December 23, 2009:
Insurance costs, to cover piracy risk, are adding a dollar more to the cost of oil imported into Kenya. Additional time at sea, to steer clear of pirate infested waters, adds up to another dollar per barrel. Pirates are now operating up to 1,600 kilometers off the northeast coast of Africa, and close to the Straits of Hormuz (where ships exit the Persian Gulf and enter the Indian Ocean). Ship captains on oil tankers are drilling their crews on ways to avoid approaching pirates, and keep them off the ship (usually with fire hoses.) But tankers are more defenseless than most merchant ships, because of their flammable cargo. The pirates often disregard this and fire on the tankers. Gun fire is bad enough, but the pirates sometimes fire RPG rockets at ships. One of these armor piercing projectiles could puncture the hull and set the tanker on fire.
Some 40 percent of the worlds oil shipments pass through the Straits of Hormuz, which comes to about fifteen tankers a day. Oil producing nations, including Iran, have sent warships to join the international anti-piracy patrol, but the growing threat to tanker traffic in the Indian Ocean is causing alarm, and more ambitious plans to guard the straits, as well as the oil routes down the east coast of Africa (and thence west to the Atlantic), are in the works.