Last fall, a tanker with a cargo of 1,731 barrels of propane left the Kenyan seaport of Mombasa. She was the York, a Greek-owned ship with 17 crew members on board. Shortly after leaving Mombasa, two skiffs reportedly tried to attack the ship. And on October 23, pirates succeeded in seizing the York.
A Turkish naval vessel dispatched a helicopter to investigate the report. “The helicopter was able to observe pirates with weapons on board the vessel,” the navy said in a statement, according to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. In addition, the Seychelles, a remote African island nation where the York was headed, was suddenly faced with a shortage of propane, typically used there as cooking gas.
And so the York became one of seven LPG tankers attacked by pirates in 2010.
These high-seas hijackings fit with an alarming rise in piracy on oil and gas tankers, according to the energy news site Platts. The attacks are centered on tanker traffic around the Suez Canal — the Egyptian waterway linking the Mediterranean and Red seas — and carry high costs for shippers.
Crude oil tankers have been particular targets, since they typically reward pirates with the largest ransoms; 43 were attacked last year. Meanwhile, natural gas tankers have been left largely untouched; just one attack each in 2009 and 2010. Still, it’s clear that shippers are looking for alternatives, since securing the seas seems to be too sizable a task. Between 2008 and 2009, cargo from Australia through the Suez dropped 94-percent, as Aussie ships took the Cape of Good Hope to the Atlantic, according to Platts.
Meanwhile, the York’s tale ended with limited peril for the crew. On March 10, after 138 days of captivity, the ship was released for an unknown ransom. And in a curious endnote: As the York returned to Mombasa, it picked up the crew of a sinking vessel, which had also been targeted by pirates.