Military 'only solution' to piracy, says tanker firm

A more aggressive military approach is the only answer to an escalation of piracy off Somalia, the world's biggest oil tanker company said Friday.

"I think that's the only solution," Martin Jensen, acting chief executive officer of Oslo-based Frontline, told AFP.

He said Frontline, which has 80 tankers, is considering whether to divert its ships from Somalia and the treacherous Gulf of Aden, "if there's no quick international force or situation being applied".

Jensen, whose company has an office in Singapore, said Frontline was holding serious internal talks about whether to avoid the Gulf of Aden but the matter would have to be discussed with owners of the cargo.

"The main consideration, that's the safety of the crew and the ship," he said.

But Jensen added that piracy was not a problem that one company could solve alone, and his preference was for a military approach .

"It doesn't solve anything by diverting," he said.

File photo shows the Italian destroyer ITS Durand de la Penne escorting the merchant vessel Victoria, chartered by the World Food Programme to deliver humanitarian assistance to Somalia

Last weekend pirates seized their biggest prize so far, the Saudi Arabian oil tanker Sirius Star. It was loaded with two million barrels of oil when they attacked it hundreds of miles (kilometres) off the coast of Kenya.

The pirates have demanded a ransom of 25 million dollars, while more than a dozen other vessels are being held in Somali waters by pirates.

In the face of their audacity, Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, called for a land military force to confront the pirates on their home turf.

NATO sent four warships into the Gulf of Aden last month on anti-piracy duties and to escort aid vessels, while a European Union anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia is to begin on December 8.

But the world's navies are struggling to find the right deterrent and any use of force might have little effect, experts say.

Jensen said his ships travelled near pirate-infested Somalia every week and one of them, the Front Voyager, recently had a narrow escape.

"A pirate boat approached but before they got too close the ship was able to get naval assistance," he said, adding that the problem was escalating.

One of the world's biggest shipping lines, Denmark's A.P. Moeller-Maersk, said Thursday it would divert some of its vessels around the tip of South Africa to avoid pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

In a statement, it said ships that are too slow -- or with decks low enough for pirates to scramble aboard -- would "seek alternative routing" around the Cape of Good Hope and Madagascar.

Alternatively, they could join a naval convoy through the Gulf of Aden, if one were available.

Norwegian shipping company Odfjell said on Monday it, too, would choose the longer, more expensive but also safer route around the Cape of Good Hope.

Jensen said the southern route was about 40 percent longer, "so of course that would be quite a cost".

One of the world's largest container shipping firms, Neptune Orient Lines, said it was "closely monitoring events" in the Gulf of Aden but was not planning to reroute ships.

"The relative risk of attack is lower for fast high-decked container ships than it is for slower low-decked vessels such as bulk carriers or tankers," said NOL spokesman Paul Barrett.

He said Singapore-based NOL has comprehensive -- but confidential -- measures in place to protect its crews.

AFP

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