Pirates who hijacked a Saudi-owned supertanker off the east coast of Africa are reportedly heading towards Somalia.
The US Navy claims the capture of the Sirius star with its full load of crude oil represents an unprecedented escalation in the scale of piracy attacks.
US Admiral Mike Mullen said: “They’re very good at what they do. They’re very well armed. Tactically, they’re very good. And so once they get to a point where they can board, it becomes very difficult to get them off, because, clearly, now they hold hostages.”
The capture of the giant vessel, which carries the equivalent of more than a third of Saudi daily output, took place some 800 kilometres south east of the Kenyan city Mombasa.
With piracy causing havoc off the Horn of Africa, Spain and France signed an agreement earlier this month to try to tackle the problem.
This is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and more than 80 vessels have been attacked by pirates this year.
It is thought around 20 million euros has been paid in ransoms for the release of crews and their ships.