MOGADISHU/NAIROBI Somali pirates have hijacked a Greek-owned oil tanker carrying close to a million barrels of crude oil while in the Arabian Sea, the first successful attack on an oil tanker off the Horn of Africa in more than a year.
A pirate who identified himself as Ahmed told Reuters the MT Smyrni had been diverted towards Somalia's lawless coastline.
The vessel's manager, Dynacom Tankers Management, said it had lost contact with the crew of the Suezmax-class tanker following the attack off Oman at 1115 GMT on Thursday.
"It is now heading to one of our bases," Ahmed told Reuters by phone from a pirate lair in Hobyo.
Based on the course and speed of the vessel's advance, the tanker will reach Hurdiyo in Somalia around midday on Saturday, an industry source said.
The Suezmax tanker loaded around one million barrels of crude in Turkey - worth close to $115 million dollars at current prices - and was on its way to Indonesia.
Shipping records show the cargo aboard the Liberia-flagged vessel is owned by Azeri state oil firm Socar, although this could not be confirmed by the firm.
Both Socar and the vessel's owner Dynacom declined to comment further on the details of the vessel's voyage.
London-based International Maritime Bureau said the attack involved 10 pirates in two skiffs armed with automatic weapons and that they managed to board the ship on a second attempt after their first attack was thwarted.
It added that the ship had 26 crew members, but could not confirm their nationalities. Earlier, a Kenya-based piracy expert said the crew numbered around 17 and were from India Philippines and the tanker was headed for the Somali coastline.
"We believe it will be heading towards Somalia currently, because that is where the pirates will take it and anchor it," Cyrus Mody, an IMB spokesperson, told Reuters.
IMB said a second tanker was attacked on Wednesday by pirates firing rocket propelled grenades but the assault was thwarted. The attack occurred about 350 miles east of Socotra, an island lying between Yemen and Somalia's lawless coastline.
OceanUSlive.Org, a social networking site for the maritime industry, said there had been a spate of attacks in the Arabian Sea in the past few days after a lull in pirate activity.
The hijack success rate for Somali pirates has dropped sharply in recent months, due in part to more merchant ships turning to armed security guards, razor wire and water cannons to protect themselves.
In its statement, Dynacom did not say whether the Smyrni was carrying private security personnel.
Seaborne gangs have raked in an estimated $150 million in ransoms in what has become a highly organized, international criminal enterprise, security analysts say.
Somali pirates in December released an Italian-owned Aframax oil tanker, smaller than the Suezmax, after receiving an $11.5 million payment. The Savina Caylyn was seized in February, 2011.
Despite successful efforts to quell attacks in the Gulf of Aden, international navies have struggled to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea owing to the vast distances involved.
(Writing by Richard Lough; additional reporting by Jessica Donati and Julia Payne Editing by Maria Golovnina)