MISC quits Gulf

Two hijackings in ten days have led MISC to call time on its vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden.

The Malaysian owner has said it will not allow any of its ships to enter the pirate-infested waters again “until additional security measures by MISC are in place to enhance the safety of its vessels and crew”.

A spokesperson at the Kuala Lumpur-based tanker owner would not elaborate on the “additional security measures” being mulled but said they were internal measures for all its ships.

The drastic action is in response to the hijacking in the region of the 32,100-dwt chemical tanker Bunga Melati 5 (built 1999) on Friday and its sister vessel Bunga Melati Dua (built 1997) on 19 August.

Sources close to the situation have this week suggested that Somali pirates, believed to be holding both ships off the town of Eyl, are demanding a ransom $4.7m for the release of both Malaysia-flagged tankers.

The MISC spokesperson would not comment on the issue of a ransom but the company’s statement read: “Negotiations are ongoing for the safe release of the crew of MT Bunga Melati Dua."

A further statement released on Tuesday indicated communication has now been established with the ship and "all the crew members are safe and are being treated well".

MISC also said: "All Muslim crew onboard the hijacked vessel are allowed to practice their religious duties during the holy month of Ramadan."

MISC’s decision to block its ships from sailing in the Gulf of Aden is a blow to the nascent Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) set up last week by coalition naval forces in the region. MSPA is essentially a ‘security corridor’ through the gulf which is supposed to be routinely patrolled by naval vessels and helicopters to thwart hijackings.

MISC said the Bunga Melati 5 “kept within the vicinity of the designated security corridor” but was “nevertheless overcome by pirates”.

It is believed the tanker was only a short distance from the Yemeni coast in international waters when it was seized. Coalition forces were informed but apparently arrived too late to prevent the hijacking.

A UN resolution passed in June allows international navies to enter Somali territorial waters to prevent hijacking or recover seized ships. However, there appears a reluctance on the part of any international naval force to do so.

One exception involved the hijacking of the CMA CGM luxury yacht Le Ponant: a ransom was paid for the release of the vessel and its crew but French special force operatives soon swooped in by helicopter to captures some of the pirates and recover some of the ransom money.