In their most audacious attack yet, Somali pirates have hijacked a Saudi supertanker off the coast of Kenya, much farther from their base of operations in the Gulf of Aden than ever before, authorities reported Monday.
"This is unprecedented. It's the largest ship that we've seen pirated," said Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet.
"It's three times the size of an aircraft carrier."The Sirius Star held a cargo of as much as two million barrels of oil -- more than one quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily production .... The hijacking, 450 nautical miles (830 km) southeast of Mombasa, Kenya, was in an area far beyond the Gulf of Aden, where most of the attacks on shipping have taken place.
Somali pirates have increasingly shown signs of getting bolder in their attacks and striking further afield.
U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet Commander Jane Campbell told CNN that the new attack means Somali pirates now roam 1.1 million square miles of seas, a indication of how lucrative piracy has become, she said.
The capture of the Saudi supertanker comes at the end of a busy weekend for pirates. On Saturday, pirates captured a Japanese chemical tanker, taking 23 crew hostage, according to Voice of America (VOA). The hijacking occurred right after pirates released another Japanese chemical tanker. The ship's crew was not harmed.
Pirates still hold 11 ships, reports VOA, including a Ukranian cargo ship containing 33 Russian tanks that they captured in late September in the Gulf of Aden.
Security in the Gulf of Aden, however, has increased since a multinational force of warships carved out a narrow, guarded corridor for ships to safely pass through since August 22.
The multinational force created the shipping channel to better focus its patrols in the vast area. The zone is about 600 miles long and just three to six miles wide. It runs roughly north-south, allowing ships to safely bypass the Somali coast on their way to and from the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.
Ninety percent of all ships traveling through the area have used the guarded corridor; there have been no hijackings inside the security zone since its inception in late August.