NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With political unrest continuing across the Middle East and North Africa, a crucial entry point to the Suez Canal remains under siege as Somali pirates continue to land big game in the waters off the coast of Somalia.

On Wednesday, a gang of pirates hijacked a supertanker carrying a reported $200 million worth of crude oil. Called the Irene SL, the tanker has a crew of 25 and is owned by a private Greek shipping concern, First Navigation Special Maritime Enterprises. It was on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite a number of successful anti-pirate counterattacks over the last year by naval forces patrolling the region, piracy off Somalia hasn't abated. The Irene was the second supertanker nabbed by suspected Somali pirates in as many days.

>>The Pirates' Toll: High Stakes on the High Seas

Also, on Wednesday, hijackers released a South Korean fishing vessel after holding it for four months.

As of Feb. 8, suspected Somali pirates were holding 31 ships and an estimated 700 hostages, according to the Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau, in Kuala Lumpur.

>>Pirates Attack! Mapping the Brigands

Already in 2011, eight ships have been hijacked and 45 have been attacked by armed gangs said to come from Somalia, the failed state on the horn of Africa.

Ransom rates have undergone a kind of inflation, approaching the tens of millions of dollars, depending on the size of the ship, the patience level of its owner, the value of its cargo and the number of its crew members. So common have hijackings become in the waters around the Horn of Africa, home to some of the busiest transport lanes in the world, that pirate gangs have hit the same ships twice.

Almost every major shipping company in the world has suffered an attack, including DryShips ( DRYS), Navios Maritime Partners ( NMM), Excel Maritime ( EXM), Frontline ( FRO) and Genco Shipping & Trading ( GNK).

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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