Pirates hit navy ship ‘in error’

The Somme, pictured in 2007 with then defence minister Herve Morin

The pirates attacked the 160m ship in skiffs

A group of Somali pirates has been captured after attacking a French navy ship by mistake, apparently thinking it was a harmless cargo vessel.

French military spokesman Admiral Christophe Prazuck said the pirates attacked in skiffs late at night some 500km (310 miles) off the Somali coast.

But the command and supply ship, the Somme, repelled the attack and chased the pirates, capturing five of them.

Dozens of international warships fight piracy in Somalia’s lawless waters.

The country has no effective central government since 1991, leading to a complete breakdown of law and order, and pirates operate off the coast almost with impunity.

Admiral Prazuck told French TV station La Chaine Info the pirates seemed to be surprised that the navy ship fought back.

“Once they realised they were facing a ship that was responding and was heading towards them, they stopped shooting and attempted to flee,” he said.

“The Somme gave chase and intercepted one of the pirates’ boats. All the weapons had apparently been tossed into the sea and the suspected pirates are now being held on board the Somme.”

About two dozen ships from European Union nations, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy, patrol the waters off Somalia – an area of about two million square miles.

Although the international naval forces have stepped up patrols in the Gulf of Aden this year, relatively few of the pirates detained have faced trial because of the legal complexities involved.

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8294858.stm

Ransom Delivered to Pirates on German Freighter

The end of the pirate-hijack drama could be in sight for the crew of the freighter Hansa Stavanger. A ransom payment worth millions has been made, the EU’s Operation Atlanta has confirmed. But it is still uncertain when the crew, who have been held for four months, will be released.

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Four months with the pirates: The crew of the Hansa Stavanger are still captives.

There’s new hope for the crew of the hijacked German-owned ship, the Hansa Stavanger. This Monday a ransom of millions was handed over to the pirates holding the ship off the coast of Somalia — the pirates have been holding the freighter, owned by Hamburg shipping firm, Leonhardt and Blumberg, for several months now.

A spokesperson for the European Union counter-piracy operation, Operation Atalanta, which has several warships patrolling the pirate-infested area, confirmed the ransom transfer. “The money is on board and the pirates are counting it,” the spokesperson told SPIEGEL ONLINE, although he would not elaborate further.

Through sources close to German intelligence agencies and local sourcees, SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that a small plane was used to throw a package containing $2.75 million (€ 1.9 million) worth of ransom onto the Hansa Stavanger. It is hoped that when the money has been counted the ship and the crew will be set free. Whether that will still happen on Monday is uncertain although the security authorities estimate a release should happen within 24 hours.

The government in Berlin could not confirm the reports. The German Foreign Ministry has a policy of only commenting on kidnappings when diplomats are certain that the hostages are safe. The Federal Criminal Police Office was also unable to confirm the reports.

However news agency Reuters spoke with one of the pirates by phone on Monday morning. The man, who gave his name as Abdi, confirmed the delivery of the ransom and said that once the money has been divided, the crew would be let go.

The Hansa Stavanger was hijacked by pirates on April 4 this year, around 400 sea miles (645 kilometers) off Somalia. There are five Germans, three Russians, two Ukrainians and 14 Filipinos in the crew.

Gangs of Somali pirates have made millions of dollars in ransom payments by kidnapping ships that sail the shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,640104,00.html

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See also:

‘We Can’t Take it Any More’ (July 7, 2009)

The German container ship Hansa Stavanger was captured by Somali pirates over three months ago. Ransom negotiations keep breaking down and the crew, surrounded by trigger-happy gunmen chewing khat, have run out of medical supplies and are desperate.

It was the first sign of life in more than three weeks. The captain of the hijacked ship Hansa Stavanger sent a message to his wife last Friday and it didn’t offer much hope: “We don’t have any water, food, or medicine left.”

The crew of the Hamburg-based container ship captured by Somali pirates on April 4 are emotionally and physically exhausted: “We can’t take any more,” the captain wrote. And they hadn’t heard anything from Leonhardt & Blumberg, the shipping company in Hamburg that owns the Hansa Stavanger.

The desperate cry for help was the latest climax in a high-stakes game of negotiations in which neither side wants to give ground. After all, the game is not just about human lives — it’s about money. A lot of money.

The victims of this tough haggling game are the ship’s crew, for whom each additional day in captivity is another day in hell. The pirates are growing increasingly aggressive, food and water have long since run short, and many of the sailors are sick.

During the first weeks of captivity, the officers at least were allowed to communicate regularly with their family members by phone and sometimes by e-mail. The pirates controlled and possibly even encouraged the hostages’ descriptions of their plight, to increase pressure on the other side. And of course it’s hardly possible to check up on the sailors’ various accounts.

From what the kidnapped sailors have reported back to their relatives back home, fear of a pirate attack dogged them throughout their voyage from Jebel Ali, a port in the United Arab Emirates, to Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania. The crew consisted of 24 men. Five of them were Germans, including the captain and the chief officer. They knew they were crossing what is currently the world’s most dangerous stretch of ocean.

On the evening before their capture, the Indian Ocean was smooth like polished steel — perfect weather for seizing a ship. Although he was traveling 550 nautical miles from the coast, well above the recommended safe margin, the captain had all lights extinguished and the windows masked. No light should be visible from outside. He even turned off the automatic identification system that reports a ship’s exact position, and which can be received by pirates as well.

One of his crew monitored the radar continuously. That sailor’s job would be to sound the alarm if another ship approached, and set course away from it immediately. This maneuver was meant to give the crew time to alert warships belonging to “Operation Atalanta,” the European Union’s anti-piracy mission. That, at least, was the captain’s hope.

The night passed calmly, with only the ship’s engines breaking the silence. As day broke, the Hansa Stavanger was already outside the pirates’ region, about 400 nautical miles east of Mombasa, Kenya, its next destination. It seemed they had been lucky.

Sudden Attack

Then suddenly two projectiles struck the vessel just beneath the bridge, and a third whizzed by a few meters away and sank into the ocean. The deck was burning and volleys of rifle rounds pounded against steel as the crew sought cover. Minutes later, the pirates were on board.

The Rheinland-Pfalz, a German Navy frigate that had been on its way to Mombasa, changed course toward the “Hansa Stavanger.” The frigate had crew of 200 and was equipped with cannons and helicopters. As it came into sight, the pirates held a Kalashnikov to the captain’s head. “Turn around, otherwise they’ll kill me,” he radioed. The German military vessel withdrew. In the afternoon, the captain reported his ship’s capture to the company in Hamburg. The pirates demanded a $15 million (€10.5 million) ransom.

The Hansa Stavanger anchored in Harardhere Bay along the Somali coast. The deck including the captain’s cabin was completely burnt out and the other cabins had been looted. “The pirates are stoned, but friendly,” the captain wrote his wife. “Don’t worry, we’re waiting for the ransom.”

A week went by without contact from the owner of the shipping company. Each time a warship approached the pirates’ stronghold, panic broke out. “There’s no clear command structure among the pirates,” the captain wrote on April 11. “Everyone opens fire when they want to.” And, he reported, he still hadn’t heard anything from the company in Hamburg. His e-mail included wishes for a “Happy Easter.”

“Another day full of terror and fear,” the captain wrote the next morning. The crew slept on the bridge guarded by the pirates, who carried machine guns. Their captors had carried blankets and mattresses onto the deck and took turns sleeping in the open air.

On April 12, eight days after the attack, the captain heard from the shipping company for the first time. The crew should under no circumstances negotiate, they said, but leave everything to the company, whose negotiator would be available from 10 a.m. to noon each day, Somali time. His name was Peter Shaw, from the Amor Group in Great Britain. He offered $600,000, and the haggling began.

The man who spoke for the pirates called himself Faisal. He now demanded $6 million instead of $15 million, and threatened to destroy the ship. His last offer, Faisal said. The threats were part of the ritual.

Stench of Excrement, Shortage of Food and Water

The captain and chief officer weren’t allowed to leave the bridge. They couldn’t wash themselves, and their shirts and trousers were now being worn by the pirates, who chewed the drug khat and smirked. Whenever new men came onboard, things got uncomfortable. They searched the ship for booty and became furious when they didn’t find any. “We’re still hanging on, but we don’t know how much longer we can,” the captain wrote on April 15.

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Pirates being arrested by soldiers from the German navy frigate “Rheinland Pfalz” in the Gulf of Aden in March.

The entire ship stank of excrement und urine, the food was rationed, and the water ran out. When anchored, the ship can produce only non-drinking water, which is usually used to flush the toilets and wash laundry. Now it had to serve as drinking water, and it wasn’t enough. There were nearly 60 people on board, requiring double what the ship was capable of producing.

April 20 was a day the captain didn’t expect to survive. The negotiations had stalled and the pirates were impatient. “They gathered us all on the bridge. They said they would shoot us one after another… They taped my eyes shut and dragged me on deck… They shouted and shot right by my head… I was half unconscious as they dragged me back to the bridge and threw me on the floor.”

At one point, an airplane dropped a crate in the bay and shortly after, one of the other hijacked freighters hoisted its anchor and set out for the open sea. The crew of the “Hansa Stavanger” was filled with the hope that another plane would arrive soon, bringing the ransom — and freedom — for them as well.

But this time, the German government wanted to send a message, and no longer allow itself to be blackmailed by the pirates. Instead, the plan was to bring in the GSG-9, the counter-terrorism unit of the German federal police, under orders from Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), to assess whether the pirates could be overpowered and the hostages rescued.

Plans for Rescue Operation

Meanwhile, negotiations between the shipping company’s negotiator and the pirates dragged on. The ship’s third officer suffered a heart attack, which he barely survived. “We implore you, please end this psychological terror and negotiate,” the captain wrote to the company on April 24. “I no longer have any influence over my crew, they are all mentally exhausted.”

On April 25, Olaf Lindner, head of the GSG-9, practiced for the planned rescue mission with 200 elite team members aboard the US helicopter carrier Boxer. They were 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Harardhere, out of sight of the pirates, and they had helicopters, reconnaissance drones and diving equipment at their disposal. “We’re ready,” Lindner cabled to Berlin.

The pirates grew nervous. They had spotted airplanes above the Hansa Stavanger. At night all lights on the ship burned bright and men with machine guns took up position on the bridge and the bow. The deck was covered in chewed up khat, spat out by the pirates. Goats ran freely around the deck, to be slaughtered later.

Before the German interior minister could give the order for the GSG-9 to carry out its mission, James Jones, the United States National Security Advisor, ended the operation with a call to the German government. The risk was too high for the US. “Boxer” was ordered back to Mombasa.

A pirate who called himself Abdi had now taken over negotiations. A settlement seemed to be in sight on May 5, and the ransom handover was prepared. But then five days later, hopes were dashed again. The pirates changed their negotiator and “Mr. China,” as he was called, doubled their demands. They had possibly heard about the GSG-9’s cancelled rescue mission from their middlemen in Europe, which drove up the price.

On May 9, pirates released the British freighter Malaspina Castle after a ransom had been paid the week before. That ship had been captured two days after the Hansa Stavanger. The crew’s fate lies primarily in the hands of the shipping company in Hamburg, which is also being advised by the German Foreign Ministry’s crisis task force and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). But the company will be the one to pay in the end, so it also has the final word.

No Response from Merkel

The crew’s relatives are being attended to by police officers trained for that purpose. But they still feel powerless. Wherever they’ve turned, they’ve been rebuffed — by the Foreign Ministry, the crisis task force and the BKA.

The father of one of the ship’s officers wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Horst Köhler, as well as to Norbert Röttgen, leader of the CDU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, and to Hans-Christian Ströbele of the opposition Green party. So far only Röttgen has replied, after three weeks. The father found the politician’s letter polite but ineffectual.

The government’s crisis specialists gradually grew impatient as well. A BKA delegation went to Hamburg to talk with Frank Leonhardt, the head of the shipping company, but Leonhardt didn’t want to give in. He had made an offer and didn’t want to negotiate further.

Leonhardt was chairman of the Association of German Shipping Companies until November 2008. Was he now trying to avoid providing further incentive for pirates to capture German ships? The shipping line told SPIEGEL it was required by the BKA and the Foreign Ministry not to give out any information until the hostages had been freed, and wanted to abide by that agreement.

Then on May 15, another ship hoisted its anchor and left the Somali coast. It was the freighter Patriot, belonging to the Hamburg-based shipping company Johann M. K. Blumenthal. Pirates had captured that ship three weeks after the “Hansa Stavanger.”

‘We Are All Desperate’

The Hansa Stavanger captain’s wife wrote a desperate letter to Leonhardt blaming him for her husband’s continued captivity. Leonhardt had his personnel manager answer. The ultimate ambition, the manager wrote in a May 25 letter, is the release of the crew. Negotiations with the pirates are difficult, he added, because they don’t stick to their agreements and continually make new demands.

It looked like a settlement was coming at last at the beginning of June. The money was supposed to be handed over on June 12. The crew had reached the end of its tether, many had come down with fever, and some of the pirates clearly had tuberculosis. The ship’s pharmacy was empty and the weather was growing worse. The monsoon had arrived, with high waves threatening the anchored vessel.

Two days before the planned handover of the money, a clearly high-ranking pirate leader came on board. He wanted more money, especially for the hostages who were allegedly being watched and cared for on land. And he didn’t want to negotiate.

The week before last, another airplane flew over Harardhere Bay, bringing the ransom for the Belgian freighter Pompei, which had been held by Somali pirates for more than two months.

Last Friday, the captain send a desperate e-mail to Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying he and his crew couldn’t believe their lives and suffering would be worth less than money. “We are all desperate, and some of us are ill as well,” he wrote. “We are asking you politely, but resolutely, to help us and persuade our company to end this insane game.”

Negotiations have been underway again since Friday afternoon.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,634607-2,00.html

Pirates Release Crew of Belgian Ship

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The Pompei

Somali pirates have released the entire crew of a Belgian ship seized 10 weeks ago after a ransom was paid, the Belgian government said Sunday.

The 10-member crew of the Pompei dredger was in good health and sailing the ship to an unidentified harbor where it will arrive in a few days, the government said. The crew members will then fly home to their families.

Defense Minister Pieter De Crem told a news conference that the ship’s owners paid a ransom to release the ship and crew. He declined to say how much, but said pirates had demanded $8 million.

A plane dropped the money into the sea near the Belgian vessel Saturday, De Crem said. About 10 pirates on board abandoned the ship early Sunday.

The ship, its Dutch captain and crew of two Belgians, three Filipinos and four Croatians were seized April 18 a few hundred miles north of the Seychelles islands as they were sailing from Dubai to South Africa.

The pirates took the ship to the Somali coast where they and the crew stayed on board.

Belgian officials said the ship’s owners negotiated the release with a middleman who sometimes passed on messages from the captain.

The pirates even contacted the crew’s family members once to prove that they were still alive.

De Crem said the government had considered military intervention to seize the ship, but decided that it was ”not desirable” because it could endanger the crew.

Despite international navy patrols, piracy has exploded in the Gulf of Aden and around Somalia’s 1,900-mile (3,060-kilometer) coastline. Pirates are able to operate freely because Somalia has had no effective central government in nearly 20 years.

Seasonal monsoons have hampered pirate activity recently and the relative lull is expected to continue until at least the end of August, when the rough weather subsides, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau.

Belgian prosecutors said an attack on a Belgian ship in international waters was a crime that they would investigate. Belgian police will interview the crew and check the ship for forensic and DNA evidence when it reaches harbor, they said.

”We think there is a chance” that some of the pirates might be caught and brought to justice, federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle told reporters. They could face up to 30 years in jail.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/28/world/AP-Piracy.html?hp

Photo: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-04/19/content_11212174.htm

Are German Anti-Pirate Forces Hampered by Bureaucrats?

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The Special Forces Command, or KSK, is a separate elite force, under command of the German military.

A review of the political complexities behind a recent aborted anti-pirate operation off the coast of Africa has revealed that German security agencies tend to fight each other sooner than the enemy. Politicians in Berlin are trying to draw lessons from the failed mission.

The return of the would-be heroes from Harardhere took place almost as quietly as their departure three weeks earlier. After landing at Cologne-Bonn last Tuesday evening, the chartered flight from Mombasa was directed to a military section of the airport, where nondescript-looking busses awaited the 200 members of Germany’s GSG-9 elite federal police unit.

There was no champagne, no buffet, no cameras, no press. It wasn’t the reception that GSG-9 chief Olaf Lindner, or August Hanning, a junior secretary at the Interior Ministry, had in mind. Hanning had made a special trip to Cologne to greet the frustrated elite troops. He had trouble hiding his disappointment.

Lindner gave Hanning another detailed account of the highly successful dress rehearsal for storming the German freighter, the Hansa Stavanger. He also explained how thrilled the US special forces were with the Germans. And he said US colleagues on the American helicopter carrier the USS Boxer were extremely impressed with the Germans’ cutting-edge equipment.

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As a police force, the GSG-9 has no long-distance equipment of its own, so it sometimes has to rely on the military to reach remote crisis areas.

Hanning knew the rest. Ever since Somali pirates had boarded and hijacked the Hansa Stavanger on April 4, and abducted the crew, including five German sailors, a crisis team had met almost every day in Berlin. Hanning himself had to announce that the US government had pulled the plug on the GSG-9 operation off the coast of the Somali pirate stronghold of Harardhere roughly two weeks ago. He’d witnessed the squabbling among ministries in Berlin, the complicated and contradictory levels of decision-making, the political blame game.

But how could he explain to the demotivated men of GSG-9 that operative ability and a political will to conduct foreign operations were sometimes light-years apart? How could he break the news to Germany’s elite forces that, when in doubt, German bureaucrats were more prepared to fight each other than to tackle Somali pirates?

It’s not the same as, say, the Labor Ministry in Berlin squabbling with colleagues from the Family Ministry over the details of rent subsidies — or the economics minister attacking the finance minister because he doesn’t agree with the amount of money offered under Germany’s car-scrapping bonus plan. That’s all part of business as usual in a democracy.

But when the Foreign, Defense, and Interior Ministries lock horns while thousands of kilometers away a strike team waits for orders, then it’s no longer democratic business as usual — it’s a matter of national security.

‘Post-Heroic’ Politics

The failed Somali mission can also be explained by the fact that, since the end of World War II, Germany has been reluctant to engage in violent interventions — in contrast to the US and France, which used their militaries to secure the release of hostages over the past few weeks. In the words of Berlin political scientist Herfried Münkler, Germany is a “post-heroic society.” Two decades after the end of the Cold War, the country would like to play a key role on the international stage. But it’s rarely prepared to bear the consequences.

The typical German response to hijacking and hostage threats has been the way of the bank account, not the special military mission. Since this strategy tends to save hostages’ lives, a broad consensus has emerged among the general public that ransom payments are acceptable. But paying ransom, in the long run, is an inadequate response to the asymmetrical warfare conducted by Afghan Taliban fighters and Somali pirates. There’s a world of difference between Berlin sensitivities and the raw realities of a failed state.

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The units’ missions overlap, but they have separate command structures.

Over the past few months, these realities prompted German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD), to search for an alternative. They’d had enough of checkbook diplomacy, so they decided to organize an aggressive hostage rescue to send a strong signal to the pirates not to mess with Germany.

The Germans proved themselves last Thursday when the special forces command of the German military, or KSK, captured a Taliban leader in a spectacular operation in northern Afghanistan. After the flop in Somalia, it was a sign that Germany would resist falling back into old patterns.

But news of the Afghan military operation also shed cruel light on the reasons the hostage rescue operation off the coast of Harardhere was doomed to fail. The Bundeswehr, or German military, is solely responsible for the KSK elite unit, but no less than three ministries were involved in the planned GSG-9 operation: Foreign, Interior and Defense. The German Federal Police, the Bundeswehr and various commando and leadership levels also wrangled over power and influence. The scuppered operation to free the hostages illustrates what is wrong with the nation’s security architecture.

Germany’s closest allies operate differently in such crises. In France and the US the presidents decide whether hostages abroad should be freed by force. Then experts on the ground carry out the plan as well as they can, and if it fails, the president — as commander in chief — takes the heat.

Government leaders in Berlin prefer to pass such issues down the ladder, where interministerial struggles often take over. It can be impossible to reconstruct afterwards just who supported and who opposed a given operation. This is compounded by a chancellor who, as a matter out of principle, avoids commitment, issues no directives and delegates problems to her cabinet.

There are “no recognizable coordination efforts from the chancellery,” says Sascha Lange from a think tank called the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Merkel dispatched only a departmental head to the crisis team meetings, while she herself took a trip over the Easter break — right in the middle of the critical operational planning phase — and enjoyed a holiday on the Italian resort island of Ischia. Merkel’s chief of staff Thomas de Maizière was briefed on the situation, but he indicated no preference for a particular course of action.

With no firm political leadership, the squabbles between participating ministries can spiral out of control. The German Foreign Office heads the crisis team and thus has the job of freeing the hostages — but it has no authority over an operation by the GSG-9. The elite police force is under command of the German interior minister, who cannot deploy the commandos without the defense minister, whose navy patrols the Indian Ocean to combat piracy.

Everyone is in charge, in other words, but no one is at the helm.

The chancellor has maintained a safe distance from all participants. She seems unwilling to risk a botched operation just a few months before an upcoming election. This would make the foreign minister — her rival in the fall — responsible for any fiasco. If the GSG-9 mission had failed, Interior Minister Schäuble might have resigned too, because he, according to German law, has to give the final strike order together with the foreign minister. Merkel could have dodged any political flak.

Two Warring Units

This lack of political leadership is compounded by other problems. The German government has two elite units intended for crisis situations like the one in Somalia. Both have their hands slightly tied. The KSK was established in 1996 to “save and evacuate” Germans in trouble abroad, but this military force is chronically undermanned and hard pressed in Afghanistan. Only some 200 out of a total of 400 available positions in the German special forces are currently filled, meaning that the KSK is unavailable for missions in Somalia. KSK operations also require approval by the German parliament.

The roughly 200 men of the GSG-9 police unit are perfectly trained for hostage-taking situations, but they have trouble reaching remote locations. The GSG-9 is therefore dependent on the military’s aircraft and ships.

Why can’t the GSG-9 and KSK cooperate to balance these deficits? The answer is simple and sobering: The two units can’t stand each other, and the aversion grows every time they try to work together.

Spats, Rivalries, Contradictory Field Assessments

Ever since the two elite units freed hostages last summer, “they haven’t been on good speaking terms,” says a member of the military. At the time, a group of criminals in the border region between Egypt and Sudan had abducted 11 tourists, including five Germans. The German government dispatched over 100 GSG-9 police along with KSK forces, workers with the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, and Transall cargo planes.

The hostages were released before the special units could fire a shot. But the actual trench warfare took place between GSG-9 head Lindner and KSK Brigadier General Hans-Christoph Ammon. The police were afraid that the KSK wanted to seize command of the operation, and the army was annoyed because the GSG-9 had sent an advance commando before the KSK units had reached the area.

The soldiers were particularly offended by a show staged by the police when they returned to Germany. At the airport in Berlin, the GSG-9 men ostentatiously lined up in front of their Lufthansa plane in parade formation — without their usual masks. While the police filed past, the KSK soldiers had to stay humbly in their seats, waiting for the photographers to disappear, so no one could recognize them.

In Berlin the GSG-9 is said to be better suited for missions like the one in Egypt. But the aborted mission in Somalia also revealed a range of weaknesses. Spats, rivalries and contradictory field assessments are certainly not limited to interactions with the KSK. During the Somalia mission there were also deep divisions within the Federal Police that nearly immobilized the agency. Police overrode police, and the head of operations in Potsdam contradicted the head of operations on board the US helicopter carrier Boxer. It became clear that the German Federal Police, which had been reformed only a year ago, wasn’t equipped to handle crises, or at least not a crisis on the other side of the globe.

A Fair-Weather Structure

On April 4, after the first reports reached Germany that the Hansa Stavanger had been seized by pirates, the country’s police force formed a special organizational structure which was to be based in Potsdam, at the headquarters of the Federal Police. The command was assumed by Joachim Franklin, head of the Federal Police Regional Headquarters in Bad Bramstedt, where he could be responsible for emergencies at sea.

This made Franklin the most important man in the operation. But he was 6,000 km (3,700 miles) from Harardhere.

Under Franklin’s command was GSG-9 head Lindner, as “on-scene commander.” This fair-weather structure is outstandingly well suited to handling domestic disasters like a train wreck in Germany’s industrial heartland, or even a hostage situation at a small bank in the otherwise quiet town of Winsen an der Luhe. It’s unsuitable for freeing a freighter in a remote corner of the world, where criminals have the upper hand.

While Lindner had access to reconnaissance aircraft photographs, US military analyses and on-location reports, the Federal Police in Potsdam had to rely on other sources to assess the situation for the Interior Ministry, including freely available information such as Google Maps on the Internet. This conflict came to a head in the last few days before the mission. Franklin made an appointment with Interior Ministry State Secretary Hanning to voice his concerns.

Franklin said the Federal Police in Potsdam was advising against the operation — it was too risky. He said it was still unclear where the hostages were being held on the ship, and he added that the time between the possible discovery of the attack commando and the boarding of the Stavanger was too long. Berlin was left with the impression that the man from the Federal Police wanted to abort the operation.

In fact, the situation looked very different in the Indian Ocean. While Franklin was conveying his concerns in Berlin, Lindner was training his troops day and night. The GSG-9 tested rappelling from the air and using suction equipment to climb the side of a vessel. The US Navy SEALs on board the USS Boxer assisted during these exercises, adding to a growing sense of optimism on board the helicopter carrier. On April 27, the Monday before the planned operation, Lindner wired an upbeat risk assessment to Berlin. But he said the dress rehearsal would determine the final decision.

The last rehearsal was conducted during the night from Tuesday to Wednesday. According to sources in Berlin, the result was “outstanding.” Lindner now believed he could launch the operation with a justifiable amount of risk. He’d also picked a specific time. He wanted the GSG-9 to strike early on May 1, Friday morning. Just a few hours before US National Security Advisor James Jones withdrew American support for the operation, the GSG-9 commander sent his optimistic message to Berlin.

But who or what had moved Jones to pull the plug on the mission? There is a rumor circulating in a number of ministries and agencies in Berlin that the Bundeswehr had contributed to this decision with critical assessments of the situation, which had allegedly also been sent to US Central Command in Bahrain. According to this version of events, although the commanders on board the Boxer supported the operation, the headquarters in Bahrain voted against it in Washington.

The decision prompted Hanning to ask his counterpart from the Defense Ministry, Peter Wichert, for a word on the sidelines of the crisis team. He wanted to know if there was any truth to the rumor. Had the Bundeswehr actually passed on a statement to the Americans? Wichert denied it. No such statement had been issued, he said.

‘The Sword is Dull’

In the wake of the failed Somalia mission, most of the major players in Berlin now realize that things can’t continue in the same vein. There won’t be a second operation without reforms because “the sword,” as a high-ranking official from the crisis team says, “is dull.” A repeat failure is too predictable. Interior Minister Schäuble and Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung now want to hold talks with other European countries and the US government to ensure that the transport of the GSG-9 at sea and in the air will go smoothly in the future.

“Germany apparently can’t resolve hostage crises like this on its own, but is instead reliant on outside help,” says Peter Struck, a former defense minister who leads the Social Democrats’ parliamentary faction, and “we have to seriously consider the question of whether we should build up our own capabilities to handle similar situations.”

Both special units lack large cargo aircraft for long-distance transports, big ships to transfer troops, reconnaissance instruments and modern communications technology. “The deficits are well-known,” says defense expert Lange with biting sarcasm. “We’ve been debating them for 15 years.”

Little has apparently changed since the first foreign mission by Bundeswehr infantry and supply troops. In 1994, US and German units beat a hasty retreat after abandoning the disastrous United Nations operation in Somalia. Since the Americans didn’t allow their allies on board their landing ships, the Bundeswehr had to evacuate its rearguard troops by cramming them onto a narrow frigate. After the recent failed GSG-9 mission, Defense Minister Jung may exhume old plans for a German landing ship.

More equipment alone won’t be enough. From now on, Germany will undoubtedly avoid having dual strategists in Potsdam and on location in the field. Birgit Homburger, a defense expert with the opposition liberal Free Democrats, is calling for a new policy decision to use the KSK instead of the GSG-9 in the future. She says this would place the leadership of an operation “unequivocally under one agency” — the military. Her SPD colleague Rainer Arnold advocates that the two units should at least “train together and collaborate.”

Schäuble took Jung aside during a cabinet meeting last week. He wanted to know if the Defense Ministry would be willing to station a kind of mobile task force consisting of KSK soldiers and frogmen on the German frigates in the Indian Ocean, at least as a provisional measure? This could make it possible to quickly end hijackings before the seized ships reach the pirate ports on the coast. Jung remained noncommittal.

He’s aware that Schäuble’s suggestions don’t have a good track record. In response to a request by the Interior Ministry, Jung sent a submarine to Somalia to secretly observe the pirate stronghold from periscope depth and drop off GSG-9 men. On the way there, the much-praised fuel cell propulsion system — which allows the world’s most advanced conventional submarine to stay under water for weeks on end — came to a grinding halt. Before it even reached the Suez Canal, U-34 was stopped in the Mediterranean by engine trouble.

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Full article and photos: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,624908,00.html

Somalia says new coast guard can stop piracy

somalia may 19 1

On Nov. 21, 2008, armed Puntland police guard captured Somali pirates in Bassaso, Somalia.

Somalia’s fledgling government on Monday appealed for international help to set up a coast guard, saying it would guarantee that sea piracy near its shores is wiped out once it has such an agency.

However, representatives of the east African nation’s government _ attending an international conference on piracy _ ruled out allowing foreign forces on Somali soil to destroy pirate bases.

They said that although a multinational naval task force is patrolling the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, it cannot effectively control the pirates who strike unawares to hijack merchant vessels and tow them to coastal bases.

“Somalia needs a more effective coast guard to protect its sea, to protect our fishermen and to protect foreign ships against piracy,” Somalia’s Deputy Prime Minister Abdirahman Aden Ibbi said in a speech.

Aden did not attend the conference, and his speech was delivered by Nur Mohamed Mohamoud, the deputy director of the country’s National Security Agency.

Embroiled in a series of civil wars, Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991 _ a situation that has spawned pirate gangs along the country’s 1,900-mile-long (3,100-kilometer) coastline.

They have become increasingly brazen over the past two years, hijacking dozens of merchant ships for ransom worth millions of dollars. As of May 15, pirates have hijacked 29 ships and took 472 crew hostage, according to the International Maritime Bureau watchdog.

Some 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, each year.

At least 19 ships and more than 250 sailors are now being held hostage by Somali pirates, many in the Puntland semi-autonomous region of Somalia.

Somalia’s Western-backed government, which got a new president in January, wields little control outside the capital of Mogadishu.

Abdirahman told the conference that the problem of piracy is rooted in the lawlessness as well as illegal fishing by other countries in Somali waters.

He said that initially Somali fishermen would capture the foreign fishing boats but let them go after seizing their catch. Soon, they began imposing monetary penalty and “finally ended up (becoming) the powerful pirates that we see today.”

He said a well-trained coast guard was the only solution. “We the Somali government will guarantee if we were to get the kind of support we have been asking for,” there will be no more pirates in our waters, he said.

Puntland Security Minister Abdullah Said Samatar told reporters on the sidelines of the conference that a coast guard of two or three patrol boats would be enough to put down the pirates.

He, however, ruled out allowing foreign forces on their land.

“They should be eliminated from the land by Puntland forces… because (foreign forces) cannot distinguish between pirates and local fishermen and it may create more problem for us,” he told reporters.

International donors at a recent U.N.-sponsored conference pledged more than $250 million to help Somalia in buying military equipment and material as well as development aid to try end two decades of anarchy.

U.N. bodies will oversee funding earmarked for Somalia’s government, which wants to build a police force of 10,000 along with a separate security force of 6,000 members.

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Full article and photo: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/18/AR2009051800360.html

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See also:

Somali anti-pirate coastguard bid

 

Handout photo from Spanish ministry of defence shows suspected pirates on a capsized boat on 6 May 2009 in the Indian Ocean

Chaotic Somalia’s lack of government has allowed piracy to flourish

Somalia has asked the international community to help it set up a national coastguard to help tackle piracy.

Nur Mohamed Mohamoud, of Somalia’s National Security Agency, told an anti-piracy summit in Malaysia the government was eager to tackle pirates.

He said an effective coastguard was also needed to protect fishermen from illegal foreign fishing boats and to prevent dumping of toxic materials.

Somalia wants equipment and training, not a foreign anti-piracy force.

Somalia’s internationally recognised government only controls small parts of the country, while Islamist insurgents hold much of the south.

Meanwhile, Tanzania and Kenya have pledged to start joint navy operations off the East African coast to tame raising cases of piracy in the area.

This was agreed as Kenyan Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka met Zanzibar President Aman Abeid Karume met in Zanzibar City on Sunday.

In Holland, a court is deciding whether to proceed with the trial of five suspected pirates caught allegedly trying to attack a Dutch-flagged freighter in January.

One of the accused’s lawyers said he was a modern-day “Robin Hood” who attacks “ships of rich countries to give the ransom to poor families”.

In Kuala Lumpur, Mr Mohamoud told the conference : “We need an effective coastguard to protect our fishermen from illegal fishing, to prevent dumping of toxic materials in our waters and fight shipping piracy.

“We ask the international community… to supply us with equipment and training.”

Abdullahi Said Samatar, security minister in the pirate-ridden Puntland region of Somalia, told the BBC at the Malaysian meeting his government would not let foreign forces target land bases used by the pirates, saying that would be like “an invasion”.

“No, you are not welcome to attack our area. But we will make a collaboration,” he said. “We have to develop a collaboration on the ground.”

The UN has authorised foreign military to use force against land bases, but this has yet to happen.

A child with malnutrition at a refugee camp near Mogadishu on 16 May 2009

Somalia’s anarchy has led to widespread poverty

The Malaysia conference is also expected to discuss what to do with pirates who are caught, as different countries have different policies.

Some alleged pirates have been put on trial in France and Kenya, while another has been flown to the US.

Some suspects have, however, been set free, with some arguing that international law is unclear on the matter.

A number of foreign navies have been patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden to deter pirates but the number of attacks has continued to rise.

As of 15 May, pirates have hijacked 29 ships and taken 472 crew hostage this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau watchdog.

International donors at a recent UN-sponsored conference pledged more than $250m (£165m) in military and development aid to Somalia.

UN bodies will oversee funding earmarked for the government, which wants to build a police force of 10,000 and a separate security force of 6,000.

Somalia has been without a stable government since 1991 and the chaos has allowed piracy to flourish.

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Full article and photos: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8055088.stm

Somali pirates take Dutch boat, chase U.S. supply ship

NEWS-US-SOMALIA-PIRACY

The USNS Lewis and Clark

Pirates seized a Dutch cargo vessel on Thursday, a regional maritime group said, in the latest hijack by gangs proliferating off Somalia despite the presence of patrolling foreign warships.

“The crew are said to be safe. We are hearing there are between eight and 18 crew members,” said Andrew Mwangura, of the Kenya-based East African Seafarers Assistance Program.

The 2,575-tonne “Marathon” was heading westbound through the Gulf of Aden when it was seized, he said.

marathon may 10

In another of near-daily incidents, the U.S. Navy said pirates fired small arms weapons at one of its supply ships off the coast of Somalia. The USNS Lewis and Clark outran the two pirate skiffs after being chased for about an hour on Wednesday.

Somali pirate activity has been frenetic in recent weeks, despite an unprecedented deployment of warships seeking to deter armed groups marauding in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

Spanish judicial sources said seven pirates arrested by its military and accused of attempting to hijack a Panamanian ship may be put on trial in Spain. A judge has begun reviewing evidence provided by the Ministry of Defense.

On Wednesday, pirates freed a UAE-owned cargo ship on Wednesday and captured an Antigua- and Barbuda-flagged vessel the day before. They are holding about 20 ships with nearly 300 hostages, according to regional piracy monitoring groups and the London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

According to latest IMB figures, pirates have carried out 109 attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia’s coast so far this year, compared with 22 between January-May of 2008.

There have been 28 successful hijackings so far in 2009, up from eight in the first five months of 2008. Last year was the worst on record for Somali piracy with 42 boats taken.

ONSHORE SOLUTION?

Analysts say the presence of several dozen warships, from the United States, Europe, China, Japan and others, has had a limited success, bringing some captures but also pushing the pirates into a wider zone of operations.

“Navies have had some success in their primary aim of disrupting piratical activity, and the success rate for pirate attacks has dropped from around one in three to about one in four,” said Roger Middleton, of the Chatham House think tank.

All analysts agree, however, the long-term solution is to bring peace onshore to Somalia, in civil conflict since 1991.

“Naval or police action cannot provide any long-term solution to piracy,” Middleton added in a recent paper.

Another Somalia expert, Ken Menkhaus, concurred with that in his analysis of the piracy phenomenon.

“The Somali piracy epidemic is unquestionably an onshore crisis demanding an onshore solution,” he said in another paper.

“Naval operations to interdict and apprehend pirates will help, but cannot possibly halt the daily quest of over a thousand gunmen in such vast waters when the risks are so low, rewards so high and alternatives so bleak in desolate Somalia.”

In Somalia’s semi-autonomous northern province, Puntland, which is a base for various sea-gangs, hundreds of people marched against piracy in the regional capital Garowe.

Chanting and waving slogans, the demonstrators urged locals to shun pirates and refuse to engage in business with them.

“They have disrupted our lives and our relations with other countries,” said one protester Abdiyare Hamud.

“I am requesting Puntland residents and Somalia as a whole not to assist them. If we stop having any transaction with them, do not sell a single shirt, give them a cup of tea, or rent them a hotel room, where can they survive? Nowhere.”

Addressing the crowd, Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole said piracy was ruining the region’s reputation.

“Piracy has discredited Puntland’s name and we have to fight them at one front. I am very happy to see the public opposing them. I call for you (pirates) to release the ships and hostages you are holding unconditionally,” he said.

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Full article and photo (1): http://www.oregoncitynewsonline.com/us_world_news/story.php?story_id=L755771

Photo (2): http://www.shipspotting.com/modules/myalbum/photo.php?lid=687060

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See also:

Ransoms blamed for Somali piracy

South Korean military sniper on a helicopter aiming at a pirate boat off Somalia

Pirate attacks have risen despite increased naval patrols

A Somali minister has said the problem of piracy in the region is being made worse by the international community paying ransoms.

Abdul Karis Osman Issa, public works minister in semi-autonomous Puntland, said investment should be directed at beefing up mainland security.

He said the pirates are better financed and armed than the regional government.

Meanwhile, Mogadishu is reportedly calm after three days of fierce fighting which left more than 50 people dead.

The public works minister told the BBC the budget for the administration in Puntland, north-east Somalia, where most of the pirates are based, was “very, very, limited”.

He added: “If the international community helps the Puntland government, Puntland government can do a lot of things, even they can eliminate the pirates.

“But the international community, they don’t want to help the Puntland state, they want to pay ransoms.

“They are just running for ransom, you know… and giving to these pirates and this is what made them strong.

“They are giving millions of dollars so this is the problem, created by the international community first.”

‘Million dollar question’

Navies from Nato, the EU, Russia, Japan, China, India, Yemen, US, Malaysia and Singapore have been patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden to deter pirates, but the number of attacks has continued to rise.

A young girl is rushed to Medina Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, on 10 May 2009
This is the tragedy of Somalia – every group is hiding another group, which is itself hiding another group
Mohammed Ould Abdullah
UN special representative

The sea bandits have hijacked more than two dozen vessels this year.

The BBC’s Peter Greste in Puntland’s commercial capital, Bosasso, says there is a consensus among diplomats and military commanders that the problem of piracy can only be solved on land, not at sea.

Our correspondent says the lucrative life of piracy often seems a dangerously attractive alternative for jobless young men in the deprived region.

Meanwhile, a tense calm prevailed in Mogadishu on Monday after what correspondents described as the fiercest fighting in years.

The fighting began on Thursday and escalated late on Saturday in a district close to the presidential palace.

Journalist Mohammed Sheikh Noor in Mogadishu told the BBC’s Network Africa programme residents were fleeing with their belongings and the bodies of civilians killed in the clashes were littering the street.

The fragile interim government has been fighting radical Islamist groups like al-Shabab in long-running violence which has killed thousands of people since 2006.

The UN’s special representative to Somalia, Mohammed Ould Abdullah, told Network Africa what the radical Islamists actually wanted was the “million dollar question”.

He said efforts to negotiate peace were complicated by the constantly shifting array of factions.

“Increasingly people are realising some of the Somalis who have brought their country to chaos and anarchy over the last 18 years are not interested in any dialogue,” he said.

“This is the tragedy of Somalia – every group is hiding another group, which is itself hiding another group.”

Somalia, a nation of about eight million people, has experienced almost constant conflict since the collapse of its central government in January 1991.

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Full article and photos: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8043285.stm

Pirates free UK ship Malaspina Castle for ransom

 

Somali pirates in a speedboat in the Indian ocean

Somali pirates have stepped up their attacks in recent months.

Somali pirates have released a British-owned cargo ship, the Malaspina Castle, after more than a month following the payment of an undisclosed ransom.

The 32,000-tonne vessel, which has a mainly Bulgarian crew, was seized on 6 April in the Gulf of Aden while carrying a cargo of iron.

A Bulgarian government official confirmed the ship’s release, saying the pirates’ demands had been met.

He said that all members of the 24-strong crew were in good health.

Apart from 16 Bulgarians, they include several Russians, Ukrainians and Filipinos.

Malaspina castle

Malaspina Castle, in Gothenburg, Sweden, on September 3, 2005

“The demands of the hijackers were met and the ship has been freed,” said Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Milen Keremedchiev.

Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, based in Mombasa, Kenya, confirmed the release of the vessel.

“It was freed today,” he said on Saturday. “Ransom was paid a week ago.”

Heavily armed Somali pirates continue to attack shipping in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden despite the presence of international warships and a string of recent operations against them in recent months, some of which resulted in bloodshed.

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Full article and photo (1): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8042228.stm

Photo (2): http://www.shipsandharbours.com/picture/number5107.asp

Wrong signals

WHEN pirates attacked the MV Kition, a Greek tanker, late at night in the Gulf of Aden on May 1st, a Portuguese helicopter scared off the assailants and tracked their skiff to its “mother ship”. Portuguese special forces boarded the vessel and found dynamite, automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). That was plenty of evidence, but the pirates went free (after being disarmed). Other countries, including Canada and the Netherlands, have acted similarly. America says such leniency sends “the wrong signal”.

Elsewhere in the lawless waters off Somalia, European navies have been more robust. French commandos have used lethal force to free hostages. Other navies have arrested dozens of suspected pirates and sent them for trial in nearby countries. On April 26th, a Spanish warship helped the Seychelles authorities detain nine Somalis linked to an attack on an Italian cruise liner, the MSC Melody, a day earlier. Sailors and security guards had fought them off; a passenger who saw them coming hurled a deckchair down at them.

The difference in outcomes is odd. The requirement to fight piracy is one of the oldest bits of international law. The idea that any country may take action against pirates is the precursor to the idea of “universal jurisdiction” used to prosecute heinous crimes such as genocide. In Latin legalese, pirates are termed hostis humani generis (an “enemy of mankind”). Moreover, the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea stretches the definition to include crewing a pirate ship and inciting or “intentionally facilitating” attacks. Surely sailing with RPGs, long ladders and grappling hooks should fall within this definition?

Gotcha! But what next?

But many countries have not fully incorporated all this into their national legislation. Some make arrests only if their own nationals or ships are attacked; the Portuguese navy said this was why it released the pirates who attacked the Kition. Britain’s Royal Navy usually requires clear evidence of an actual attack. Just owning piratical kit may not be enough. It is not illegal to bear arms on the high seas.

Coalition politics are also awkward. Navies taking part in the European Union’s Operation Atalanta have an agreement to hand over captured pirates to Kenya. But NATO doesn’t. So vessels under the alliance’s command (except British and American ones) can only “protect and deter”.

Practical considerations count too. Naval cover is stretched thinly over a vast tract of ocean, so delivering suspects to Kenya, say, would take a valuable warship off patrol. Worse, cumbersome court procedures there tie up sailors onshore. Faced with that, some officers reckon it is better to chuck captured weapons overboard but let the people go.

A new international court for pirates, as proposed by Russia, is one idea, but would take a lot of time and money. Douglas Guilfoyle, a law don at University College London, says efforts would be best aimed at boosting the legal systems of Kenya and other countries. The real answer is to sort out Somalia. And navies can’t do that.

The Economist

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Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/world/international/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13610785&source=hptextfeature

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See also:

Royal Navy captures Somali pirates… and sets them free

pirate june 3

pirate june 3 2

Nearly a dozen pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns and grappling hooks have been seized in the Gulf of Aden, after being intercepted by a Royal Navy warship.

Two skiffs had been detected by the radar on board HMS Portland, a Type 23 frigate, which was originally designed for anti-submarine warfare.

Suspecting that they were “not innocent fishing vessels”, the frigate, commanded by Commander Tim Henry, steamed closer to the skiffs and saw that both vessels were filled with weaponry and ammunition. The ship’s Lynx helicopter was sent to hover over the skiffs while teams of Royal Marine and navy personnel in rigid inflatable boats sped towards the craft and disarmed the ten men on board. The Lynx was armed with a machinegun and snipers.

“The skiffs were equipped with extra barrels of fuel, grappling hooks and a cache of weapons that included rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns and ammunition,” navy officials said.

Because of the rules of engagement, however, the ten pirates had to be set free. “We can only arrest suspected pirates if we catch them in the act or on the point of launching an attack on a vessel,” a Ministry of Defence official said.

“Clearly, with all the weaponry in the skiffs, there was an intent to commit piracy, but we hadn’t actually caught them in the middle of an attack so we had to release them.”

All the weapons and ammunition were confiscated and the ten men were piled into the larger of the two skiffs, provided with enough fuel to get them to the Somali coast and told to go home. Some of the fuel was then put into the other skiff and set on fire.

“The pirates tend to use the smaller boats to go up against the merchant vessels they are trying to hijack, so we basically removed or destroyed all the piracy paraphernalia,” the MoD official said.

HMS Portland is serving with the Combined Maritime Forces Task Force 151, a multinational naval group that currently consists of ships from the United States, Britain, Turkey, South Korea, Singapore, Denmark and Japan. It was established to conduct counter-piracy operations.

The latest successful action against pirates in the Gulf of Aden took place on Tuesday. Dramatic pictures of the sequence of events that led to the burning of one of the skiffs were released by the MoD yesterday. The Royal Navy frigate had identified and pursued the skiffs in co-ordination with a Spanish maritime patrol aircraft.

“This international collaboration cannot be understated and as more countries join the fight, we will continue to work together to help deter, disrupt and thwart criminal acts of piracy,” said Commodore Tim Lowe, deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces.

HMS Portland has been involved recently in several other counterpiracy operations. Commander Henry said that his ship was playing her part in keeping the area safe for international trade.

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Full article and photos: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article6425317.ece

For Somali Pirates, Worst Enemy May Be on Shore

pirate may 8

A new sign at a parking lot in Garowe, the sun-blasted capital of the semiautonomous region of Puntland, reads: “No pirates allowed.”

Abshir Boyah, a towering, notorious Somali pirate boss who admits to hijacking more than 25 ships and to being a member of a secretive pirate council called “The Corporation,” says he’s ready to cut a deal.

Facing intensifying naval pressure on the seas and now a rising backlash on land, Mr. Boyah has been shuttling between elders and religious sheiks fed up with pirates and their vices, promising to quit the buccaneering business if certain demands are met.

“Man, these Islamic guys want to cut my hands off,” he grumbled over a plate of camel meat and spaghetti. The sheiks seemed to have rattled him more than the armada of foreign warships patrolling offshore. “Maybe it’s time for a change.”

For the first time in this pirate-infested region of northern Somalia, some of the very communities that had been flourishing with pirate dollars — supplying these well-known criminals with sanctuary, support, brides, respect and even government help — are now trying to push them out.

Grass-roots, antipirate militias are forming. Sheiks and government leaders are embarking on a campaign to excommunicate the pirates, telling them to get out of town and preaching at mosques for women not to marry these un-Islamic, thieving “burcad badeed,” which in Somali translates as sea bandit.

There is even a new sign at a parking lot in Garowe, the sun-blasted capital of the semiautonomous region of Puntland, that may be the only one of its kind in the world. The thick red letters say: No pirates allowed.

Much like the violence, hunger and warlordism that has engulfed Somalia, piracy is a direct — and some Somalis say inevitable — outgrowth of a society that has languished for 18 years without a functioning central government and whose economy has been smashed by war. But here in Garowe, the pirates are increasingly viewed as stains on the devoutly Muslim, nomadic culture, blamed for introducing big-city evils like drugs, alcohol, street brawling and AIDS. A few weeks ago, Puntland police officers broke up a bootlegging ring and poured out 327 bottles of Ethiopian-made gin. In Somalia, alcohol is shunned. Such a voluminous stash of booze is virtually unheard of.

“The pirates are spoiling our society,” said Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud, Puntland’s new president. “We will crush them.”

In the past 18 months, Somali pirates have netted as much as $100 million hijacking dozens of ships and holding them ransom, according to international maritime groups. It will be exceedingly difficult for these men — or the local businesses that they support — to make that kind of money doing anything else in this beleaguered nation.

Still, the Puntland pirate bosses insist they are ready to call it quits, if the sheiks find jobs for their young underlings and help the pirates form a coast guard to protect Somalia’s 1,880-mile coastline from illegal fishing and dumping. These are longstanding complaints made by many Somalis, including those who don’t scamper up the sides of cargo ships, AK-47 in hand.

It is a stretch, to say the least, that the world would accept being policed by rehabilitated hijackers. But on Monday, Mr. Boyah and two dozen other infamous Puntland pirates, many driving Toyota Surfs, a light, fast sport utility vehicle that has become the pirate ride of choice, arrived at an elder’s house in Garowe to make their case nonetheless.

“Negotiation is our religion,” said one pirate, Abdirizak Elmi Abdullahi.

Puntland officials acknowledge, grudgingly, that the pirates have helped them in a way: bringing desperately needed attention and aid.

“Sad but true,” said Farah Dala, Puntland’s minister of planning and international cooperation. “After all the suffering and war, the world is finally paying attention to our pain because they’re getting a tiny taste of it.”

Last month, after an American sea captain was kidnapped by Somali pirates, donor nations pledged more than $200 million for Somalia, in part to fight piracy.

pirate may 8_2_650

Garowe, where several prominent and many lesser Somali pirates make their homes.

Since then, foreign navies have increased their patrols and arrested dozens of pirates. Mr. Boyah conceded that business was getting riskier. But, he said, there are still plenty of merchant ships — and plenty of ocean.

“It’s like hunting out there,” Mr. Boyah said through an interpreter. “Sometimes you get a deer, sometimes you get a dik-dik,” a runty antelope common in Somalia.

Mr. Boyah, 43, was born in Eyl, a pirate den on the coast. He said he dropped out of school in third grade, became a fisherman and took up hijacking after illegal fishing by foreign trawlers destroyed his livelihood in the mid-1990s.

“He’s respected as a pioneer,” said Yusuf Hassan, the managing editor of Garowe Online, a Somali news Web site.

When Mr. Boyah walked into a restaurant recently, he had to shake half a dozen hands before sitting at a plastic, fly-covered table with two foreign journalists.

“Ha!” he said, through a mouthful of spaghetti. “Me eating with white men. This is like the cat eating with the mice!”

The restaurant sat across from the presidential palace. Mr. Boyah cut right through a crowd of Puntland soldiers to enter. He is hard to miss, about 6 foot 4 and dangerously thin. Earlier, he had been sitting on a couch, thigh to thigh, next to a high-ranking police chief. The two joked — or maybe it was not a joke — that they were cousins.

Puntland’s last president, Mohamud Muse Hirsi, was a former warlord widely suspected of collaborating with pirates and voted out of office in January. The new president, Mr. Abdirahman, is a technocrat who had been living in Australia and came back with many Western-educated advisers — and an ambition to be Somalia’s first leader to do something substantive about piracy. He formed an antipiracy commission and even issued a “First 100 Days” report.

Yet, Puntland officials are doing precious little about the pirate kings under their noses — reluctant, perhaps, to provoke a war with crime lords backed by hundreds of gunmen. When asked why they weren’t arresting the big fish, Mr. Abdirahman said, “Rumors are one thing, but we need evidence.”

Indeed, it is hard to see exactly where all those millions went, at least here in Garowe. There are some nice new houses and a few new hotels where pirates hang out, including one encased in barbed wire called “The Ladies’ Breasts.” Dozens of dusty Surfs prowl the streets. But not much else.

Mr. Boyah, who lives in a simple little house, explains: “Don’t be surprised when I tell you all the money has disappeared. When someone who never had money suddenly gets money, it just goes.”

He claims that his estimated take of several hundred thousand dollars disappeared down a vortex of parties, weddings, jewelry, cars and qat, the stimulating leaf that Somalis chew like bubble gum.

Also, because of the extended network of relatives and clansmen, “it’s not like three people split a million bucks,” he said. “It’s more like 300.”

Oh, Mr. Boyah added, he also gives 15 percent to charity, especially to the elderly and infirm.

“I’d love to give them more,” he said.

Over all, he seemed like a man on a genuine quest for redemption — or a very good liar.

“We know what we’re doing is wrong,” he said gravely. “I’m asking forgiveness from God, the whole world, anybody.”

And then his silver Nokia phone chirped yet again. He would not say what he needed to do, but it was time to go.

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Full article and photos: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/09/world/africa/09pirate.html?ref=global-home

South Korean navy warship ‘rescues’ North Korean vessel off Somalia’s coast

A South Korean sniper aims at a pirate boat (South Korean military handout photo)
Seoul says its snipers were prepared to fire warning shots

A South Korean navy warship has foiled a pirate attack on a North Korean cargo ship off Somalia’s coast, military officials in Seoul say.

They say the South Korean destroyer sent a helicopter with snipers on board to drive away a pirate boat that was chasing the North Korean freighter.

Seoul says the pirates sped away from the North Korean ship after the snipers prepared to fire warning shots.

North and South Korea are technically at war following the 1950-53 conflict.

‘Thank you’ message

The military officials in Seoul said their warship had acted after picking up distress signals from the North Korean vessel on Monday.

The pirate boat came as close as 3km (1.8 miles) to the cargo ship when the navy helicopter arrived at the scene, an official with South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff’s office told Reuters news agency.

South Korea said the crew on its warship had received a thank you message from the North Koreans after thwarting the pirate attack.

Seoul did not give any further details about the North Korean vessel or the nature of its cargo.

The South Korean destroyer has been escorting cargo vessels in the region since April.

Last year, pirates attacked more than 100 ships on a key shipping route, demanding huge ransoms for their release.

Their attacks have intensified recently, despite the presence of some 20 foreign naval vessels in the area to counter piracy.

Somalia has been without an effective administration since 1991, fuelling the lawlessness which has allowed piracy to thrive.

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8032385.stm

Somali pirate suspects captured by French navy

 

Captured Somali pirate suspects on board the Nivose
Some of the pirate suspects were taken on board a French frigate
Fourteen suspected Somali pirates have been captured in separate operations by a French frigate and the Seychelles coast guard.

French commandos on the frigate Nivose caught 11 suspects some 900 kms (560 miles) off the Somali coast, the French Defence Ministry says.

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The Nivose is reported to have alerted the Seychelles authorities to help them capture the other three.

Somali pirates are currently holding nearly 20 ships for ransom.

On Saturday a Greek-owned ship with a Ukrainian crew was hijacked by Somali pirates south-west of the Seychelles, a seafarers’ group says.

On the same day a Portuguese warship thwarted an attack on a Norwegian vessel in the Gulf of Aden.

Moving south

According to the French navy, the commandos on the Nivose used fast outboard vessels and a helicopter to detain the 11 Somali suspects who were on three vessels, the AFP news agency reports.

A helicopter from the Nivose hovers above pirate suspects
A helicopter from the Nivose hovers above pirate suspects

It is not clear what will happen to them. In earlier cases pirate suspects have been sent for trial in Kenya or to Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland or to France.

The Nivose is part of the European Union’s operation to protect shipping in the Gulf of Aden. In April it captured 11 presumed pirates off the coast of Kenya.

As foreign navies have stepped up efforts to capture pirates in the Gulf of Aden they have moved further south , operating more in waters of the Seychelles.

The Seychelles government says three more pirates were captured on Sunday.

“The three men identified themselves as Somali. They were travelling in a six-metre skiff with several barrels of fuel and water onboard,” a Seychelles presidential statement said, AFP reports.

Somalia has been without a stable government since 1991, allowing piracy to flourish. The problem worsened in the first months of 2009.

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Full article and photos (1) and (3): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8031701.stm

Photo (2): http://www.netmarine.net/bat/fregates/nivose/photo04.htm

Somali pirates seize Greek ship

A French warship on anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden
Several nations have warships in the Gulf of Aden on anti-piracy patrols

A Greek-owned ship has been hijacked by Somali pirates south-west of the Seychelles, a seafarers group says.

The Ukrainian crew were believed unharmed in the night-time attack, about 250 nautical miles (463km) from the Indian Ocean islands.

It came hours after a Portuguese warship thwarted an attack on a Norwegian vessel in the Gulf of Aden.

The warship, part of a Nato patrol, destroyed explosives they discovered when they captured the pirates.

The Greek ship, MV Ariana, said to be carrying 35,000 tons of soya, was sailing from the Middle East to Brazil, said Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme.

It is owned by a Greek company and managed by Seven Seas Maritime in London.

Distress call

In the earlier incident, the Portuguese warship, the Corte Real, sent a helicopter to help the oil tanker Kition after a distress call was made.

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April 16, 2008: NRP Corte Real F-332 in the Mediterranean Sea during Phoenix Express 08.

The incident happened about 100 miles (161km) from the Somali coast.

The Portuguese helicopter chased the pirates back to their “mother ship”, or command vessel, and briefly detained about 19 pirates, a Nato spokesman said. 

Captain Abelardo Pacheco after his return to Philippines from captivity by Somali pirates
 
Captain Abelardo Pacheco
Former pirate captive

Explosives and grenade launchers were discovered on the mother ship when Portuguese special forces boarded “with no exchange of fire”, Lt Cmdr Alexandre Santos Fernandes said.

“It was almost a kilogramme of high explosives. If used correctly it can open a hole in the hull of a ship and sink her,” Lt Cmdr Fernandes said.

“It is the first time we have spotted high explosives on board a pirate ship, normally they just stick to AK-47s and RPGs (grenades).”

The 19 pirate suspects were released because they had not attacked Portuguese property or citizens.

Meanwhile, the crew of a Philippine tanker have arrived back in the Philippines for an emotional reunion with their families.

The 23 men from Stolt Strength said they had spent the past five months – the longest time Somali pirates have held hostages – in fear of being shot.

“Daily life was always a combination of fear and helplessness, hopelessness,” said Captain Abelardo Pacheco.

“It was the most negative feeling one could experience,” he said, according to AFP news agency.

After meeting their families at Manila airport, crew member Rodel Barreta said he was delighted to be home.

“Of course we’re happy. Who wouldn’t be happy when you’re back with your family?”

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Full article and photo (1) and (3): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8030541.stm

Photo (2): http://www.maritimequest.com/warship_directory/portugal/pages/corte_real_f332_page_1.htm

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NATO Thwarts Hijack off Somalia

Special forces on a Portuguese warship seized explosives from suspected Somali pirates after thwarting an attack on an oil tanker, but later freed the 19 men. Hours later and hundreds of miles away, another band of pirates hijacked a cargo ship, a NATO spokesman said Saturday.

Pirates are now holding 17 ships and around 300 crew, including the Greek-owned cargo ship Ariana, hijacked overnight with its Ukrainian crew.

The attack on the Ariana, about 1,000 miles from the sea corridor NATO guards and the seizure of explosives from the group that attacked the crude-oil tanker MV Kition may indicate the pirates are adapting their tactics as crews become better trained in counter-piracy measures.

Sailors are aware that pirates generally attack during the day and that some guidelines suggest designating a safe room with a bulletproof door where crews can lock themselves in case of an attack. Such a room would still be vulnerable to being blown open with explosives.

It was the first time NATO forces found pirates armed with raw explosives, Lt. Cmdr. Fernandes said from the Portuguese frigate the Corte-Real, which responded to the attack. The Corte-Real had sent a helicopter to investigate a distress call from the Greek-owned and Bahamian-flagged Kition late Friday about 100 miles north from the Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden.

The suspects fled to a larger pirate vessel without damaging the Kition, but were intercepted by the warship an hour later.

“The skiff had returned to the mothership,” Cmdr. Fernandes said, referring to the vessels pirates commonly use to tow their small, fast speed boats hundreds of miles out to sea. “Portuguese special forces performed the boarding with no exchange of fire.”

They found four sticks of P4A dynamite — which can be used in demolition, blasting through walls or potentially breaching a the hull of a ship — which were destroyed along with four automatic rifles and nine rocket-propelled grenades. It was unclear how the pirates planned to use the dynamite, Fernandes said, because there were no translators to conduct interrogations.

Andrew Mwangura of the East Africa Seafarers’ Assistance Program said explosives were also commonly used in illegal fishing.

The 19 pirate suspects were released after consultation with Portuguese authorities because they had not attacked Portuguese property or citizens.

Decisions on detaining piracy suspects fall under national law; Cmdr. Fernandes said Portugal was working on updating its laws to allow for pirate suspects to be detained in such situations.

Nearly 100 ships have been attacked this year by pirates operating from the lawless Somali coastline despite deployment of warships from over a dozen countries to protect the vital Gulf of Aden shipping route.

The latest seizure was another Greek-owned ship, the Maltese-flagged Ariana. Cmdr. Fernandes, who originally said the ship’s British agents were its owners, said it was seized overnight.

Spyros Minas, general manager of Athens-based ship owners Alloceans Shipping, said the captain and 23 crew were all Ukrainians and the ship was carrying a cargo of soya from Brazil to Iran when pirates attacked it southwest of the Seychelles islands.

“The captain reported two armed pirates but there may be more. We have not been contacted yet by the pirates regarding ransom,” he said.

One hijacked vessel, the Philippine tanker MT Stolt Strength, was held more than five months before a $2.5 million ransom was paid and the ship and 23 crew were released April 21.

Anxious relatives greeted the freed crew in a tearful homecoming Saturday at Manila airport.

The Somali pirates had seized the chemical tanker in the Gulf of Aden on Nov. 10 while it was on its way to India with a cargo of phosphoric acid.

After dropping the pirates close to shore, the ship remained vulnerable, unable to speed to a safe harbor because it was low on fuel. German, U.S. and Chinese naval vessels eventually came to their aid, providing food, medicine and fuel, which allowed them to sail to Oman where they stayed for two days before flying home to Manila.

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124126419185380261.html

Russian navy seizes 29 pirates off Somalia

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The Russian destroyer Admiral Panteleyev

A Russian warship captured a suspected pirate vessel with 29 people on board off the coast of Somalia, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday, citing defense ministry sources.

Russia’s Admiral Panteleyev anti-submarine ship seized the vessel 15 miles off the coast of Somalia at 1212 GMT on Tuesday, the Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies reported.

“Seven Kalashnikov rifles, various pistols and an aluminum ladder were discovered during a search of the ship,” RIA Novosti quoted the source as saying. Satellite navigation equipment and a large amount of ammunition was also seized.

“This allows us to assume that this group of pirates undertook two unsuccessful attempts to seize the TF Commander tanker with a Russian crew that was traveling through this region yesterday,” RIA quoted the source as saying.

Russia is among several naval powers with warships in the area to protect one of the world’s busiest sea lanes from spate of hijackings by Somali pirates.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/28/AR2009042802771.html

Photo: http://www.warshipsifr.com/iraq_war_special.html

http://rusnavy.com/news/navy/index.php?ELEMENT_ID=6866

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Russians Hose Down Somali Pirates

commander

The NS Commander

he crew of a Russian oil tanker managed to repel a pirate attack in the waters off Somalia, the company said Tuesday, apparently by hosing them down with water.

Three small pirate vessels attacked the Aframax class NS Commander, owned by Novorossiisk Shipping Company, and its crew of 23 Russians on Monday afternoon in the Gulf of Aden. The would-be hijackers, armed with automatic weapons and grenade launchers, opened fire on the vessel but were outmaneuvered, the statement said.

Online shipping portal Maritime Bulletin reported that the sailors repelled the attack with the tanker’s fire hoses. The company said only that the crew managed to fend off two attempts by the pirates to approach.

“The captain quickly notified the coalition of naval forces in the region of the attack. Direct communication was opened with Russian naval ship the Admiral Panteyev, which was 120 miles from the site of the incident,” the statement said.

No one onboard was injured.

The Liberian-flagged ship and its cargo of 83,000 tons of mazut fuel oil are continuing to Singapore, the statement said. An initial inspection of the tanker found no damage.

The attack highlights the problems facing shippers in the key Gulf of Aden shipping route, which has been plagued in recent months by attacks from increasingly dangerous and well-equipped Somali pirates.

Pirates are holding at least six Russian citizens hostage, Prime-Tass reported earlier this month, citing sources in Kenya and Russia.

In February, hijackers released the Ukrainian ship MV Faina, along with its crew and cargo of 33 tanks, for ransom after holding it for five months. The ship’s captain died of a suspected heart attack shortly after the seizure.

The Navy has joined other military powers in stepping up patrols in the region. Four Russian ships, including the Admiral Panteyev, were recently deployed to the waters off Somalia, each with a military team trained in anti-piracy tactics, Itar-Tass reported.

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Full article and photo:  http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/1010/42/376679.htm

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Russia vows to continue anti-piracy mission off Somali coast

Russian warships will continue patrolling pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast to ensure the safety of commercial shipping in the area, Russia’s defense minister said on Wednesday.

“The Russian Navy will continue patrols in the Gulf of Aden. A new convoy of commercial ships is being formed in the area, and our warships will escort it,” Anatoly Serdyukov told reporters in Moscow.

The minister also confirmed the detention of a pirate vessel off the Somali coast by a Russian warship.

The Admiral Panteleyev missile destroyer, which joined anti-paracy operations in the Gulf of Aden on April 27, detained a boat carrying 29 suspected pirates off the Somali coast at about 6 p.m. Moscow time (14:00 GMT) on Tuesday.

The Defense Ministry said a Ka-27 helicopter from the Admiral Panteleyev fired warning shots after the pirate boat refused to stop and surrender.

A search of the detained vessel turned up seven Kalashnikov assault rifles and several handguns, as well as portable navigation equipment, fuel canisters and a large number of spent cartridges.

“According to preliminary information, there were Somali pirates and Iranian and Pakistani fishermen on board the boat. We will decide soon what to do with them,” Serdyukov said.

A senior Russian navy official said earlier on Wednesday the navy was holding talks with littoral states along the Gulf of Aden as it looked to hand over the pirates.

“We are holding talks with foreign officials on the pirates,” the official said. “We plan to hand them over to a regional country soon for investigation.”

The Admiral Panteleyev is an Udaloy-class missile destroyer armed with anti-ship missiles, 30-mm and 100-mm guns, and Ka-27 Helix helicopters.

The warship replaced another Russian destroyer, the Admiral Vinogradov, which joined the anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia at the beginning of January.

During its mission, which ended in mid-March, the Admiral Vinogradov destroyer escorted 12 convoys comprising a total of 54 ships from 17 countries, and thwarted several pirate attacks on various vessels.

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Full article: http://en.rian.ru/russia/20090429/121369818.html

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Russian destroyer detains Somali pirates

Russia’s Admiral Panteleyev missile destroyer has detained a boat carrying 29 suspected pirates off the Somali coast, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

A new task force from Russia’s Pacific Fleet led by the destroyer joined anti-piracy operations on Monday off the Horn of Africa.

“A search of the detained vessel resulted in the discovery of seven Kalashnikov assault rifles, several handguns, portable navigation equipment, fuel canisters, and a large number of spent cartridges,” the ministry said in a statement.

“This leads us to believe that these pirates could have been involved in two unsuccessful attacks on a Liberian-flagged tanker with a Russian crew on board, which passed through this area on Tuesday with a shipment of oil en route to Singapore. The total number of people detained is 29,” the statement said.

The Russian maritime journal Sovfrakht reported on Tuesday that the NS Commander tanker, partly owned by Russia’s Novoship company, had been attacked by Somali pirates on Monday about 120 miles east of the Yemeni island of Sokotra.

The 23-men crew successfully repelled the attempted hijack and the ship continued on its way to its destination.

At the time of the attack, the tanker was about 130 miles from the Admiral Panteleyev, which is an Udaloy-class missile destroyer armed with anti-ship missiles, 30-mm and 100-mm guns, and Ka-27 Helix helicopters.

A senior Russian navy official said later on Wednesday the navy was holding talks with littoral states along the Gulf of Aden as it looked to hand over the pirates.

“We are holding talks with foreign officials on the pirates,” the official said. “We plan to hand them over to a regional country soon for investigation.”

Around 20 warships from the navies of at least a dozen countries are involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia. According to the United Nations, Somali pirates carried out at least 120 attacks on ships in 2008, resulting in combined ransom payouts of around $150 million.

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Full article: http://en.rian.ru/russia/20090429/121363632.html

MSC Melody Passengers Fought Pirates with Tables and Deck Chairs

 

Melody 6

 

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Passengers on the MSC Melody are provided with protection by a patrol helicopter.

When pirates attacked the cruise ship MSC Melody on Saturday,the captain was making small talk at the bar. Passengers have given a version of events that is more dramatic than the crew’s accounts. They were the first to defend the ship and they are now criticizing the crew, who have been portrayed as heroes.

Ciro Pinto was certain he was right. The captain was relaxed as he enjoyed a drink at the bar of the MSC Melody cruise ship, chatting on Saturday afternoon with two South African passengers. The women asked him if the bands of marauding pirates posed a problem for the cruise. Never, the experienced seaman told them. After all, the ship was far — 1,000 sea miles — away from the Somali coast as it made its course across the Indian Ocean, a few hundred miles south of the Seychelles, on a 22-day cruise from Durban, South Africa, to Genoa, Italy. It was unimaginable, virtually impossible even that flip-flop wearing pirates could attack them here.

But the small talk came to an abrupt end. According to eyewitnesses, two passengers came screaming into the bar and gesticulated wildly as they addressed the captain. A speed boat had appeared at the stern and several armed men were preparing to board the cruise ship, they said. One was already trying to scale the vessel. Several passengers were desperately grabbing deck chairs and tables and hurling them down at the men trying to board the ship.

That’s when the first shots were fired. It was also the point at which the captain understood what was happening — his ship was being attacked by pirates.

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A companion warship can be seen from the deck of the MSC Melody.

Pinto radioed an alarm code to his crew and ordered all passengers to go below deck, immediately. He then ran to the bridge. The pirates continued to try to board the ship. Pinto opened the safe and handed pistols to the security guards on board. He then called on the helmsman to steer the ship on a zig zag course to fend off the pirates by creating large waves. The security guards, who by then had arrived at the ship’s stern, fired two warning shots into the air.

Within a few minutes, the acute danger appeared to have been averted. The fact that the cruise ship’s crew were armed apparently surprised the pirates. According to the account given by the MSC Cruises company, the pirates then rode away in their speedboat, but not before firing a few salvos at the ship with their AK-47 rifles . Window panes were shattered and bullets thudded into the ship’s side.

“It was like war,” the captain proudly announced on an Italian radio station the next morning. The crew and security personnel had defended themselves from the attack professionally, he said.

“You Can’t Hold Back Pirates with Tables and Chairs”

This may read like the script of a Hollywood thriller, but new reports from eyewitnesses show that the attack on Saturday evening was considerably more dramatic than accounts provided so far would suggest. Pierfrancesco Vago, head of the Italian shipping company MSC, confirmed the version that cruise ship passengers gave to SPIEGEL ONLINE, describing their statements as “authentic.”

The new details show just how close the ship came to getting hijacked. “We were professional,” Vago says, rather openly, “but we were also lucky.”

He calls it luck. But passenger Jules Tayler, who was on the ship’s afterdeck, calls it “pure chance.”

Initially, no one noticed the ship was being attacked. The first warning came when a woman intuitively leaned over the railing in semidarkness and noticed something when she peered down. She suddenly turned to her fellow passengers and said: “Yikes, there’s a small boat next to us!”

Tayler and the others rushed to the railing and also saw what he described as five or six men sitting in a roofless pirate boat. One started climbing a rope to the deck beneath them. “He was already halfway up,” says Tayler. One passenger screamed: “Pirates!”

Without hesitation, passengers began to grab whatever they could find around them. “We immediately began throwing tables and deck chairs at the rope,” said Tayler. One hit a pirate scaling it. He fell off and the boat turned around, Tayler recalls.

The skirmish between the passengers and the pirates lasted for several minutes, he says. Suddenly, the pirates opened fire — Tayler says he counted three salvos of 25 to 30 rounds each.

Again and again, the pirate boat would approach the ship and disappear under the stern, only to reemerge. Tayler and his fellow passengers continued to throw chairs despite the gunfire. One passenger was shot in the leg and one bullet grazed the head of a crew member. The armed security staff finally turned up six to eight minutes into the skirmish, passengers claim.

Eyewitness Rolf R.* who spoke to SPIEGEL ONLINE about the attack over the weekend, and Jules Tayler say they are certain that the fact that chairs and tables were thrown at the pirates saved the ship. If a single armed pirate had managed to board the ship, he would easily have been able to take hostage the 600 passengers who were listening to a classical music concert in another part of the ship at the time of the incident, Rolf R. says. “The crew was totally overwhelmed and no one knew how to ring the alarm,” passenger Tayler, a Brit currently residing in South Africa, says.

MSC chief Vago puts it differently: “The passengers obstructed the attackers, but they were scared off by shots from our security people.”

Captain Pinto, who has been celebrated in the press as a hero, reported details of the attack to the passengers on Monday. He seemed to almost be poking fun at them. “You can’t hold back pirates with chairs and tables,” he told the assembled passengers.

“It was only through the exemplary work of his crew and he himself that the ship was able to fend off the pirates,” cruise passenger Rolf R. recalls the captain as saying. Pinto, it seems, relished his role as a hero.

 

Why the Ship’s Passengers Don’t Think Captain Pinto Was a Hero

Rolf. R. says more than a few passengers are irritated by the captain’s posturing, and they in no way view him as a hero. “Many are now asking why the captain first had to be alerted about the shots through the passengers,” says R. He is also unwilling to accept claims made by the cruise company that the passengers were never in danger. The shots were “fired at windows located just 50 meters from a group of many hundreds of passengers” attending a classical music concert, he says.

During the meeting with passengers, the captain reportedly refused to answer any critical questions. But passengers want to know why it took so long for the crew to react. And why no guards were stationed on deck at night as the ship sailed close to a region that has seen pirate attacks? And why the ship’s radar hadn’t triggered an early warning as the pirate boat approached?

“We Weren’t in the Risk Zone”

The statements of MSC Cruises chief Vago illustrate how poorly prepared cruise ships have been up to now in dealing with the threat of pirate attacks. “Up until now, we have given more consideration to fish specialities or fine wines than attacks on the high seas,” the Italian cruise executive says. The company says it has had security personnel on its ships for the past 25 years, but “because of legal provisions,” they are required to keep their weapons in a safe. The captain is only permitted to distribute the guns after an alarm has been given.

In the case of the MSC Melody, the delay between the alarm and active defense was too short for pirates to be able to board the ship. Nevertheless, the photos of shattered windows in several cabins show that frustrated pirates firing around like madmen could easily have caused injuries or deaths. That’s why Pinto praised his guests. He said all had immediately obeyed his order to go under deck. Many left behind their mobile phones, purses and even their shoes as they dashed to safety, he said.

MSC Cruises chief Vago has denied allegations that the cruise line jeopardized the safety of its passengers. Just before the cruise started, the company had even changed the ship’s route to steer it even further away from the dangerous Somali coastal waters than originally planned. “We weren’t in the risk zone,” Vago emphasizes. But the scope of that zone has grown with each successive pirate attack. The pirates are operating in an ever greater area — a trend that has grown further with the MSC Melody incident.

The details also tell a lot about the pirates — the extent of their audacity and their high level of organization.

Shortly after the ship’s passengers had helped fend off the attackers and the captain had alerted international warships, the satellite phone on the bridge rang. “You have been attacked, you need help,” a man said in broken English. “Give us your coordinates and we will come to you.” Captain Pinto thought the call was strange. The man on the other end of the line didn’t want to give the name of his ship, so the captain refused to state the MSC Melody’s position. He may have saved the passengers and crew from another pirate attack.

“The Pirates Tried to Attack us Again”

“The ship had been completely blacked out and made invisible to the pirates,” MSC chief Vago says. “But we’ve become certain in the meantime that the pirates were trying to get the position data so they could attack us again.” The captain has said he believes he heard street sounds in the background in the telephone conversation. And Vago says he believes that accomplices back on the mainland were trying to provide the pirates at sea with assistance.

The MSC chief is shocked by the pirate bands. He says journalists have told him that a Somalian who claimed to be the head of the commando bragged about the attack by phone on Saturday. The caller allegedly said that cruise ships were a new target for pirates. He said that, this time, they had failed due to technical reasons. “The pirates appear to feel downright incited by the war ships and the efforts being made against them,” Vago says. It is just a matter of time before the next attack happens, he says.

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Passengers after the pirate shock: The cruise ship has been provided with a military escort since the attack.

Vago has already taken his first steps in response to the attack. “We are no longer going to travel through the dangerous areas of the Indian Ocean near the Somalian coast,” the cruise ship company’s chief says. A trip through the region planned for another of the company’s ships, the MSC Symphonia, for this autumn has been cancelled. “We won’t travel this route and will instead take a course along West Africa,” he says.

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Helicopters and planes have also been deployed to accompany the ship as it sails.

The cruise line, apparently, doesn’t want to have to rely on luck again as it did on Saturday.

Some good news came late Monday night, too, via the Spanish military. The frigate Numancia has detained nine suspected pirates who may have been involved in the attack on the MSC Melody. The men were found near the location where the attack took place. After being detained, the men were turned over to the authorities in the Seychelles because the attack took place in that country’s waters.

Still, we may never know if the men were really involved in the incident.

* Name has been changed and shortened by the editors because the family of Rolf R. did not want to be identified.

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Full article and photos (2) and following: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,621708,00.html

Photo (1): http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/0,1518,622445,00.html

Somali vigilantes capture pirates

File photo of assailants who attacked a cruise ship off the coast of Somalia in 2005
Somali pirates face the death penalty under new get-tough measures

Somali vigilantes have captured 12 armed pirates in two boats, as coastal communities begin to fight back against the sea raiders.

Regional leaders at Alula and Bargaal in Somalia’s northern Puntland region told the BBC they have put together a militia of fishermen to catch pirates.

They decided to act as they were fed up with their fishing vessels being seized at gunpoint by the ocean-going bandits.

Meanwhile, the Seychelles said it had arrested nine suspected pirates.

The men were intercepted by a Spanish frigate near the Indian Ocean archipelago on Monday.

They are accused of firing on Saturday at the Italian cruise ship the Melody – which had more than 1,500 passengers – in an attack repelled by Israeli security guards.

“They are now in detention in a prison cell of the Seychelles police force and are expected to be charged and tried in the islands,” Seychellois President James Michel’s office said in a statement on Tuesday, reported AFP news agency.

Somali pirates have hijacked 25 vessels since the beginning of this year and are holding more than 260 crew around the stronghold of Eyl in Puntland, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

Map
They decided to confront… the problems of the sea piracy
Traditional leader Faarah Mohammed

Now frustrated regional leaders have taken the law into their own hands.

One of them, Faarah Mohammed, told the BBC: “There is a security committee set up by the communities who live in Bargaal and Alula.

“And they decided to confront whatever was creating problems in their areas and particularly, the problems of the sea piracy.

“And eventually their effort led to the capture of three boats and 12 men with their weapons. One boat got away.”

The BBC’s Somali Service says the militia will have to hand the pirates over to the local authorities.

Somali pirates could face the death penalty under recent get-tough measures announced by the internationally recognised but fragile Somali government.

Navies from Nato, the EU, Russia, Japan, China, India, Yemen, US Malaysia, Singapore have been patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden in an effort to deter the gangs.

But some regional leaders say the foreign navies are protecting foreign fishing boats and allowing them to continue scooping up the fish-stocks that once provided Somalis with their livelihoods.

The lucrative lobster trade with Dubai is said to have collapsed after the foreign boats’ giant trawler nets damaged the fragile coral that is the crustaceans’ habitat.

As a result some fishermen decided to become pirates, but it appears that the local communities are now turning against these activities, says BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut.

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Full article and photos: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8022820.stm

Yemen tanker seized from pirates

file photo of pirate

Pirates have continued raids despite warship patrols off Somalia

Yemeni special forces have freed an oil tanker captured by Somali pirates, Yemeni officials say.

Eleven pirates were arrested in the operation, they said. The Qana was seized on Sunday but was not carrying cargo at the time.

It was one of four tankers attacked off Yemen’s coast but coastguards freed the other vessels after a fierce battle.

On Saturday an Italian cruise ship with 1,500 passengers fended off an attack from pirates off the coast of Somalia.

The Qana is being escorted to the Yemeni city of al-Mukalla, according to AFP news agency.

On Sunday pirates freed another Yemeni-owned tanker, the Sea Princess II, which had been held since January. There were no details about the conditions of the release.

Yemen lies 700 miles from Somalia, where the pirates operate from. The BBC’s Christian Fraser in Cairo says they are taking advantage of current favourable weather conditions to launch attacks further afield.

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8019926.stm

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Yemen Frees Ship and Captures Pirates

Yemeni special forces Monday freed a Yemeni oil tanker seized by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, killing three pirates and capturing at least nine on board, a government official said.

The ship, named Qana, was seized by Somali pirates off Yemen’s coast Sunday but was empty of oil cargo. The deaths Monday took to five the number of pirates killed as Yemeni forces battled for two days to take back the vessel.

They were escorting the tanker to the Yemeni port of Aden on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Pirates have made millions of dollars over the past year from seizing ships and taking crews hostage. Pirates have increased raids on ships passing through the Gulf of Aden, a key shipping lane for oil and cargo, since February.

Better weather has allowed them to operate more freely despite foreign navy patrols off the coast of Somalia.

Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, is a small producer of oil and exports 200,000 barrels per day but is one of the world’s poorest countries.

The tanker, with a 23-strong crew of which three are Indian and the rest Yemenis, has a capacity of 3,000 tons but was not carrying any cargo when it was seized.

The pirates had briefly seized three other vessels earlier before Yemeni forces freed them, a Yemeni official said.

Sunday pirates freed the Yemeni-owned Sea Princess II tanker that had been held since January 2.

The London-based IMB watchdog said piracy incidents nearly doubled in the first quarter of 2009, almost entirely due to Somalia and there were 18 attacks off its coast in March alone.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/04/27/world/international-us-yemen-ship-release.html?hp

Israeli guards repel Somali pirate attack on cruise ship

melody-ship500big
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This undated handout photo made available by the MSC Kreuzfahrten GmbH shows the Italian cruise ship Melody which was embroiled in a high-seas firefight with pirates on Saturday in the Indian Ocean off Somalia. The Melody had come under sudden attack from six armed men aboard a fast rubber boat using Kalashnikovs, the ships captain reported, adding that the pirates were operating from a mother ship in the area.
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An Italian cruise ship with 1,500 people on board fended off a pirate attack far off the coast of Somalia when its Israeli private security forces exchanged fire with the bandits and drove them away, the commander said Sunday. Cmdr. Ciro Pinto told Italian state radio that six men in a small white boat approached the Msc Melody and opened fire with automatic weapons Saturday night, but retreated after the Israeli security officers aboard the cruise ship returned fire.
“It felt like we were in war,” Pinto said.
“They tried to put up a ladder with hooks. They were climbing up, so we reacted. We started firing. When they saw us firing — we even sprayed them with water with the firehose — they gave up and went off,” Pinto said.
The pirates followed the Melody for another 20 minutes, firing at it all the while, Pinto said.

“The passengers meanwhile were inside the cabin. There are no injuries. Only two people with scrapes,” the captain said. “Someone slipped, fell. Just a few light scrapes.”
Domenico Pellegrino, head of the Italian cruise line, said Msc hired the
Israelis because they were the best trained security agents, the ANSA news agency reported.
Cruise line security work is a popular job for young Israelis who have
recently been discharged from mandatory army service, as it is a good chance to save money and travel.

Civilian shipping and passenger ships have generally avoided arming crewmen or hiring armed security for reasons of safety, liability and compliance with the rules of the different countries where they dock.

Saturday’s exchange of fire was one of the first reported between pirates and a nonmilitary ship. International military forces have battled pirates, with U.S. Navy snipers killing three holding an American captain hostage in one of the highest-profile incidents.

The Spanish warship SPS Marques de Ensenada was meeting up with the liner to escort her through the pirate-infested northern Gulf of Aden, the Maritime Security Center said.

The cruise ship was headed as scheduled to the Jordanian port of Aqaba. The Melody was on a 22-day cruise from Durban, South Africa, to Genoa, Italy.

Pirates have attacked more than 100 ships off the Somali coast over the last year, reaping an estimated $1 million in ransom for each successful hijacking, according to analysts and country experts.

Another Italian-owned vessel remains in the hands of pirates. The Italian-flagged tugboat Buccaneer was seized off Somalia on April 11 with 16 crew members aboard.

On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry dispatched a special envoy, Margherita
Boniver, to Somalia to try to win the release of the tug and crew. In a
statement, the ministry also denied reports by relatives of the crew that an ultimatum had been issued by the pirates.
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Full article: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1081183.html

Photo: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090426.wcruiseshippiracy0426/BNStory/International/home

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See also: Italy ship thwarts pirate attack

 

Melody cruise ship. File photo
Some 1,500 passengers and crew were aboard the Melody ship

 

A captain of an Italian cruise ship has given the BBC a dramatic account how his crew fended off a pirate attack off the coast of Somalia.

Capt Ciro Pinto said six pirates in a speedboat approached his Melody ship and opened fire, but then fled after security men fired in the air.

He said his crew also sprayed water on the gunmen when they tried to climb aboard using a ladder.

No-on was hurt in Saturday’s incident. Some 1,500 people were on the vessel.

Pirates have recently intensified attacks on shipping in the region, despite patrols by the foreign navies.

Last year, pirates attacked more than 100 ships in the region, demanding huge ransom for their release.

Captain’s story

Capt Pinto told the BBC that the pirates tried to hijack his ship late on Saturday, about 290km (180 miles) north of Victoria in the Seychelles.

“One white small boat with six people on board approached the port [left] side of the ship and started shooting.”

The captain said the pirates fired some 200 rounds of shots on the vessel.

His said “our security started shooting in the air… and also we started spraying some water” to beat off the attackers.

Capt Pinto said the pirates were forced to give up after about five minutes of shooting and a high-speed chase.

The head of the Italy’s MSC Cruises, which owns the Meloday, credited the captain for his “cool-headed” handling of the incident, Italy’s Ansa news agency reported.

The ship was on a cruise from South Africa to Italy. It was now headed as scheduled for the Jordanian port of Aqaba.

Somali pirates have hijacked about a dozen ships since the start of April, despite the presence of around 20 foreign naval vessels in the area.

International warships have been patrolling the waters off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden in recent months as part of an effort to counter piracy.

They have freed a number of ships, but attacks have continued.

Somalia has been without an effective administration since 1991, fuelling the lawlessness which has allowed piracy to thrive.

Shipping companies last year handed over about $80m (£54m) in ransom payments to the gangs.

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8019084.stm

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See also: Italian cruise ship beats off pirate attack

An Italian cruise ship used guns and a firehose to beat off an attack by pirates off the east African coast, the vessel’s captain said Sunday.

Pirates also freed a Yemeni-owned tanker, the Sea Princess II, Sunday, a Kenyan maritime official that monitors growing piracy off Somalia told Reuters.

Commander Ciro Pinto of the MSC Melody, which has a capacity of 1,500 passengers and crew, said his ship was slightly damaged by firing from the pirates.

The ship came under attack when it was 200 miles north of the Seychelles and 600 miles off the Somali coast. “They started firing like crazy at the ship,” he told Italian television Skytg24.

Pinto said pistols were handed out to security staff and they opened fire on the pirates when they tried to clamber up the sides of the ship.

“They tried to put up a ladder with hooks. They were climbing up, so we reacted. We started firing. When they saw us firing — we even sprayed them with water with the firehose — they gave up and went off,” Pinto said.

The sea gang followed the Melody for another 20 minutes, firing at it all the while, Pinto said.

“The passengers meanwhile were inside the cabin. There are no injuries. Only two people with scrapes,” the captain said. “Someone slipped, fell. Just a few light scrapes.”

Although the ship’s action may have saved the Melody from capture, the Kenyan maritime official said it only endangered the lives of passengers.

“Having weapons on a passenger or merchant ship is dangerous. They should have used other means to shake off the pirates, like a loud acoustic device,” said Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa-based East African Sea Farers Assistance Program.

He was referring to a device that can produce a deafening sound to deter pirates when directed toward their vessel.

“Only military ships should have weapons on board.”

FREE YEMENI TANKER

Mwangura said pirates also released a Yemeni-owned tanker on Sunday. The vessel was seized on January 2 and was carrying petroleum products. It had 15 crew members, including eight Indian seamen.

“Information shows that the Sea Princess II is free. She is now underway to safe waters,” he said. “There must have been a ransom paid but we don’t know how much.”

Another ship was let free Saturday, after a $1.9 million ransom payment.

Buccaneers have increased raids on ships passing through the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean since February when better weather allowed them to hijack more vessels and take more hostages despite foreign navies patrolling off Somalia.

It is not the first time that pirates have tried to seize a cruise ship, but they have always been fended off.

The London-based IMB watchdog said piracy incidents nearly doubled in the first quarter of 2009 almost entirely due to Somalia. There were 18 attacks off the Somali coast in March alone.

They have made millions of dollars from seizing ships and taking crews hostage. Pirates freed a Greek ship Saturday after they received a $1.9 million ransom just hours after another ship, a German grain carrier, was grabbed in the Gulf of Aden.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/26/AR2009042600339_pf.html

 

Pirates seize German ship near Somalia

Pirates have seized a German-owned ship in the pirate-infested waters between Somalia and Yemen, a U.S. Navy spokesman said Saturday.

Pirates captured the Maltese-flagged MV Patriot early on Saturday in the Gulf of Aden about 150 nautical miles (280 kilometers) southeast of the coastal Yemeni city of Muqalla, said U.S. Navy 5th Fleet spokesman Lt. Nathan Christensen.

map-german1 

Map of the Horn of Africa region spots the approximate location of a German ship seized by pirates and shows international shipping routes and 2009 pirate attacks

An official from the German Foreign Ministry could not immediately confirm the ship’s capture on Saturday.

Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa, Kenya-based East African Seafarers’ Assistance Program, a group that monitors pirate activity off the African coast, said the ship has 17 crew members but could not name their nationalities. He said the large cargo vessel is designed to carry grain, but said he did not know what cargo it contained when it was captured.

According to the company’s Web site, the Patriot is part of the fleet of Hamburg-based Johann M.K. Blumenthal, one of Germany’s oldest shipping companies. A man who answered the phone at the company’s switchboard declined to give his name or details of the situation, saying: “For the time being we will not give further information to the press.”

patriot

MV Patriot

Many of the ships crossing the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s most busy shipping lanes, are carrying food to eastern African nations, as was the case for the MV Maersk Alabama, a U.S.-flagged vessel that was hijacked by pirates earlier this month leading to a five-day standoff with the U.S. Navy.

Also in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday, naval vessels from the U.S., Germany and China came to the aid of a Philippine chemical tanker stranded without fuel in waters near Somalia days after it was freed by pirates.

Maria Elena Bautista, administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority, said a U.S. Navy ship provided five days worth of diesel fuel for the MT Stolt Strength, which was drifting some 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of the Somali coast. The pirates seized the ship in November as it sailed through the Gulf of Aden with a cargo of phosphoric acid.

Pirates have attacked more than 100 ships off the Somali coast over the last year, reaping an estimated $1 million in ransom for each successful hijacking, according to analysts and country experts.

Somalia, which was plunged into anarchy in 1991 after its dictator was overthrown, has become the pirates’ de facto base, a war-wracked country with an economy in tatters where pirates are often viewed as heroes, using ransom money to build lavish villas for their families.

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Full article and photo (1): http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/25/AR2009042500954.html?hpid=moreheadlines

Photo (2): http://www.bluships.com/index.php?SID=321496E469897187&page=fleet&category=4&ship=5

Pirates free a Japanese tanker and 23 Filipinos after holding them for five months

Doris Deseo, wife of Filipino sailor Carlo, in Manila, Philippines on 13 April 2009
The wife of one of the freed sailors said she was “super happy”

Somali pirates have freed a Japanese tanker and its crew of 23 Filipinos after holding them for five months.

The owner of the ship said securing the release was “difficult and protracted”. It is not known if a ransom was paid.

The Philippines is the world’s largest supplier of maritime labour, and about 100 of the 300 sailors currently held hostage by Somali pirates are Filipino.

The Manila government has now decided to ban its sailors working on ships travelling through the Gulf of Aden.

Somalia has had no stable government since 1991, fuelling the lawlessness that has allowed piracy to thrive.

Nato warships are patrolling the seas in the area, and over the past weeks have stepped up their action against the pirates, freeing a number of ships.

One of the suspected pirates is due to face trial in New York shortly – the first person to face piracy charges in the US for more than a century.

Haggling

The Stolt Strength was seized in November 2008 while it was carrying a cargo of phosphoric acid from Senegal to India.

The owner of the vessel, Sagana Shipping Inc, declined to say whether any ransom was paid for Tuesday morning’s release.

Doris Deseo, wife of Carlo Deseo, the ship’s 31-year-old third mate, told AP news agency: “They have been released, thank God! I am super happy.”

Andrew Mwangura, of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, told AFP news agency: “We think that something was paid but we don’t know what.”

Relatives of the crew have said the pirates’ ransom demand was haggled down to just over $2m (£1.4m) by last week.

Just before receiving news of the hostages’ release, the Philippine government decided to stop its sailors working on vessels that might pass through the Gulf of Aden.

Several government departments are working on the precise wording of the measure, and its scope and efficacy remain unclear.

But Arthur Bowring, managing director of the Hong Kong Ship-Owners’ Association, told the BBC: “We do have concerns about how such a measure would work in practice.”

Philippine sailors are part of the country’s huge remittance economy, in which billions of dollars are earned by the country’s citizens working abroad as maids, sailors or construction workers.

Families back in the Philippines depend on the money they send back.

Philippine seamen’s groups have attacked the idea of a ban as ridiculous, saying it is empty rhetoric from a government unable to provide livelihoods at home.

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8009580.stm

Somali Suspect Is Indicted on Piracy Charges

The young Somali man brought to New York last month and accused of piracy was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Manhattan, federal prosecutors said.

The young man, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, whose age is unknown but who is believed to be a teenager, was the only survivor of a group of men that boarded the Maersk Alabama, a United States-flagged cargo ship, off the coast of Somalia on April 8, the authorities have said. The ship’s captain eventually offered himself as a hostage, and was later rescued in a daring Navy Seal operation, in which three of his captors were killed.

The indictment charges Mr. Muse with 10 counts, including piracy and conspiracy to seize a ship by force and to take hostages.

Mr. Muse is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday before Judge Loretta A. Preska in United States District Court in Manhattan. Any trial would seem to be many months away.

One of Mr. Muse’s lawyers, Philip L. Weinstein, a federal public defender, had no comment except to say that his client would enter a plea of not guilty.

When Mr. Muse was first charged in April, the office of Lev L. Dassin, the acting United States attorney for the Southern District, said that he was over 18 years old.

But Mr. Muse’s lawyers argued that he was under 18, and should be treated as a juvenile, which would include closing court proceedings to the public and to the news media.

A federal magistrate judge, Andrew J. Peck, held a closed hearing and took testimony from Mr. Muse’s father through a telephone hook up in Somalia, and an interpreter. The father said his son was born on Nov. 20, 1993, which would make him 15 years old.

But a New York police detective, who had traveled to Africa as part of the team investigating the incident, told Judge Peck that Mr. Muse, after giving varying ages, acknowledged that he was “between 18 and 19.”

The detective, Frederick Galloway, testified that Mr. Muse had apologized for lying. “He said, ‘When I pray again, I’ll ask Allah to forgive me for lying to you, and I won’t lie to you again,’ ” the detective said.

Judge Peck ruled that Muse would be prosecuted as an adult. Mr. Muse is being held without bond in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan. If convicted of the piracy count, he faces a mandatory life sentence, the authorities said.

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Full article: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/somali-suspect-is-indicted-on-piracy-charges/?hp

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See also:

Pirate Suspect, now in New York, Charged as Adult

muse

Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, accused of hijacking the Maersk Alabama and taking its captain hostage, was led into a federal building in New York on Monday night.

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A Somali teenager was arraigned in a New York courtroom on Tuesday on charges that he was one of a group of pirates who tried to hijack a United States-flagged cargo ship, and then held its American captain hostage for days in a lifeboat on the Indian Ocean.

The most serious of the five charges in the case, piracy under the law of nations, carries a mandatory life sentence.

The federal magistrate judge in the case, Andrew J. Peck, announced late in the afternoon that the teenager, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, was old enough to stand trial as an adult. He rejected the defense’s contention that young man was younger than 16 and that the proceedings should therefore be closed to spectators and the news media.

“The court has determined that Mr. Muse is not a juvenile and we can proceed in open court,” the judge said from the bench, after conducting a closed-door hearing on the question of the defendant’s age. The judge’s decision to conduct that hearing was made over objections from the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, which said it had evidence that he was older than 18, as well as from reporters, who objected on First Amendment grounds.

“We’re trying to accommodate First Amendment interests versus Fifth Amendment interests,” the judge said.

Summarizing the closed-door proceeding afterward, the judge said that the defendant’s father, Abdiqadir Muse, testified by telephone from Somalia that the teenager was his oldest son and was born on Nov. 20, 1993. But when the father was asked about the birth dates of his other children, he gave no precise dates, only vague and inconsistent answers, which seemed “somewhat peculiar to the court, to put it mildly,” the judge said. In sum, he said, “The father’s testimony was not credible.”

The teenager, who was identified in initial news reports as Abduhl Wali-i-Musi, had also given varying answers about his age to the authorities, prosecutors said, and had eventually acknowledged that he was 18 and apologized for his earlier deceptions. Prosecutors said they also had another witness who said he was told by the teenager’s brother that he was 18.

In addition to the piracy charge, the arraignment included counts of conspiracy to seize a ship by force; conspiracy to commit hostage-taking; and two charges connected with the use of firearms in those acts.

Surrounded by federal guards and television cameras, Mr. Muse arrived in New York late Monday. He smiled but said nothing as he was led into a federal building in a driving rainstorm, handcuffed with a chain around his waist and clad in a blue jumpsuit with his left hand wrapped in thick white bandages.

The American crew of the cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, said he was injured when they captured him during the attempted hijacking on April 8. He is the sole Somali survivor of the incident; he was aboard the U.S. Navy destroyer Bainbridge when sharpshooters on the vessel shot and killed the three pirates holding the captain, Richard Phillips, on the lifeboat.

Sitting on the right side of the courtroom during the 10 minutes of open proceedings following the closed-door hearing on his age late Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Muse held his left hand by his temple, largely obscuring his face from the view of onlookers.

“We are expecting this to be a very long trial proceeding,” said Omar Jamal, the director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, which helps Somali immigrants with legal and social issues. “How long has it been since the United States tried a pirate? They must dig through the books for precedents.”

Mr. Jamal said he had been asked by the accused man’s family to assist with the legal case and that he spoke with the family Monday night, allowing a reporter from The Associated Press to participate in the call.

During the conversation, the accused pirate’s mother said he was 16, and was lured into piracy by older men with the promise of money.

“I appeal to President Obama to pardon my teenager,” the mother, Adar Abdirahman Hassan, said by telephone from her home in Galkayo, Somalia, The Associated Press reported. “I request him to release my son or at least allow me to see him and be with him during the trial.”

Abdiqadir Muse, the accused pirate’s father, said the family is penniless and that the pirates lied to his son, telling him they were going to get money, The A.P. said.

After the proceeding, Mr. Muse’s lawyers described their client as frightened and out of his element, regardless of his age.

“Judge Peck may have found for today that he is of the age of majority but as you can tell, he is extremely young, injured and terrified,” said one lawyer, Dierdre van Dornum, who added: “We do not believe he is an adult.”

At one point in court, Ms. van Dornum had suggested to Judge Peck that her client might be subject to the protections of the Geneva Convention, and later explained to reporters that he might have been kidnapped in his native country before the hijacking.

“If any of this action had to do with him being kidnapped or taken hostage, then he would be subject to those protections,” she said outside the courthouse. “We need to look into the factual situation. We don’t have the information, yet but there’s certainly some possibility that he himself was kidnapped.”

They added that Mr. Muse had been shackled after being taken into custody, and he had been blindfolded with duct tape that was removed while he was being questioned.

The lawyers described Mr. Muse as a simple fisherman from a village without electricity or doctors. He had never been to a hospital, they said, and had never seen a camera until Monday.

“He is in pain now,” said another one of his lawyers, Philip Weinstein. “He’s scared, confused and he’s very troubled about what’s going on.”

Though the court has settled the question of Mr. Muse’s age, other issues make the case murky under the federal statute that deals with piracy — 18 U.S. Code Section 1653, which was last updated in 1948 — according to the New York defense attorney Ronald L. Kuby, who said he was called by Mr. Jamal for assistance with the case.

“How did he come into American custody?” Mr. Kuby asked. “There are conflicting reports. Did he come on to the Bainbridge” — the U.S. Navy destroyer on the scene during the standoff — “to seek medical attention, or come under a flag of truce?” In either case, he said, holding the suspected pirate would be a violation of the principle of neutrality.

The larger issues surrounding piracy near Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since 1991, might also play a role, because the piracy statute speaks about treaties between nations.

A more clear-cut case, Mr. Kuby said, would be to try the young Somali under the federal statue for hostage taking.

A criminal trial would be historic and potentially useful approach to a longstanding problem, other maritime law experts said, noting that piracy in the waters off Somalia has become a growing concern, and that diplomatic and military approaches have yet to tame it.

New York is a logical site for the trial because the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan has developed great expertise in trying crimes that occur outside the United States, including cases in Africa involving terrorism against Americans, such as the Al Qaeda bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.

Under international law, any country can prosecute acts of piracy committed in international waters, but in practice, not all nations have incorporated anti-piracy statutes into their domestic legislation, said Roger Middleton, an expert on piracy at Chatham House, a research organization based in London.

Still, United States prosecutions for piracy have been exceedingly rare for a century or more. A 1927 case involving the hijacking of rum-running vessels ended with the piracy charges dropped in a plea bargain. A 1952 case involving a shipload of cigarettes hijacked off the coast of Spain was tried in an American consular court in Tangier, Morocco, and resulted in armed robbery and conspiracy convictions but a relatively short sentence of three years in prison, because the conspirator who was tried was not present at the hijacking.

Warships patrolling the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia under NATO auspices in have not always been holding the suspected pirates they catch. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Washington that releasing pirates “sends the wrong signal,” and the alliance must discuss ways that they can be brought to justice.

“There isn’t a consistent approach across the world, and you aren’t guaranteed to be prosecuted if you are picked up as a pirate,” Mr. Middleton said.

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Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/22/nyregion/22pirate.html?hp

Somali Pirates Form Unholy Alliance with Islamists

FRANCE-SOMALIA/PIRATES

French commandos are seen arresting pirates in Somalia on April 11, 2008 in this handout photo released April 13, 2008. French commandos seized six pirates in Somalia on Friday during a daring helicopter raid launched shortly after the bandits had released the 30-strong crew of a luxury yacht, the Ponant, hijacked last week.

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Warships have done little to deter Somalia’s pirates. But following the latest spate of hijackings, the West plans to take a more robust approach to protecting shipping. Intelligence agencies are alarmed at the pirates’ increasingly close ties to Islamist groups.

A sack filled with $1 million (€770,000) in $100 bills weighs just under 15 kilos (33 pounds). Occasionally $3 million in ransom money is paid to Somali pirates for a hijacked freighter and its crew. That’s nearly 45 kilos.

Delivering millions of dollars to the pirates is a hell of a job, says Jack Cloonan, a security expert from New York. “Remember, they’re sitting there and they’re all armed to the teeth,” he says. “And you’re sitting there in your rubber raft: ‘Here’s one for you, and one for you … ‘”

Throughout his career, Cloonan has dealt with his fair share of nasty characters. As a FBI special agent, he tracked down Warsaw Pact spies and, in the wake of 9/11, al-Qaida terrorists. But transferring the money to Somalia’s often drug-addled pirates is “an extremely difficult” maneuver, he says. “It would be nice if the Somali pirates would accept a wire transfer — but they don’t.”

Cloonan has quit his government job and joined a booming industry. Shipping companies call on him for help when the pirates off the Horn of Africa have hijacked one of their ships.

He and his team organize negotiations — and they know all the traps and tricks. They figure out a way to get the ransom money to Africa and ensure that the crew and freighter reach their home port safe and sound. Cloonan has liberated a number of ships over the past few months — and there’s plenty of potential for growth in his line of work.

Ever since the weather improved in early March, Somalia’s barefoot pirates have seized seven vessels, including Germany’s Hansa Stavanger, a container ship with five German officers and 19 sailors on board.

With their small fiberglass boats, the pirates are making fools of the world’s most powerful countries. No less than four international fleets of high-tech warships are patrolling the waters off Somalia’s coasts, and there are frigates and destroyers from countries like China and Russia that are working independently. All of these ships have cannons or missiles, helicopters and satellite support; some could lay waste to entire cities. But this has done little to deter the pirates, with their bashed-up outboard boats and Kalashnikovs. It’s a fight between David and Goliath — except in this case, the bad guys are playing the role of David, and the good guys are Goliath.

But now Goliath is taking a harder line. Military officers are frustrated and their governments have had enough of coughing up for boats. Every million-dollar ransom bolsters the pirates. It’s a dilemma: Countries that pay up will end up paying more and more.

The Americans and the French have changed course and started shooting at the pirates. Even the Germans considered freeing the Hansa Stavanger by force. Some of the strategies which experts in Washington, London and Berlin are developing resemble battle plans for a new military campaign — and that in a war-torn country like Somalia, which has already been the site of a number of military debacles. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: “We may be dealing with a 17th-century crime, but we need to bring 21st-century assets to bear.”

And there’s no time to waste, now that a new threat is emerging. Intelligence agencies have managed to deeply penetrate the pirate clans. They have inside information about the bosses, arms caches, alliances and arrangements. Experts also have reason to believe that the pirates are increasingly working hand-in-hand with Islamists, who are allies of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida. It’s a terrifying alliance: The pirates supply money and arms, while the Islamists have troops and the power on land.

pirate-spiegel-1

Map: Pirate activity in Somalia

But it is also a highly unlikely alliance. Up until recently, the pirates and Islamists have been mortal enemies. When fighters loyal to the radical Council of Islamic Courts seized power in Somalia in 2006, they immediately put the pirates out of business because piracy violates Islamic Sharia law.

Half a year later, an invading army from US-backed neighboring Ethiopia swept aside the Islamists — and the pirates quickly headed out to sea again in search of new booty.

The Ethiopians have meanwhile largely retreated, but the new government in Mogadishu, which was elected in January, controls only a fraction of the country. The rest is ruled by Islamist groups, like the al-Shabab militias and a new faction called Hizbul Islam (Party of Islam).

The pirates want money and the Islamists want power — but these interests can overlap at times. In November of last year, conflict erupted once again after the pirates seized the Sirius Star. That wasn’t particularly clever. The supertanker belongs to the Saudis, who are also Muslims, and the Islamists naturally objected to the raid. A few shots were fired.

However, that couldn’t really shatter the alliance and, ironically, one reason for this is that the infidels are making inroads into Somalia’s coastal waters. The enemy from the outside is welding together the old adversaries. The pirates are “mujahideen because they are at war with the Christian countries,” says Sheikh Hassan Turki, the leader of Hizbul Islam. And Mukhtar Robow of the al-Shabab militias praises the pirates, saying that they are defending “the coast against Allah’s enemies.”

Ever since American snipers shot dead three pirates to rescue the captain of the US-registered freighter Maersk Alabama on Easter Sunday, the pirates have been calling for revenge — and they suddenly sound very much like the Islamists. The US is now “our number one enemy,” says Jamac Habeb, a pirate from Eyl. “We’re now out to get Americans,” says a pirate named Ismail from Harardhere. “And when we have them, we’ll slaughter them.”

If the “fragile alliance” between the pirates and the Islamists grows stronger, writes the intelligence journal Jane’s Intelligence Review, this will “increase the threat from pirate groups.” According to an analysis by the intelligence experts, the pirates are far better networked than was previously thought.

One example of this can be found in the pirate town of Harardhere, close to where the hijacked Hansa Stavanger was forced to drop anchor. The gang members in this stronghold include men from all the main clans along the coast, allowing the group to move freely everywhere. The Suleyman clan calls the shots in this region, but one of the Harardhere commanders — whose main profession is selling charcoal — is a Saleebaan.

The gang maintains two main bases of operations along the coast, and from here it sends raiding units, each one divided into four groups. The planners prepare the hunt — and this group reportedly also includes Sudanese and Pakistanis. Former fishermen help out with their nautical experience, while young fighters go on board the ships. The fourth group consists of negotiators who haggle over the ransom with adversaries like Jack Cloonan.

Dealing with Pirates Inc.

For more lucrative hauls, the Harardhere pirates like to team up with gangs from other towns, primarily with their associates from Kismayo, 800 kilometers (500 miles) farther south. The Kismayo gang reportedly seized the Sirius Star, for instance. All negotiations were then conducted by the men from Harardhere.

It’s a regular “Pirates Inc.,” says Cloonan, who describes it as “organized crime” on the high seas. The ship owners and the pirates start out with widely diverging negotiating positions. The gangsters demand $15 million, the shipping company offers $1 million — and the war of nerves begins.

The pirates often use the ship’s satellite telephone to call the crew’s relatives and threaten to execute the hostages. “We’ve had cases where they have threatened people on the phone, where they’ve certainly fired off guns and told us they’ve executed somebody.”

Sometimes the pirates threaten to ram the ship at full speed against the coast. Or they let the sailors go hungry because food supplies have supposedly run out. Or they simply break off all contact for days. “This is where the shipping companies go crazy,” says Cloonan.

Once Cloonan and the pirates have agreed on a sum after weeks or months of negotiations, it’s time for the ex-agent to deliver. Initially, he chartered deep-sea tugs in Mombasa to bring the bags of money to the agreed coordinates. When the hijacked ship came into sight, an unarmed man would climb into a rubber dinghy to transfer the ransom money at the side of the vessel. “And then you hope that the pirates do the right thing.” These days the bags are often dropped with a parachute from an airplane — because the pirates even seize the tugboats.

Sometimes Cloonan’s team also has to check on board if the crew is complete and in good health before paying for their release. On one occasion, they knew that a seaman on board was seriously ill. Before handing over the cash, they searched for him — and found his body in the refrigerator of the hijacked ship. He had jumped to his death from the upper deck.

The pirates are not stupid, and they’re fairly self-assured, says Cloonan. “They know that it’s a successful business model. They know that they can operate in this wide swath of area almost with impunity.”

Most groups have established their logistical operations in Garoowe and Gaalkacyo, two towns in the breakaway region of Puntland. This is where many bundles of dollars disappear into the Islamic hawala financial system, which is based on personal contacts.

But in April of last year the pirates were painfully reminded that, despite their excellent organization at sea, they are poorly equipped for fighting on land. They had just seized the French luxury yacht Le Ponant, and were about to make off with the $2 million ransom near the pirate stronghold of Eyl, when suddenly French helicopter gunships came roaring over the plain and elite units opened fire. Six pirates were taken into custody and are currently being held in France — and at least a small portion of the ransom was recovered by the military.

Afterwards, the pirates asked the Islamists for help. Some pirate gangs now pay al-Shabab units 5 to 10 percent of the ransom in exchange for protection services on land. There’s enough to go around for everyone. Last year alone, Somalia’s swashbucklers took in $30 to $100 million in ransom money.

Other pirate gangs would rather defend their land bases themselves. Starting last July, al-Shabab militiamen reportedly put a group of pirates through a 45-day series of boot camp exercises near the town of Hobyo. The sea raiders received basic infantry training and practiced tactics and communications on land. Informants working for Jane’s Intelligence Review estimate that the pirates paid $1 million for the training package.

The Islamists receive more than just money from the pirates. The pirates also smuggle weapons into the country for them — and often bring along useful equipment for themselves. During a run last October, for instance, the pirates took in four ZU-23 anti-aircraft guns — highly effective weapons that, wherever they are, could make life extremely difficult for Western helicopter pilots.

The freighters themselves are practically defenseless against the much better equipped pirates. They can sail full speed ahead or take evasive action, “but every speedboat is faster than we are,” says an officer of a German container ship. He adds that the ships of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom have actually created an additional problem. The Americans demand that commercial ships provide information over the radio on their origin, course and destination — and the pirates hear every word.

An equally compromising situation is created by the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which was introduced in 2004 to prevent collisions by continuously broadcasting detailed information on one’s own ship to all other ships in the same waters. Receivers can be purchased on the open market. German suppliers sell them starting at €360 apiece.

Since the beginning of the year, warships have been able to protect vessels that pass through a protected corridor in the Gulf of Aden. But the pirates have immediately reacted to this move. They are increasingly using mother ships to tow their small attack skiffs far out into the Indian Ocean. No navy in the world has enough ships to cover that area.

Nevertheless, last Wednesday Clinton unveiled a four-point plan to stop piracy. All four points concern conducting talks, in other words, only meetings. But she indicated that it may also be possible to “take action” against pirate bases on land.

US Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, who commanded US naval forces in the Middle East until last year, has named two options. One is to “go ashore light,” where US Marines would destroy the pirates’ boats, fuel and bases. The other option is to “go ashore big” and conduct sustained land operations against the pirates and their clan leaders — a tactic with incalculable risks, says the vice admiral.

A clever alternative might be what is known as “containment,” which has been proposed by the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners. Pirates need ports and they have very few suitable locations in Somalia, mainly Harardhere, Hobyo, Eyl and Boosaaso. A warship stationed off each port could prevent armed boats from sailing. That would be much easier than monitoring an entire ocean.

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Full article and photos: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,620027,00.html

Boredom, hunger and fear for pirates’ hostages

Some hostages are little more than skin and bones, their food running out and illnesses setting in as negotiations for their release drag on, angering their volatile captors. Others report less brutal conditions, even being allowed to fish for extra provisions.

Still, fear is a constant for all the 300 or so merchant seamen now held by Somali pirates. Life for them – and their families back home – is a grueling stretch of days, weeks, even months in cramped conditions, wondering about the future.

Sometimes there are threats of execution, along with worries of what will happen if their employers refuse to pay ransom and their usefulness as bargaining chips ends.

There is a lot of time to pray.

The U.S. Navy may have rescued an American cargo ship captain and French commandos saved a hijacked yacht in the lawless seas off Somalia, but a military rescue is unlikely for most of the hostages because their ships now lie at anchor in pirate strongholds.

Seafarers from the Philippines account for 105 of the prisoners, not surprising for a poor Southeast Asian country that supplies about 30 percent of the world’s 1.2 million merchant sailors.

Released hostage Mark Abalos hails from here, and he had spent 10 uneventful years at sea until his ship was waylaid last summer by Somali pirates who clambered aboard from a pair of twin-engine motor boats, brandishing a grenade launcher, an assault rifle, pistols and knives.

Some of the five pirates wore shorts, and two were barefoot, he recalled. They appeared to range in age from 20 to 50 and clearly hadn’t bathed in a long time.

But Abalos said they were well organized, a sign that their criminal work has turned into a thriving business, complete with its own makeshift port offshore.

“They pointed at a map on the wall and ordered the captain to change route toward southern Somalia,” Abalos said.

The Antigua-flagged MV BBC Trinidad had been a month into a trip hauling logs from Mexico to the Middle East when the pirates boarded last Aug. 21.

A few days later, the boat anchored within sight of Somalia’s shore. Two or three other hijacked ships were already there, and others came later.

“The pirates apparently were from different gangs, each with their own hijacked ship, talking through two-way radios about the status of ransom negotiations,” Abalos said.

After anchoring, 15 more pirates came out to join the initial hijackers. They asked for information – the ship’s cargo, the owner’s name and contact details – and took over the satellite phone on board. The chief pirate negotiator went by the name Abdi and spoke English well.

“We can hear Abdi talking,” Abalos said. “We figured out they were demanding $8 million.”

Piracy Forgotten Hostages

This photo shows the wives of Filipino sailors, Doris Deseo, left, and Catherine Boretta, right, showing pictures of their husbands Carlo, second from left, and Rodell, second from right, to the Associated Press as they visit the office of a shipping agency in Manila, Philippines on to get updates on negotiations to free their hostage husbands in Somalia. “The families of hostages are afraid of any rescue attempt because it might put the lives of the hostages in danger,” said Boretta, whose husband Rodell is being held captive by Somali pirates on the MT Stolt Strength for nearly five months now.

Some hostages have told of mock executions in which pirates, angered that ransom negotiations weren’t going well, lined up their captives and fired weapons close to their heads. And there has been at least one gunfight among pirates.

Catherine Boretta, whose husband Rodell is part of a 23-man Filipino crew that has been held for five months, said he was shot in the leg, apparently by a stray bullet when two arguing pirates tried to shoot each other.

She spoke with him by phone April 10. Such calls from a ship’s satellite phone or a cell phone are scant – often under a minute and apparently never more than five – and mostly seem designed to urge relatives to pressure ship owners to pay ransom. The pirates usually put the calls on speakers, and hostages warn loved ones not to ask too many questions.

Her husband told her food rations had run out and the sailors were emaciated, Mrs. Boretta said.

“They stay in one room,” she said. “They sleep there and wear whatever they were wearing when they were attacked because everything is looted, including clothes, slippers.

“When he calls, my husband’s voice would usually be shaking. He told me they were going through hell.”

Still, he tries not to tell too much. Mrs. Boretta said she learned about his gunshot wound from the wives of other crewmen. They and shipping company workers passed on reports that the shooting appeared to have been accidental.

“He did not want to tell me about it because I have a heart disease,” she said. “When he called and I asked him, he said, ‘I was shot in the leg,’ but he did not elaborate and said he was OK.”

She thinks he is worried about a deep ache in his leg despite not talking in detail. “When he calls he only tells us he loves us, that we should take care and pray,” she said.

One thing Mrs. Boretta is sure of is that she doesn’t want any rescue attempt and hopes the ship’s owner pays a ransom instead.

“The families of hostages are afraid of any rescue attempt because it might put the lives of the hostages in danger,” she said.

(…)

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Full article and photo: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_PIRACY_HOSTAGES_PLIGHT?SITE=FLTAM&SECTION=HOME

Gang Up on Pirates

THE Navy’s heroic rescue of the sea captain Richard Phillips from his captors has left the rest of the world trying to figure out how to safely free the 200 or so seamen being held hostage by pirates in the Indian Ocean.

There are generally two approaches to hostage situations. One is to negotiate with the kidnappers to gain a conditional release of the hostages. The other is to stage a violent rescue in which kidnappers, hostages and rescuers alike all run the risk of losing their lives.

I have been involved in both hostage negotiations and in hostage rescues. In the case of pirates off eastern Africa, it would appear that having many hostages of different nationalities, spread over a large area, favors the first approach. And yet the Navy’s rescue of Capt. Phillips, and the universal condemnation of piracy, suggests that negotiation and the payment of ransom might not be a good idea.

But there might be another way — an approach that could be run through the United Nations and that would be available both to governmental and nongovernmental authorities acting for the interned seamen.

During my 10 years as the chief security adviser for the United Nations in Somalia, my team and I negotiated releases in more than a dozen hostage cases, several of which involved piracy. Some of the hostages were United Nations personnel, and some were not.

In the situations that did not involve United Nations workers, our team was asked by the concerned embassies in Nairobi to pursue cases on their behalf. These countries, whose citizens had been taken hostage, had no presence in fractious Somalia — and we did.

Figuring out how to be of help wasn’t easy. Eventually, after long and heated internal discussion, the United Nations security team persuaded the United Nations country team that the most effective approach would be to use humanitarian aid and assistance as a lever to gain release of hostages.

Somalia is pretty much a stateless state. Humanitarian aid and clan association are major centers of gravity. In fact, clan leaders stay in power in part by controlling the distribution of aid. Our strategy was therefore simple: United Nations assistance was withheld from the Somali clan or region by which or in which hostages were being held until those hostages were released. In every case there was a release, and in no case were hostages harmed or ransom paid. (On the downside, no pirates were brought to trial or punished in any way.)

In 1995, for example, the water supply for Mogadishu, the capital, was shut off by the United Nations humanitarian agencies until a hostage who worked for another aid organization was released. On the first day of the shutoff, the women who collected water from public distribution points yelled at the kidnappers; on the second day they stoned them; on the third day they shot at them; on the fourth day, the hostage was released.

On another occasion, in 2000, two French yachtsmen were taken by pirates in their 40-foot sloop off Somalia as they made passage from Djibouti to Zanzibar. The French Embassy in Nairobi asked the United Nations team to help, and I entered into face-to-face negotiations in the remote port of Bossaso.

After demonstrating that the hostages were alive, the pirates demanded $1 million in ransom. I responded that the United Nations would suspend all civic improvement in the region — education, animal husbandry, vaccination, water projects. The aid would resume when the hostages were released.

This drove a wedge between the pirates and their home clan, the Darod. Clan elders put pressure on the pirates. After several weeks, the Frenchmen were released to me in return for resumption of all United Nations humanitarian aid. (I was unable to negotiate the release of the yacht.)

Although this tactic sometimes took longer to get results than the hostages’ home countries liked, the divisions that arose in hostage takers’ clans when aid was suspended were extremely effective in creating the conditions for release.

It’s worth noting, too, that though pirates are at sea, their families and clans are not. If life can be made uncomfortable in their communities, there’s a good chance that pirates can be persuaded to give up their hostages. (This negotiation equation could change if the Shabaab, an Islamist insurgent group that has become increasingly powerful in Somalia, gets in the kidnapping business.)

The Obama administration has indicated that it sees piracy as a global threat and that it will therefore reach out to international partners to fight the problem. A partnership with the United Nations is probably not the best course for aggressive suppression of the pirates. But when it comes to the hostages being held, the targeted application of United Nations leverage just might result in the release of innocent people who have been held hostage for far too long.

 

Wayne Long, a former Army colonel, was the United Nations’ chief security officer in Somalia from 1993 to 2003

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/opinion/19long-1.html?ref=opinion

US admiral hails China anti-piracy cooperation

Anti-piracy operations off Somalia are producing an unprecedented degree of cooperation, giving the American and Chinese navies a rare opportunity to work together after a recent high-profile confrontation, the chief of U.S. Naval Operations said Sunday.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Navy Adm. Gary Roughead said he would discuss further boosting ties through base visits and joint search and rescue exercises during talks this week with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Shengli.

The U.S. admiral’s visit comes amid China’s buildup of its naval prowess and after Chinese vessels last month harassed a Navy surveillance ship in the South China Sea.

Roughead and Wu were flying later Sunday to the Chinese port of Qingdao for commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

China dispatched an anti-piracy flotilla to the Gulf of Aden in December to join an international patrol contingent of some two dozen warships from countries including the U.S., Russia and members of the European Union.

Roughead said those operations have taken relations between the two militaries beyond merely bilateral exchanges, although the benefit to practical cooperation was the most significant aspect, he said.

“This is the first time we have operated together so far from China with a real-world mission,” Roughead told reporters.

Despite such ties, relations have often been rocky, with Beijing highly suspicious of close U.S. ties with other regional militaries, especially Japan.

Chinese vessels last month harassed the Navy surveillance ship USNS Impeccable in international waters in the South China Sea. China also suspended military-to-military talks for five months last year over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the self-governing island claimed by Beijing as its own territory.

Roughead, however, sought to focus on the positive elements of the relationship and declined to chastise China over the Impeccable incident. He acknowledged differing interpretations of international law – China claims the Impeccable had no right to operate within its exclusive economic zone – but said that professionalism and the safety of all ships and their crews was of primary importance.

Beijing’s rapidly growing defense spending has drawn notice in Washington. A Pentagon report issued last month said China’s new military strength is shifting the balance in the region and could be used to force its claims to disputed territories, including Taiwan and island groups in the South China Sea.

Roughead said he was concerned more with the Chinese navy’s intentions rather than simply the growth in its arsenal, including the addition of sophisticated new nuclear submarines and quickening signs that it plans to build one or more aircraft carriers.

“How countries elect to use those capabilities … that’s what’s important,” Roughead said.

The guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald was among 20 ships from 14 nations taking part in this week’s activities in Qingdao, home to China’s Northern Fleet.

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Full article: http://www.fresnobee.com/worldnews/story/1339577.html

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See also:

Foreign ships arrive for 60th anniversary of Chinese Navy

pakistani-shipp

Chinese naval soldiers welcome the arrival of a Pakistani destroyer at the Qingdao port in east China’s Shandong province, April 18, 2009.

China’s navy is set to hold a huge maritime ceremony to mark its 60th anniversary in April, and has invited ships and top officials from dozens of countries to attend, media reported Saturday.

 The four-day celebration — set to begin Monday in and off the coast of the eastern city of Qingdao — will involve 21 naval vessels from 14 countries, Xinhua news agency said.

Officials from 29 nations are also due to attend, including the US chief of naval operations, and the Russian navy commander-in-chief.

The ceremony, which will include a fleet parade and a sampan race, will mark the founding of the People’s Liberation Army’s navy on April 23, 1949, Xinhua said, months before the People’s Republic of China was formally established in October.

The navy was formed when a unit of the Kuomintang’s coastal defence fleet defected in the civil war after WWII, bringing with it nine warships and 17 other boats, Xinhua said.

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Full article and photo: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-04/19/content_11214951.htm

U.S. navy ship arrives in China for int’l fleet review

U.S. navy missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald arrived here on Sunday afternoon to attend an international fleet review on April 23 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy.

The 6,800-tonne USS Fitzgerald, a Japan-based destroyer from the 7th Fleet, arrived at the port city Qingdao in east China’s Shandong Province at 3:30 p.m..

Earlier Sunday, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead said at a press briefing in Beijing that he and the Commander of the 7th Fleet Vice Admiral John Bird would also fly to Qingdao to join the event.

Roughead, who is the highest-ranking U.S. officer to visit China this year, said he believed the military-to-military relationship was important to the broad U.S-China relationship.

Roughead said during his talks with PLA Navy Commander Adm. Wu Shengli on Saturday, they exchanged views on enhancing navy-to-navy cooperation and both navies’ operations off the coast of Somalia.

Roughead’s last China visit was in November 2006 when he served as commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Commissioned in October 1995, USS Fitzgerald was one of 15 destroyers and three cruisers which were deployed to counter ballistic missile threats worldwide. She arrived in Yokosuka, Japan in 2004 to join the U.S. 7th Fleet.

USS Fitzgerald was also one of the two U.S. vessels to take part in the second-phase of the first China-U.S. search and rescue exercise in 2006 in the South China Sea.

Previously, landing vessel Garcia D’avila of the Brazilian Navy, carrying a total of 49 soldiers and officers, arrived at Qingdao at 10:00 a.m.. 

 Sailing ship ARM Cuauhtemoc of the Mexican Navy, destroyer Badrand supply ship Nasr of the Pakistan Navy arrived on Saturday evening. They were the first three among a total of 21 foreign naval vessels from 14 countries scheduled to rendezvous here for the fleet review.

As the paramount part of the naval celebration, the visiting ships will observe a naval parade of about 20 Chinese warships and attend the international fleet review to be staged in the waters southeast of the city.

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Full article: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-04/19/content_11214744.htm

Canadian Forces foil pirate attack on Norwegian tanker

winnipeg

File photo of the HMCS Winnipeg as it moves out of Esquimalt Harbor in Victoria, B.C.

NATO forces foiled an attack by Somali pirates on a Norwegian oil tanker, and briefly detained seven gunmen after hunting them down under cover of darkness, NATO officials said on Sunday.

It was the latest assault by sea gangs from Somalia who have hijacked dozens of ships, taken hundreds of sailors hostage and made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms – defying an unprecedented deployment by foreign navies in the region.

The violence has disrupted aid supplies, driven up insurance costs and forced some firms to route cargo round South Africa.

Michael McWhinnie, a spokesman on the Canadian warship Winnipeg, said it, a British naval supply ship and U.S. warship Halyburton all responded after pirates attacked the 80,000-tonne MV Front Ardenne in the Gulf of Aden late on Saturday.

The gunmen, who were armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, fled south in their skiff as the NATO forces approached, dumping most of their weapons overboard.

McWhinnie told Reuters a helicopter dispatched by the Winnipeg fired several warning rounds in front of the pirates’ small craft from its machinegun, but they ignored it.

The Canadian warship then pursued them for hours through the night, extinguishing its lights to hunt the gang in the dark.

“We blocked their path. We were faster and surprisingly more manoeuvrable than the pirate skiff,” McWhinnie said by phone from the Winnipeg to the Corte-Real, a Portuguese warship that is also part of NATO’s anti-piracy mission in the area.

BELGIAN SHIP HELD

The Canadian ship then sent a boarding party to search the pirate vessel and found an RPG round, which they seized.

“Most weapons went over the side but they must have overlooked it when they started discarding objects,” he said. After documenting the evidence they let the pirates go.

“Canada’s mandate is not to normally take detainees in this mission,” McWhinnie said.

On Saturday, Dutch commandos freed 20 Yemeni hostages and also briefly detained seven pirates who had forced the Yemenis to sail a “mother ship” attacking vessels in the Gulf of Aden.

Gunmen from Somalia also seized a Belgian dredging vessel and its 10 crew, including seven Europeans. The Pompei was hijacked early on Saturday about 600 km (370 miles) from the Somali coast en route to the Seychelles. It has two Belgian, four Croatian, one Dutch and three Filipino crew on board.

A pirate source who said he was on board the Pompei said they would sail it to Haradheere, a stronghold of the sea gangs.

Regional analysts and security experts say that without political stability in Somalia, which has been mired in civil war for 18 years, the pirates will continue to wreak havoc.

The Somali government plans to present its proposals to tackle the maritime crime wave at a major donors’ meeting on Somalia taking place in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday.

It says it needs more money to tackle insecurity on land and to provide jobs for the country’s many unemployed young men.

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Full article and photo: http://www.canada.com/news/Canadians+foil+pirate+attack+Norwegian+tanker/1512292/story.html

Pirates have captured the Pompei, a Belgian dredger

pompei

The Pompei

NATO forces in the Indian Ocean confirmed that a Belgian ship with 10 crew members on board, including seven Europeans, was hijacked by Somali gunmen on Saturday.

“A helicopter from EU naval force Operation Atalanta flew over and confirmed the hijacking visually,” NATO Lieutenant Commander Alexandre Fernandes told Reuters on board a Portuguese warship further north in the Gulf of Aden.

He said the Belgian ship, the Pompei, was carrying two Belgian, four Croatian, one Dutch and three Filipino crew.

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See also: Un navire belge pris en otage en Somalie

http://www.lesoir.be/actualite/monde/un-navire-belge-pris-par-les-2009-04-18-701687.shtml

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Full article: http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSLI034821

Photo: http://www.lemonde.fr/archives/article/2009/04/18/un-navire-belge-pris-en-otage-au-large-de-la-somalie_1182607_0.html

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See also:

Pirates Release Crew of Belgian Ship 

pompei june 28

The Pompei

Somali pirates have released the entire crew of a Belgian ship seized 10 weeks ago after a ransom was paid, the Belgian government said Sunday.

The 10-member crew of the Pompei dredger was in good health and sailing the ship to an unidentified harbor where it will arrive in a few days, the government said. The crew members will then fly home to their families.

Defense Minister Pieter De Crem told a news conference that the ship’s owners paid a ransom to release the ship and crew. He declined to say how much, but said pirates had demanded $8 million.

A plane dropped the money into the sea near the Belgian vessel Saturday, De Crem said. About 10 pirates on board abandoned the ship early Sunday.

The ship, its Dutch captain and crew of two Belgians, three Filipinos and four Croatians were seized April 18 a few hundred miles north of the Seychelles islands as they were sailing from Dubai to South Africa.

The pirates took the ship to the Somali coast where they and the crew stayed on board.

Belgian officials said the ship’s owners negotiated the release with a middleman who sometimes passed on messages from the captain.

The pirates even contacted the crew’s family members once to prove that they were still alive.

De Crem said the government had considered military intervention to seize the ship, but decided that it was ”not desirable” because it could endanger the crew.

Despite international navy patrols, piracy has exploded in the Gulf of Aden and around Somalia’s 1,900-mile (3,060-kilometer) coastline. Pirates are able to operate freely because Somalia has had no effective central government in nearly 20 years.

Seasonal monsoons have hampered pirate activity recently and the relative lull is expected to continue until at least the end of August, when the rough weather subsides, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau.

Belgian prosecutors said an attack on a Belgian ship in international waters was a crime that they would investigate. Belgian police will interview the crew and check the ship for forensic and DNA evidence when it reaches harbor, they said.

”We think there is a chance” that some of the pirates might be caught and brought to justice, federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle told reporters. They could face up to 30 years in jail.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/28/world/AP-Piracy.html?hp

Photo: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-04/19/content_11212174.htm

https://abluteau.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/pirates-release-crew-of-belgian-ship/

NATO Forces Capture 7 Pirates and Free 20 Captives

de-zeven-provincien-1

The Dutch ship, the HNLMS De Zeven Provincien, chased the pirates, who were on a small skiff, back to their “mother ship” — a hijacked Yemeni fishing dhow.

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Dutch commandos freed 20 Yemeni hostages on Saturday and briefly detained seven pirates who had forced their captives to sail a “mother ship” attacking vessels in the Gulf of Aden, NATO officials said.

Meanwhile, a Belgian government crisis center spokesman said that a Belgian-registered ship with a 10-member international crew, including two Belgians, was feared hijacked by Somali pirates on Saturday.

Sea gangs have captured dozens of ships, taken hundreds of sailors prisoner and made off with millions of dollars in ransoms despite an unprecedented deployment by foreign navies off the east African coast.

NATO Lieutenant Commander Alexandre Fernandes, speaking on board the Portuguese warship Corte-Real, said the 20 fishermen were rescued after a Dutch navy frigate on a NATO patrol responded to an assault on a Greek-managed tanker by pirates firing assault rifles and grenades.

The Dutch ship, the HNLMS De Zeven Provincien, chased the pirates, who were on a small skiff, back to their “mother ship” — a hijacked Yemeni fishing dhow.

“We have freed the hostages, we have freed the dhow and we have seized the weapons … The pirates did not fight and no gunfire was exchanged,” Fernandes said. The Corte-Real is also on a NATO mission.

He said the hostages had been held since last week. The commandos briefly detained and questioned the seven gunmen, he told Reuters, but had no legal power to arrest them.

“NATO does not have a detainment policy. The warship must follow its national law,” he said.

“They can only arrest them if the pirates are from the Netherlands, the victims are from the Netherlands, or if they are in Netherlands waters.”

He said an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade was later found on board the tanker, the Marshall Islands-flagged MT Handytankers Magic managed by Roxana Shipping SA of Greece.

The Belgian ship feared hijacked was identified as the Pompei, a dredging vessel, which put out two alarm signals early on Saturday when it was about 600 km (370 miles) from the Somali coast and heading for the Seychelles, Peter Mertens from the crisis center said.

There has been no contact with it since and satellite pictures showed that the ship was not moving. “We suspect it was hijacked by Somali pirates,” Mertens said.

The Belgian government was using diplomatic and military channels to find out what had happened and decide on further action, he said.

(…)

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/04/18/world/international-us-somalia-piracy.html

Photo: http://www.defensie.nl/marine/operationeel/schepen/hr_ms_de_zeven_provincie

Phillips home safe

phillipslanmlm

Captain Richard Phillips and his family embrace after he lands at Burlington International Airport just minutes ago.

The shipping captain rescued from the clutches of Somali pirates says he’s not a hero — the military is.

Capt. Richard Phillips arrived home to Vermont a week-and-a-half after being taken by pirates.

His wife and children went on board the corporate jet to greet him in Burlington. Phillips waved to a small crowd and hugged his daughter as he walked inside a building for a private reunion.

After the reunion, Phillips briefly spoke to the media and thanked the military, saying they did the impossible by saving him. He also praised his fellow crew members.

He said, “We did it. We did what we were trained to do.”

He next will be taken to his home in nearby Underhill.

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Full article and photo: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20090417/NEWS02/90417002

Somali ‘pirate’ to be tried in US

USS Bainbridge in Mombasa, Kenya - 16/4/2009

The suspected pirate was arrested by US sailors while rescuing a US hostage

A Somali teenager captured by the US navy during a confrontation with pirates is to be taken to the US to face trail, US officials have said.

The man, named as Abdul Wali Muse, was allegedly involved in the attempt to seize the Maersk Alabama merchant ship off Somalia last week.

His three companions were killed by US navy snipers in the operation to rescue the Alabama’s kidnapped US captain.

Capt Richard Phillips is now returning to the US from Kenya after his ordeal.

US officials say Mr Muse will be tried in a federal court in New York, American media have reported.

There is some confusion about his age, however, and whether he can be tried as an adult in the US.

No charges have been filed, but acts of piracy can carry a sentence of life in prison, says the BBC’s Jonathan Beale in Washington.

Hero’s welcome

It is not clear when Mr Muse will be taken to the US.

US officials had considered handing him over to authorities in Kenya, which has prosecuted pirates in the past under an international agreement.

On Thursday, French officials said they would send 11 suspected pirates to Kenya for trial.

There has been pressure to prosecute him in an American court as the Maersk Alabama is a US-flagged ship and Capt Phillips is an American citizen, says our correspondent.

 

Capt Phillips in Mombasa airport, Kenya, about to fly home to US - 17/4/2009

Capt Phillips was freed in a dramatic high seas rescue

He was held hostage for five days after the Alabama was attacked on 8 April.

The crew disabled the ship’s power and hid from the pirates while Capt Phillips offered himself as a hostage, the ship’s crew said.

The crew sailed the ship to Kenya after the pirates left on a lifeboat with the captain.

The other 19 members of the crew returned to the US on Thursday to be greeted by cheers and hugs from family and friends.

After his rescue, Capt Phillips was taken on board the destroyer USS Bainbridge, which has been in the waters off Somalia conducting anti-piracy patrols.

He was taken to the Kenyan port of Mombasa on Thursday and is now on his way back to the US where he is expected to receive a hero’s welcome.

Anti-piracy measures

Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia have intensified attacks on shipping in recent weeks in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, despite patrols by the US and other navies.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a plan on Wednesday to tackle piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean off Somalia.

She said an expanded international effort was needed, as well as freezing pirates’ assets, and plugging gaps in the shipping industry’s own defences.

Improving the situation in Somalia itself was also key, she said.

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Full article and photos: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8003936.stm

U.S. Lays Out Anti-Piracy Plan

Strategy Comes as Somali Raiders Try to Take Another American Ship

The Obama administration yesterday called for expanding the international counterpiracy effort to deter Somali pirates, secure the release of hostage ships and crews, and freeze pirate assets, yet U.S. military officials said there are no immediate plans to devote more warships to the region.

“These pirates are criminals, they are armed gangs on the sea. And those plotting attacks must be stopped,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in announcing a four-point plan that includes assisting Somalis in “cracking down on pirate bases and decreasing incentives for young Somali men to engage in piracy.”

Somali pirates yesterday attempted to commandeer another U.S. cargo ship, the Liberty Sun, which had a crew of about 20 and was loaded with food aid. But the attack was thwarted, and the ship headed toward the Kenyan port of Mombasa with armed U.S. Navy guards aboard, Navy officials said.

The pirate attack occurred about 285 nautical miles southeast of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the officials said. The pirates fired grenades and automatic weapons at the freighter, which sustained some damage, according to its operator, Liberty Maritime Corp. The pirates had departed by the time the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge arrived.

It was not immediately clear whether the Liberty Sun was a target of opportunity for pirates or whether they were retaliating against a U.S.-flagged ship for the killings by U.S. Navy snipers this week of three pirates during an operation to rescue the Maersk Alabama’s captain, Richard Phillips.

Nevertheless, the incident underscored how difficult it is for the handful of naval ships patrolling the vast expanse of water to prevent pirate strikes, which happen on average every three days, military officials said.

Currently, there are five U.S. and non-U.S. naval ships operating on counterpiracy missions in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean region, according to a military official from U.S. Central Command. With roughly 500 miles of Somali coastline on the gulf and 1,000 on the Indian Ocean, there is a total of about 400,000 square miles of ocean to patrol against piracy, the officials said.

“It’s a big space, and it wants for sustained surveillance. . . . It’s hard to find these relatively small boats,” such as the pirate skiffs, said retired Vice Adm. Kevin J. Cosgriff, who commanded the 5th Fleet and U.S. naval forces in the Middle East until last year.

Military options for bolstering the effort include “flooding the zone” with more ships and aircraft, a daunting task given the need for constant patrolling over such a large area, Cosgriff said.

A second option, he said, would be to “go ashore light,” meaning that military personnel would try to disrupt piracy by denying pirates boats, fuel and other resources. “It would be a military operation but simply to get stuff, not to arrest people,” he said.

A far more aggressive approach, which he called “go ashore big,” would involve military personnel moving into Somali villages and targeting the pirate leadership. “That is a big step” with serious risks, he said.

Nonmilitary options include encouraging commercial ships to stay farther offshore, learn evasive anti-piracy maneuvers or carry armed guards, although Cosgriff said shipping companies have hesitated to do the last because of potential problems with unions, insurers and some ports.

The region off the Horn of Africa poses the world’s most serious piracy problem today, with 122 attacks last year, 80 of which were successful in that pirates took control of the ships. About 33,000 ships transited the Gulf of Aden last year, according to Pentagon data. Dozens of pirate attacks have occurred off the east coast of Somalia since March, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

Somalia’s piracy problem is especially grave because the country lacks a strong government and security forces to tackle it — in contrast to countries in Southeast Asia, where the Pentagon helped combat piracy in the Strait of Malacca in recent years.

“There was a huge piracy problem around the Strait of Malacca,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday in a speech to officers at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.

The Pentagon pushed training teams and new equipment to aid the navies of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. “The problem in Somalia is that we don’t have governments like we had in Southeast Asia,” Gates said.

This week, Clinton said, the State Department will dispatch an envoy to an international Somali peacekeeping meeting in Brussels aimed at helping Somalia police its own territory. “We will press these leaders to take action against pirates operating from bases within their territories,” Clinton said.

An international contact group on piracy will also hold meetings to improve coordination of naval patrols in the region and explore freezing pirate assets. A State Department team will press Somali government officials to act against pirates on land and will work with the shipping industry to address self-defense measures.

In a separate incident yesterday, French naval forces captured 11 pirates in the Indian Ocean after foiling their attempt to hijack a Liberian-flagged cargo ship, the French Defense Ministry announced.

The Liberty Sun attack slowed the return home of Phillips, who was on board the Bainbridge when it was diverted. White House officials said several of the families of the Maersk Alabama crew members were given a tour of the White House yesterday.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/15/AR2009041503559.html?hpid=sec-nation