Somali pirates are negotiating the release of two cargo vessels owned by Israeli brothers Sammy and Yehuda (Yuli) Ofer. The two ships - the St. James Park and the Asian Glory – belong to Zodiac Maritime Agencies, which is part of the Ofer financial empire.
Globes reports that the ships and their crews – with no Israelis among them – have been held by the pirates in Somalia since the beginning of the month. The St. James Park, carrying a crew of 26, is a chemicals bulk carrier that was seized in the Gulf of Aden on its way from Spain to Thailand at the end of December. The ship put out a distress call on the night of December 28-29, and since then all connection with her has been lost.
The second captured ship is the Asian Glory, a car transporter with a crew of eight, seized on Jan. 2 roughly 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) east of Somalia, on the eastern tip of Africa - outside the area safeguarded by EU warships. Both ships sail under the British flag.
Somali pirates, who currently hold at least 10 ships and 228 seamen, recently released a ship of similar size to the St. James Park after receiving a $4 million ransom.
Sammy and Yuli Ofer also own Zim Lines (officially, Zim Integrated Shipping Services), have a 16.5% stake in the second-largest cruise ship in the world (the Royal Caribbean) and in Tanker Pacific (which boasts 40 oil tankers) and a 26% share of Bank HaMizrachi, and more.
Last April, private Israeli security forces aboard an Italian cruise ship, with 1,500 people on board, fended off a Somali pirate attack in an exchange of fire. Earlier that same month, Somali gunmen unsuccessfully attacked an Israeli ship sailing 700 kilometers off the coast of Somalia.