At 8:30 am Arabian Standard Time (0730 GMT) on the 16th March 2011 the Indonesian owned and flagged general cargo ship, MV Sinar Kudus was sailing west towards the Gulf of Aden, with a cargo of 8,300 tonnes of ferronickel from Indonesia bound for Rotterdam. She was  approximately 320 nautical miles North East of the island of Socotra in the Somali Basin, and equidistant (ESE) from Salalah, in Oman, when she was attacked and boarded  by between 30 and 50 Somali pirates, who rapidly took control of the ship (Somali reports say that 52 pirates boarded the ship). The Sinar Kudus was registered with MSC(HOA) and was reporting to UKMTO, her actual position was 14 21 N 059 25E.

The pirates used the hijacked Iranian fishing vessel, the FV Morteza as a mothership from which to launch the attack on the Sinar Kudus.  The Morteza  had its original crew of 14 Iranians on board, having been itself hijacked about the 22nd of January 2011; NATO spotted it at 15 03N and 06230E on the 22nd March.On the 26th March the FV Morteza was sunk by the Indian warship INS Suvarna, operating with the Coast Guard ship Sangram, west of the Lakshadweep Islands; in that operation 16 crew members — 12 Iranians and four Pakistanis — were rescued after they abandoned ship and 16 pirates were also apprehended. The pirates had been threatening the MV Maersk Kensington.

FV Morteza

The Sinar Kudus is a modern ship, built in 1998/99 by Shin Kochijyuko Co. Ltd. of Japan and owned by PT. Samudera Indonesia, TBK of Jakarta.  She is a small vessel of 8,911 dwt, 106 metres in length, her IMO no. is 9162507, and her service speed is just over 12 knots.

Her relatively low speed, and low freeboard made her a natural target. Her bridge and accommodation decks form a single unit with the funnel stack, and external stairways run up the aft and port and starboard sides of the accommodation decks, giving easy access to the bridge. She also appears to lack an aft radar or CCTV, and therefore would have had difficulty in detecting attacking skiffs approaching from the stern.

The twenty Indonesian crew would have been unable to resist the large number of armed pirates and after initial reports to the authorities the crew quickly surrendered.

All of this was unremarkable and the Sinar Kudus and her crew appeared destined to join the over forty vessels and 600 hundred plus seamen, currently held off the Somali coast, nothing remarkable in that, and the private worries of the families in Indonesia would not be reported in the international media. The shipowner and the insurers would then start a well-rehearsed process of ransom negotiations with “Ali” or “Ahmed”.

However, the Sinar Kudus was destined to undertake one of the most remarkable cruises of any mothership, even though no other vessels were taken. Within twenty four hours of being taken, at 0612 GMT (0812 Arabian Std. Time) on the 17th March, she was used to launch an unsuccessful attack on the MV Emperor at position 16 15 N 060 26 E, other 100 nm north of the position where she had been hijacked. A skiff with five pirates was launched and attacked the MV Emperor, but armed guards on the Emperor successfully protected their ship. The Sinar Kudus then proceeded north sailing along the coast of Oman. On the 18th at 0608 GMT she was at 20 27 N 060 57E and by 1550 GMT on the same day she was at 22 32N 060 43E, when she then changed course NNW into the Gulf of Oman. By 0257 on the 19th March she was at 24 10N 060 12E, in a position to control the shipping lines from the Strait of Hormuz. By 0630 GMT the Sinar Kudus was about fifty nautical miles NE of Muscat at 24 23N 060 02E well within the Gulf of Oman and much closer to the Persian Gulf than any pirate mothership had ever ventured before. At that point every ship entering and leaving the Persian Group was potentially within range of a potent pirate group. But having reached this position the pirates soon changed course, taking the Sinar Kudus south east, and by 1112 GMT on the 20th March she was at 19 56N 063 22E, about 260 nm east of Masirah Island.

(c) Dryad Maritime Ltd. 2011

She then changed course again, heading south west towards Socotra Island, by 0746 GMT on the 21st March she was at 17 17N 060 26E, and by 0550 GMT on the 21st March she was at 14 20N 057E, near the position where she had been hijacked on the 16th March. By 1938 GMT on the 22nd March she was still steaming South West and was just east of Socotra Island at 12 35N 055 17E, and reports indicate that she finally anchored off Hobyo, where more pirates boarded and she then set off to sea again.

While other pirate groups have operated near the Gulf of Oman, including the group that hijacked the MV Samho Jewelry on the 15th January 2011 at 22 00N 064 00E, about 350 nm south east of Muscat (the ship was retaken by South Korean commandos) and the group that hijacked the M/V Charelle in June 2009 south of Sur, Oman, this is the first time that any pirate vessel has sailed so close to the Straits of Hormuz and is a potential game-changer for the authorities in the area. The Gulf of Oman is a natural funnel and all the oil tankers and gas carriers leaving the Persian Gulf (carrying around 40% of the world’s traded oil and an important part of the UK gas supplies) have to transit it before entering the Arabian Sea.

If this voyage is a harbinger of future pirate activity the authorities in the area will need to consider establishing a conveying and protection system similar to that operating in the Gulf of Aden and this will put further pressure on shipowners to comply with best management practices (BMP3) and to undertake the protective measures that Idarat Maritime continues to urge on them (www.water-dragon.biz ). It is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of this short and dangerous pirate cruise, by over fifty Somali pirates virtually to the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz, if we do not respond the next thing tourists on the beaches of Fujairah, UAE, will be seeing will be pirate attacks, rather than people on jet skis.

I would like to thank Dryad Maritime Ltd. (www.dryadmaritime.com ) for the position reports of the MV Sinar Kudus.

©Idarat Maritime Ltd. 2011, not to be reproduced without permission.