- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A pirate attack on a tanker off the coast of Yemen and a sabotage mission by militants in Nigeria’s southern delta helped push world oil prices to a record yesterday, underscoring the strains on global energy markets.

Uneasy traders nudged oil prices in New York to a record $117.76 a barrel in intraday trading before pulling back to end the day at $117.48, up 79 cents from Friday’s close. Retail gas prices in the United States also hit new highs, averaging $3.50 a gallon nationwide.

Heavily armed Somali pirates were thought to be behind the hit-and-run attack on a Japanese oil tanker about 75 miles off the eastern coast of Yemen, officials said. A spokesman for the Nippon Yusen Kaisha shipping line said the tanker had come under fire and was leaking a small amount of fuel into the Gulf of Aden from a 1-inch hole in the stern.

Across the continent, Nigerian militants claimed responsibility for two attacks on pipelines operated by a Royal Dutch Shell joint venture. The two-year-old Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has targeted foreign energy facilities in a violent campaign to change the way the country’s oil wealth is distributed.

The security problems surfaced as the leading members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries resisted increased production, despite record prices and surging global demand.

Ministers from oil-producing states, meeting at an energy forum this week in Rome, say speculators and financial problems, not supply shortages, are to blame for the record oil prices.

“OPEC has put the maximum supply in the market. This is not a problem of supply,” Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters. “It’s a problem that is very connected to the financial problems in the U.S. economy.”

The Japanese tanker, which was mostly empty, was rerouted to Aden for repairs, and none of the 23 crew members was hurt.

An al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen also has stepped up attacks on foreign oil-company assets in recent years.

Al Qaeda operatives claimed responsibility for the 2002 suicide attack on the French tanker Limburg off the Yemeni coast. The strike killed one crew member and spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the sea.

In the past two months, the Yemeni al Qaeda branch said it bombed an oil pipeline and a Chinese-run oil field, and fired mortars at a compound in San’a, the capital, where Western oil workers live.

The International Maritime Bureau said 260 pirate attacks on vessels were documented last year.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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