Pirates Attack Tanker Off Yemen

Pirates Attack Tanker Off Yemen

A tanker carrying about 1 million barrels of fuel oil is on fire Wednesday off the coast of Yemen after pirates used a rocket-propelled grenade to attack the ship in the Gulf of Aden.

The 900-foot Brillante Virtuoso was heading for Qingdao, China, from Ukraine, said Andreas Louka, legal adviser to Suez Fortune Investment Ltd., the owner.

A rocket-propelled grenade probably caused a fire in the ship’s accommodation block, Central Mare, the vessel’s manager, said in a later statement distributed by MTI Network.

The ship is being towed by two tugs and there is no risk of a spill, Louka told Bloomberg news. Twenty-six Filipino crew members were rescued from a life-raft by the USS Philippine Sea, a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser, the Combined Maritime Forces said in an e-mail.

Pirates reportedly attacked the Brillante Virtuoso overnight as it approached the port of Aden to collect unarmed guards, Louka said. The fire is in the accommodation block of the ship, known as a suezmax and with a carrying capacity of 149,601 deadweight tons. Suezmaxes are the biggest tankers that can navigate the Suez Canal while fully laden.

It would be the first attack on a suezmax in the region since June 11, said Cyrus Mody, the London-based manager for the IMB, a Piracy Reporting Center that has monitored incidents since 1991. The June 11 incident was unsuccessful, he said.

A total of 142 attacks were reported worldwide in the first quarter, the most for the period since at least 1991.

This would be the first such incident of pirates attacking a ship and causing a fire, said Harrie Harrison, a spokesman for European Union Naval Force, or EU Navfor. The group has yet to confirm pirates were involved, he said.

The crew issued a distress call saying they were under attack by pirates, the Combined Maritime Forces said in its statement. When the Philippine Sea arrived at the Brillante Virtuoso it found no pirates and rescued the crew, the CMF said. The 25-nation maritime coalition patrols the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Somali Basin, Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.

--Contact Peter T. Leach at pleach@joc.com.