven in the past that they are capable of planning and launching attacks on large supply vessels.

“Once the (pirates) have access, they seem to be able to get on and take over, which they've done in this case,” he said.

There are a number of military ships in the area, and American ships and crews have the rules of engagement and the necessary force needed to take on pirates, the chairman said.

The attack comes amid a decrease in the rate of successful pirate attacks on merchant vessels off the coast of Somalia, said officials at the Navy’s 5th Fleet based in Manama, Bahrain. Military and civilian efforts in the region has reduced the percentage of successful piracy attacks from 53 percent in August, to 31 percent in October.

“Our presence in the region is helping deter and disrupt criminal attacks off the Somali coast, but the situation with the Sirius Star clearly indicates the pirates’ ability to adapt their tactics and methods of attack” Navy Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of Combined Maritime Forces, said in a release today.

“One of the challenges that … you have in piracy clearly is, if you are intervening and you capture pirates, is there a path to prosecute them?” Mullen said. “That's something I think the international community has got to answer for the long run.”

While the percentage of successful attacks has dropped the overall number of incidents still causes the chairman concern. “We're going to continue to have bring pressures on these pirates,” he said.

(Report by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service.)

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