updated 11/21/2008 10:30:35 AM ET 2008-11-21T15:30:35

The world's militaries must work together to battle pirates off the Somali coast or ships will have to be diverted and the cost of moving goods will skyrocket, one of the world's largest oil tanker companies said Friday.

Frontline Ltd., which sails five to 10 tankers of crude a month through the treacherous Gulf of Aden, said it was negotiating a change of shipping routes with some of its customers, including oil giants Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Chevron, a move that could boost costs by up to 40 percent.

"I think you have to have some kind of multinational force," Martin Jensen, Frontline's acting chief executive, said in Singapore. "That's the only way you can resolve this quickly. One country can't fix this by itself."

Concerns over piracy heightened this week when gunmen off the coast of Kenya hijacked a tanker owned by Saudi Aramco carrying 2 million barrels of oil worth about $100 million.

So far this year more than 120 attacks have been reported off the coast of Somalia, resulting in the seizure of more than 35 ships and the kidnapping of about 600 crew members who were held for ransom, according to the International Maritime Organization.

NATO, the United States, Russia, India and several other countries have warships patrolling on anti-piracy missions off Somalia. NATO warships work to prevent hijackings, but are hampered by a lack of a mandate to bring the criminals to justice. Many European countries also have restrictions on how far their ships can go to engage the pirates.

"Everyone is waiting anxiously to see what happens with the Saudi Aramco ship," Jensen said. "What will they do with all that oil? We don't know."

Shipping changes mulled
Jensen said diverting tankers heading to Europe from the oil-rich Persian Gulf — sending them around South Africa instead of past Somalia and north through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal — extends the trip by 40 percent.

Bermuda-based Frontline plans to make a decision whether to change shipping routes within a week, Jensen said.

"It's not only our costs, but also those of the people who have a $100 million cargo on board," Jensen said. "We're not going to make a unilateral decision so we've been debating this with our customers."

Some shippers aren't waiting to protect their cargo from pirates. Danish shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk on Thursday ordered some of its slower vessels to avoid the Gulf of Aden and head the long way around Africa.

"We believe that piracy in the Gulf of Aden is a threat to important international trade lanes and therefore an international security issue," company partner Soeren Skou said. "It must be addressed by relevant authorities and the international community. It is not a problem that A.P. Moller-Maersk or the shipping industry can solve alone."

On Wednesday, Norwegian shipping group Odfjell SE said more than 90 of its tankers would avoid the Somali coast, citing increased fear of pirates after the seizure of the Saudi tanker.

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