Pirates of the Somali basin, early this morning, took their prowess a notch above when they managed to whisk out a chemical/oil tanker right from under the nose of the authorities at the Port of Salalah. The MT Fairchem Bogey (IMO: 9423750; GRT: 15190; Flag: Marshall Island) was at anchorage, barely 4-5 nautical miles from the shore after entering the port in the early hours of August 18.
The Fairchem Bogey was to load 20,000 tonnes of methanol later today and sail out on August 21.
Even though the disease of piracy has forced the Europeans and Chinese to deploy naval assets to safeguard their economic interests, it was only today that this neighbouring port which claims to be a ‘worldclass transshipment hub’ was woken up to the reality of being in a conflict zone. Unfortunately though, the price for this folly is being paid by the hijacked crew of 21 Indians on board the ship.
Latest positions reveal the ship as travelling south-west, towards Somalia and has logged atleast 90 nautical miles since being taken over. As far as the news of this development, which can affect ‘business interests’, it is learnt that it may just be relegated to the cold storage in Omani media.
Sequence of events
According to a source, it was a dhow (Ocean-going trawler) which was used by the pirates to work its way up to the ill-fated ship and hijack it. “For a dhow to be in the anchorage is very normal, unlike in the other ports. That is because, this area sees a lot of unregistered trade which dhows carry out. The reach of these dhows extends from the Gujarat coast in India till the Horn of Africa,” said a source located in Salalah.
However, an alert sailor on watch duty onboard the Fairchem Bogey actually detected something amiss and raised an alarm. “Immediately, the crew hurried to the strong-house or citadel and locked themselves up. From there, they pleaded with the port authorities for help,” the source added. Simultaneously, an unknown number of pirates’ managed to climb onboard the ship. “It was the crew’s misfortune that one or two crew members could not make it to the citadel and were left out. This worked to the pirates advantage as the well-armed bandits apprehended the isolated crew members,” the official added.
A practice followed very religiously is that once even a single crew member falls into the hand of an armed pirate, then all means of using force to secure their fate are withdrawn. This is done to avoid risking the life/lives of the crew member/s.
With that act of apprehending, the fate of the 21 Indians onboard, thus was sealed.
In addition to this, the pirates also got two full hours to force the remaining crew out of the citadel and complete their mission. Once done, the ship charted its course to the Somali badlands. As per information available, the captain of the ship also communicated to the authorities that armed pirates had taken charge of the ship and thus all action be suspended.
Security Level 1
Speaking to a local operator, aware of the inner-workings of the Salalah port, it was understood that despite the proximity to the Somali and Yemeni coast – the springboards of the modern-day piracy – the state of alert at the port was at level one. Effectively, this would translate into a ‘normal’ state of affairs with hardly any enhanced security measures in place. Could this have been averted? “Of course. The authorities here have rather been lax as something as daring as this has never even been conceived,” he stated.
“At present, the authorities are desperately seeking clues on this spectacular raid. Inquiries are being made and rumours mills are working over-time. But the fact remains that they have little or no lead,” added the source.
Helpless in such cases: DG Shipping
In a document accessed, the DGS, which has often attracted flak for being unable to react effectively to this malaise, has admitted that it has virtually no jurisdiction to tackle cases like this even where Indian interests are involved.
The port authorities meanwhile did not immediately offer a comment.