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Hijacked oil tanker seen as bad sign in piracy crisis

By the CNN Wire Staff
The Greek-flagged MV Irene SL (pictured) is the second major oil tanker in two days to be hijacked by pirates.
The Greek-flagged MV Irene SL (pictured) is the second major oil tanker in two days to be hijacked by pirates.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The ship was ultimately bound for the U.S., official says
  • NEW: If left unabated, piracy can strangle crucial shipping lines
  • The latest occurred about 350 nautical miles southeast of Muscat
  • The tanker's crew numbers 25 people

London (CNN) -- The hijacking of a U.S.-bound oil tanker carrying 2 million barrels of crude on Wednesday marks what one shipping official calls "significant shift in the impact of the piracy crisis," with major oil lines to the West under severe threat.

Pirates seized the MV Irene SL, a Greek supertanker, in the afternoon -- marking the second such incident in two days. They occurred in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean where hijacking have become commonplace in recent years.

The European Union Naval Force said the Irene departed Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates and was destined for the Egyptian port of Suez in the North Arabian Sea when it was attacked. But the force doesn't always report the final destination.

Joe Angelo, managing director of the trade association INTERTANKO, citing the owner, Enesel S.A., said the ship was ultimately headed for the U.S. gulf.

Demystifying modern-day pirates
RELATED TOPICS
  • Pirates
  • Arabian Sea

"The hijacking by pirates of 2 million barrels of Kuwaiti crude oil destined for the U.S. in a large Greek tanker in the middle of the main sea lanes coming from the Middle East Gulf marks a significant shift in the impact of the piracy crisis in the Indian Ocean," Angelo told CNN.

"If piracy in the Indian Ocean is left unabated, it will strangle these crucial shipping lanes with the potential to severely disrupt oil flows to the U.S. and to the rest of the world."

The Wednesday incident took place about 350 nautical miles southeast of the Omani city of Muscat in the North Arabian Sea.

The crew consists of 17 Filipinos, seven Greeks, and a Georgian. A Greek Merchant Marine Ministry spokesman said the ship was carrying 266,000 tons of crude oil.

There has been no communication with the ship, officials from Greece and the European Union Naval Force said.

On Tuesday, the MV Savina Caylyn, an Italian-flagged oil tanker, was headed from Sudan to Malaysia when five people on a skiff launched a "sustained attack" on the tanker with small arms and rocket propelled grenades and then got on the ship.

The naval force also said on Wednesday it received reports that the Golden Wave, a South Korean fishing vessel seized in October off the Kenyan coast, has been released from pirate control.

The condition of the 43 crew members are not known, but the naval force says "they are in need of food, water and medical aid."

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report.