S Korea warship in pursuit of hijacked tanker

April 6, 2010 - 0:0

CAIRO (Los Angeles Times) -- The tanker, the Samho Dream, was sailing from Iraq to Louisiana with a crew of five Koreans and 19 Filipinos when it was hijacked Sunday in the Indian Ocean.

South Korea sent a warship to the Indian Ocean on Monday to pursue Somali pirates who hijacked a U.S.-bound oil tanker in another brazen assault in shipping lanes hundreds of miles off the Horn of Africa.
Korean officials said the hijacked ship, the Samho Dream, is a 300,000-ton tanker, but they gave no indication how much oil was on board when pirates seized the vessel Sunday about 950 miles off the Somali coast.
The ship's owner, Samho Shipping, said in a news conference Monday that officials lost contact with the crew after receiving a distress call late Sunday afternoon. The ship ""did not have any guards on board because we thought the area was not a region of pirate activities,"" said Chun Bok-woo, an official from Samho.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said Korea was coordinating with ""the ships of our allies."" He added that Seoul was working toward ensuring ""the safety of the crewmen and the success of possible negotiations.""
If the Samho Dream was carrying its capacity of oil, the value would be about $160 million. Valero Energy Corp. in San Antonio owns the cargo.
Heavily armed pirates in skiffs and speed boats have for years bedeviled shipping lanes in the violent Horn of Africa, which juts into the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. The bandits had trolled waters close to the Somali coast but recently have ventured farther out to sea to seize larger vessels, such as the Sirius Star, a supertanker hijacked in 2008, and the Maersk Alabama, a container ship whose captain was freed in 2009 when U.S. Navy snipers shot and killed three pirates.
Thursday, a U.S. warship battled bandits in the Indian Ocean, sinking a pirate boat and capturing five gunmen. Europe, Japan, China and the U.S. have increased naval and military flight patrols in the region, which is also home to Al Qaeda-linked groups in Somalia and Yemen. Pirates have attacked hundreds of vessels since 2007 and negotiated an estimated $200 million in ransoms.