Somali pirates seized a supertanker carrying $100 million worth of Saudi oil Saturday. The ship — which is three times the size of an aircraft carrier — was nearly 500 miles off Africa's coast when it was hijacked in waters patrolled by foreign navies. Its 25 crew members are being held hostage.
The pirates are expected to anchor the supertanker in the Somali port of Eyl on the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, until a ransom can be worked out.
"This is estimated to be more than 100 million dollars' worth of crude oil, and that represents about a quarter of the daily output of Saudi Arabia," NPR's Gwen Thompkins tells Renee Montagne. So it's in Saudi Arabia's interest to get the ship back and get it to its ultimate destination, which is believed to be the United States, Thompkins says.
Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that it will join the international fight against piracy, and Somali officials vowed to try to rescue the hijacked supertanker by force if necessary. But the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, has said the presence of hostages complicates possible military intervention.
Scores of hijackings have been stopped in the Gulf of Aden this year, but there's no way to cover the whole area. Plus, big cargo ships generally don't require large crews, and the crew doesn't usually carry weapons.
"This is dangerous work but isn't particularly hard work for the pirates," Thompkins says.
And the pirates are highly motivated.
"There's no fallback job for them. ... Somalia has fallen apart. There is no real opportunity for people who need to make money," she says.
Many fishing towns along the coast of Somalia have turned into pirate towns. "Men in those towns who used to be fishermen say, 'A woman won't even look at me unless I'm a pirate making a lot of money,' " Thompkins says, and young boys there say they want to grow up to be pirates.