PIRATES who carried out the audacious hijack of a supertanker carrying a $100 million cargo of oil were today expected to demand a ransom of more than GBP6 million.
As the 330-metre Sirius Star lay at anchor off the lawless coast of Somalia after being seized in the Arabian Sea, negotiations between the vessel's owners and the pirates were yet to open.
Officials involved in the release of previous ships said that "electronic monitoring" showed the Somali pirates were hoping to secure $10 million for the safe release of the ship, its two million barrels of crude oil and its crew of 25, which includes two Britons.
More pirates were today expected to board the Star and take the crew ashore and split them into two groups to make rescue attempts more difficult.
Hostages have been well-treated in the past. The tense stand-off outside the port of Eyl, a pirate stronghold, came as two more ships were hijacked in the region, and the Indian navy foiled a third attempt in the Gulf of Aden.
They were the eighth and ninth ships seized in 12 days, a further embarrassment for the international navy that patrols one of the most dangerous shipping channels in the world. An Iranian bulk cargo carrier with 25 crew and a Thai fishing boat with 16 crew were seized off Somalia. The US and other naval forces decided against intervening in the seizure of the supertanker on Sunday.
A major Norwegian shipping group today ordered its tankers to sail around Africa rather than use the Suez Canal, a diversion which adds three weeks and millions of dollars to each voyage.
"We will no longer expose our crew to the risk of being hijacked and held for ransom by pirates in the Gulf of Aden," said Terje Storeng, Odfjell's president.
Somali pirates have seized 36 ships in the past year, among them a Ukrainian ship loaded with arms that is still being held, but never had they seized a vessel as large as the Sirius Star and so far out to sea. The tanker was more than 450 nautical miles south-east of Mombasa, Kenya, far south of the zone where warships have increased their patrols..