Bloomberg News

Million-Barrel Tanker on Fire off Yemen After Grenade Attack

July 06, 2011

(Updates with use of grenade in first two paragraphs.)

July 6 (Bloomberg) -- A tanker carrying about 1 million barrels of fuel oil is on fire off the Yemeni coast after pirates used a rocket-propelled grenade to attack the ship in a maritime corridor handling about 20 percent of world trade.

The 274-meter (900-foot) Brillante Virtuoso was going to China from Ukraine, said Andreas Louka, legal adviser to Suez Fortune Investment Ltd., the owner. A rocket-propelled grenade probably caused a fire in the ship’s accommodation block, Central Mare Inc., the vessel’s manager, said in a later statement distributed by MTI Network.

“Pirates go for targets of opportunity, and if they see a ship and it’s clear they have a chance, they will go for it regardless of size,” said Jakob Larsen, a maritime security officer at the Bagsvaerd, Denmark-based Baltic and International Maritime Council, which represents the owners of about two- thirds of the global fleet.

Pirates attacked a record number of ships worldwide in the first quarter, taking 344 sailors hostage and killing seven, data from the London-based International Maritime Bureau show. Average ransom payments rose to $5.4 million last year, compared with $150,000 in 2005, according to Louisville, Colorado-based One Earth Future Foundation, a non-profit group.

Unarmed Guards

The ship is being towed by two tugs and there is no risk of a spill, Louka said by phone from Athens today. The 26 Filipinos were rescued from a life-raft by the USS Philippine Sea, a guided-missile cruiser, the Combined Maritime Forces said in an e-mail.

The Brillante Virtuoso was attacked overnight London time as it approached the port of Aden to collect unarmed guards, Louka said. The fire is in the accommodation block of the ship, known as a suezmax and with a carrying capacity of 149,601 deadweight tons, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Suezmaxes are the biggest tankers that can navigate Egypt’s Suez Canal while fully laden.

It would be the first attack on a suezmax in the region since June 11, said Cyrus Mody, the London-based manager for the IMB, whose Piracy Reporting Centre has monitored incidents since 1991. That incident was unsuccessful, he said. A total of 142 attacks were reported worldwide in the first quarter, the most for the period since at least 1991.

If it were an attack by pirates and they started the fire, it would be the first such incident, said Harrie Harrison, a spokesman for European Union Naval Force, or EU Navfor. The group has yet to confirm pirates were involved, he said.

Distress Call

The crew issued a distress call saying they were under attack by pirates, the Combined Maritime Forces said in its statement. When the Philippine Sea arrived at the Brillante Virtuoso it found no pirates and rescued the crew, the CMF said. The 25-nation maritime coalition patrols the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Somali Basin, Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf.

As many as 25,000 ships sail through the Gulf of Aden a year, Giles Noakes, head of security at the Baltic and International Maritime Council, said in January. Including a wider stretch of the Indian Ocean where the pirates also operate, as many as 40,000 are at risk, he said.

EU Navfor estimates 20 percent of world trade passes through the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Somalia. Ships use it to get to the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea. It is the fastest crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

--Editors: Dan Weeks, Claudia Carpenter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michelle Wiese Bockmann in London at mwiesebockma@bloomberg.net; Alaric Nightingale in London at anightingale@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alaric Nightingale at anightingal1@bloomberg.net


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