A long war of the waters

Somalia’s pirates

Thanks to greater vigilance and naval patrols, the seas off Somalia may be a bit less dangerous than they were. But they are still the riskiest in the world

TWO years ago Somalia’s weak transitional government agreed to let foreign navies chase pirates into its territorial waters. Since then, the sea off Somalia’s coast has seen an increasing number of warships mainly from rich countries trying—with partial success—to fend off pirates from the poorest. Ships steaming along maritime corridors in convoys are safer than they were. So the pirates are being forced to venture ever farther out into the Indian Ocean to seize their booty. This means that the remoter reaches are still very dangerous.

Many of the world’s most powerful navies are involved. The French and American ones have killed Somali pirates while freeing their own citizens. For the past year the European Union has deployed its first-ever joint naval force, named Operation Atalanta, to protect ships passing in and out of the Red Sea on their way from or to the Suez canal. Russia has an active anti-piracy mission, helping, among other things, to revive its rusting navy. China has asked if it could set up a naval base in Kenya or elsewhere in the region to support its anti-piracy patrols. The Japanese and South Koreans have sent warships to protect ships carrying their cars. India, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Africa have also joined the anti-piracy fray.

Yet the pirates are still hijacking ships and receiving ransoms with apparent impunity. In the past fortnight they have captured four more big ships. Two of them, the Singaporean-flagged Pramoni and the British-flagged St James Park, both tankers carrying chemicals, were nabbed under the nose of the foreign navies patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

The pirates’ methods remain rudimentary. They use hijacked tuna-fishing boats or local dhows as the mother ship, then launch attacks from skiffs, usually at dawn or dusk. They hold the crews hostage with machine-guns and semi-automatic pistols, then force the captain to anchor off the northern part of Somalia’s coast for several weeks until a ransom is paid.

The patrolling navies say they have begun to do better. Yet the number of recorded hijackings rose from 32 in 2008 to 42 in 2009. The average ransom paid by shippers also rose, from $1m to $2m. If unpublicised pay-offs are included, some by Spain’s government, the pirates probably earned around $100m last year. That must be shared with their financial backers, especially in Lebanon, Somalia and the United Arab Emirates. Well-organised criminal gangs in Yemen also help.

To avoid the patrols, the pirates’ geographical range has increased sharply (see map). Shippers must pay extra insurance premiums, even if they ply a course far from Somalia’s waters. A Greek-owned freighter, Navios Apollon, was captured by Somalis on December 28th, fully 370km (200 nautical miles) east of the Seychelles, which is more than 1,300km from Somalia.

Plainly there is no purely naval way to stop the pirates. Somalia’s coast is more than 3,000km long. They seem unafraid of the warships. If accosted, the pirates usually dump their guns and grapple-hooks in the sea. The patrolling navies are reluctant to arrest them because of the legal complexities. On the rare occasions when pirates are taken aboard, they are usually given medicine, water and enough fuel to go back to Somalia. Within days they will set off again to seek their prey.

The EU has signed a deal with Kenya to imprison captured pirates. But there are concerns that Kenya is asking for too many favours in return for embarking on what is bound to be a messy legal process. If the EU and other concerned countries could get the governments of Tanzania, the Seychelles and other countries in the region to agree to prosecute pirates in their own courts, the legal deterrent against them would be stronger.

The pirates’ main advantage is the lawlessness of Somalia which has long been enmeshed in a civil war. Western governments fear that if they were to send their security forces to attack towns such as Haradheere, a pirate haven, the Islamist fighters of the Shabab militia, which controls much of south and central Somalia and is linked to al-Qaeda, might be strengthened.

Besides, the pirates could yet prove to be odd allies in stopping the Islamists from spreading their jihadist net. The Shabab considers piracy for profit unIslamic. The militants violently disapprove of the pirates’ boozing and whoring. The pirates and the Shabab could yet fight each other, which might benefit everyone else. So far, however, the pirates’ wealth protects them at home. Somalia is one of the world’s poorest countries, yet a low-ranking pirate can probably earn at least $20,000 a year.

The EU says its naval force’s main mission is to protect freighters carrying the food aid on which Somalis have depended for the past five years, and has thus staved off a full-blown famine. Its next priority is to “deter and disrupt” piracy in general. The warships may also deter illegal fishing in Somali waters and the dumping of toxic waste. But they are a small force in a big sea. At last count, there were seven patrolling vessels from six EU countries.

In any event, some shipping people privately say that the effects of piracy have been exaggerated. It may still be cheaper and more convenient to pay higher insurance fees and risk being attacked by pirates than to incur the extra cost of diverting vessels around the Cape of Good Hope.

The International Maritime Bureau in London says that last year 22,000 ships passed safely through waters in range of Somali pirates, whereas actual attacks were in the low hundreds. The bureau also reckons that, as ships take more precautions, the pirates’ success rate will drop.

Most ships now steam along narrow corridors at night and at full speed. In the Gulf of Aden they are usually in a convoy. Many raise the height of the freeboard (between the waterline and the deck) to make it harder for pirates to haul themselves up the side. Others are poised to use sirens and fire hoses. Some American-flagged vessels now have security guards, though it is generally agreed that they should remain unarmed, otherwise the violence and deaths would probably increase.

Plainly, the problem is far from solved. As ransoms go up and get paid, pirates will think it worth taking the risk. Above all, they are sure to persist as long as most of Somalia, including its ports along the coast, remains an ungovernable hell.

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Full article and photos: http://www.economist.com/world/middleeast-africa/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15214052&source=hptextfeature

Threat Persists in Yemen, Somalia

While Washington obsessed Monday over President Barack Obama’s plans in Afghanistan, as well as over a new burst of violence next door in Pakistan, some unsettling news arrived to remind everyone that the extremist threat isn’t limited to those troubled countries.

Reports from Yemen said government forces had killed 59 Shiite rebels in the country’s north. The death toll is a sign of the intensity of the government’s current fight against a Shiite revolt that has forced tens of thousands of Yemenis out of their homes.

Combine that revolt in the north with separatist unrest in the south and a growing al Qaeda movement, all in the Arab world’s poorest country bordering Saudi Arabia, and you have a recipe for the kind of incubator for trouble that Afghanistan became before the 9/11 attacks. Lest we forget, barely a year has passed since al Qaeda forces struck the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

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Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, left, in Minneapolis on Oct. 4.

Meanwhile, a second nation, this one in Africa, is moving much further down the track toward failed-state status and becoming a haven for Islamic extremists. It’s Somalia, where Islamist militias are not only battling a virtually powerless central government, but over the weekend threatened to advance across the border to hit targets in Kenya as well.

Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed visited the U.S. in recent days and warned that “a foreign idea” is taking hold in his country; he didn’t mention foreign terrorists, but that’s what he meant. The State Department’s most recent terrorism report says that al Qaeda “elements” are benefiting “from safe haven in the regions of southern Somalia.”

Taken together, the reports from Yemen and Somalia present a vivid reminder that al Qaeda became a direct threat during the 1990s precisely because it was able to fill the power vacuum that Afghanistan had become. That could happen again in Afghanistan or Pakistan, of course — but not only there.

Happily, the other threats aren’t going wholly unnoticed. In Somalia, U.S. military commandos just last month launched a daring helicopter assault in which they took out the most-wanted al Qaeda operative in that land, a man named Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, along with his bodyguards. Mr. Nabhan, long on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted list, was suspected of building the truck bomb that killed 15 people in a Kenya hotel in 2002, and of choreographing a failed missile launch at an Israeli airliner.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama a few weeks ago sent a letter of support to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, U.S. officials said. According to Yemen’s state news agency, the letter pledged help in “the fight against terrorism” and said the U.S. will “stand beside Yemen, its unity, security and stability.”

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Those are signs that the national-security apparatus isn’t asleep at the switch as these problems grow. The question is whether the broader U.S. political system is too overloaded with the Afghanistan debate to act against dangers elsewhere. Fighting extremism, after all, is like squeezing a balloon; when flattened in one place, it tends to bulge somewhere else.

That’s particularly important to keep in mind because, despite the turmoil in Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. analysts think the fight against al Qaeda in those countries has diminished the terror group’s ability to operate. The most recent State Department report on terrorism says that, over the past year or so, al Qaeda and “associated networks continued to lose ground, both structurally and in the court of world public opinion.”

Yet like-minded Islamic extremists in places such as Yemen and Somalia can pick up the cause, with or without guidance from al Qaeda’s home office.

The danger is most acute in Somalia, where lawlessness is rampant. The central government controls little outside the capital of Mogadishu, and not all of that city, international reports indicate. Meanwhile, the Islamist movement al Shabaab is led by men affiliated with al Qaeda, some of whom fought with it in Afghanistan, the State Department reports. The only good news in Somalia is that the Islamists have spent some of their time and energy in recent weeks fighting among themselves.

In the long run, Yemen may be the more worrisome spot. It is, after all, the ancestral homeland of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and it has a close relationship with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, whose monarchy is a perpetual bin Laden target. Al Qaeda-affiliated groups already have claimed responsibility for a list of small-scale attacks in Yemen over the past two years; Yemenis’ broader role is underscored by the fact that 92 of the 221 remaining terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison are Yemenis.

The good news is that Mr. Saleh retains a good measure of control and wants help dealing with the threat, meaning it may be easier to help. Juan Zarate, a terrorism adviser to George W. Bush, says the best bet in Somalia may be a policy aimed at simply containing extremists there. But in Yemen, he says, hopes are brighter because of “a government that has some resources and some willingness to work with us,” as well as neighbors who are at least as concerned as is the U.S.

Gerald F. Seib, Wall Street Journal

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Full article and photos: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125537463884180867.html

Somalia Appeals for Help to Fight Foreign Terrorists

Somalia’s president Monday urged the international community to help his country drive out hundreds of foreigners who are believed to be fighting alongside radical Islamic insurgents in the country.

President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed made the appeal as a radical Islamic group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed seven people over the weekend. The political leader of the radical group al-Shabab, Sheik Husein Ali Fidow, said a teenager carried out the attack on a military base in the Somali capital Sunday. Six guards and a civilian were killed, the government said.

[Somalia wants international help to fight foreign terrorists.]

A suicide car-bomb attack on a military base in Mogadishu Sunday killed seven people and wounded five others.

Authorities suspect the bomber was one of some 300 foreigners — from countries including Pakistan, Yemen and the U.S. — that the U.N. and others say are fighting alongside Islamist insurgents.

“The world should help us get rid of the foreigners who are fighting against the Somali government,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Otherwise the country and the government will be in danger.”

More than 150 people have been killed and hundreds injured in the past two weeks, and the U.N. said the violence has prompted 57,000 Somalis to flee the Mogadishu. Somalia hasn’t had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a socialist dictator and then turned their clan-based militias on each other.

Somalia’s two main Islamist insurgent groups, the Islamic Party and al-Shabab, formed an alliance a month ago to overthrow Somalia’s new, Western-backed government, headed by their former ally. They consider Mr. Ahmed a traitor for signing a peace deal that paved the way for him to become president earlier this year.

The U.S. worries that Somalia could be a terrorist breeding ground, particularly since Osama bin Laden declared his support for the Islamists. The U.S. accuses al-Shabab of harboring the al Qaeda-linked terrorists who allegedly blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Somalia’s information minister has warned residents to remain vigilant. “We have information that al-Shabab is planning more suicide attacks, therefore I warn the residents and government forces to be alert,” Farhan Ali Mohamed said.

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Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124324726481951293.html

For Somalia, Chaos Breeds Religious War

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Moderate Sufi scholars recently did what so many others have chosen to do in anarchic Somalia: They picked up guns and entered the killing business, in this case to fight back against the Shabab, one of the most fearsome extremist Muslim groups in Africa.

From men of peace, the Sufi clerics suddenly became men of war.

Their shrines were being destroyed. Their imams were being murdered. Their tolerant beliefs were under withering attack.

So the moderate Sufi scholars recently did what so many other men have chosen to do in anarchic Somalia: they picked up guns and entered the killing business, in this case to fight back against the Shabab, one of the most fearsome extremist Muslim groups in Africa.

“Clan wars, political wars, we were always careful to stay out of those,” said Sheik Omar Mohamed Farah, a Sufi leader. “But this time, it was religious.”

In the past few months, a new axis of conflict has opened up in Somalia, an essentially governmentless nation ripped apart by rival clans since 1991. Now, in a definitive shift, fighters from different clans are forming alliances and battling one another along religious lines, with deeply devout men on both sides charging into firefights with checkered head scarves, assault rifles and dusty Korans.

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In Dusa Marreb, Sufi militiamen patrolled in the back of a pickup truck.

It is an Islamist versus Islamist war, and the Sufi scholars are part of a broader moderate Islamist movement that Western nations are counting on to repel Somalia’s increasingly powerful extremists. Whether Somalia becomes a terrorist incubator and a genuine regional threat — which is already beginning to happen, with hundreds of heavily armed foreign jihadists flocking here to fight for the Shabab — or whether this country finally steadies itself and ends the years of hunger, misery and bloodshed may hinge on who wins these battles in the next few months.

“We’re on terra incognito,” said Rashid Abdi, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit group that tries to prevent deadly conflicts. “Before, everything was clan. Now we are beginning to see the contours of an ideological, sectarian war in Somalia for the first time, and that scares me.”

For two years, Islamist insurgents waged a fierce war against Somalia’s transitional government and the thousands of Ethiopian troops protecting it. In January, the insurgents seemed to get what they wanted: the Ethiopians pulled out; an unpopular president walked away; and moderate Islamists took the helm of the internationally recognized transitional government of Somalia, raising hopes for peace.

But since then, the verdict on the moderates has been mixed. In the past two weeks, the Shabab have routed government forces in Mogadishu, the capital. The tiny bit of the city the government controls is shrinking, block by block, and Ethiopian troops have once again crossed the border and are standing by. As many as 150 people have been killed, and the relentless mortar fire has spawned streams of shellshocked civilians trudging into the arid countryside, where they face the worst drought in a decade.

If Mogadishu falls, Somalia will be dragged deeper into the violent morass that the United Nations, the United States and other Western countries have tried hard to stanch, and the country will fragment even further into warring factions, with radical Islamists probably on top.

But out here, on the wind-whipped plains of Somalia’s central region, it is a different story. The moderates are holding their own, and the newly minted Sufi militia is about the only local group to go toe-to-toe with the Shabab and win.

The several-hundred-square-mile patch of central Somalia that the Sufis control is not nearly as strategic as Mogadishu. But the Sufis have achieved what the transitional government has not: grass-roots support, which explains how they were able to move so quickly from a bunch of men who had never squeezed a trigger before — a rarity in Somalia — into a cohesive fighting force backed by local clans.

Many Somalis say that the Sufi version of Islam, which stresses tolerance, mysticism and a personal relationship with God, is more congruent with their traditions than the Wahhabi Islam espoused by the Shabab, which calls for strict separation of the sexes and harsh punishments like amputations and stonings.

“We see the Sufis as part of us,” said Elmi Hersi Arab, an elder in the battered central Somalia town of Dusa Marreb. “They grew up here.”

The Sufis also tapped into an anti-Shabab backlash. The Shabab, who recruit from all clans, and, according to American officials, are linked to Al Qaeda, controlled Dusa Marreb for the better part of last year. Residents described that period as a reign of terror, with the Shabab assassinating more than a dozen village elders and even beheading two women selling tea.

“We respected the Shabab for helping drive out the Ethiopians,” said one woman in Dusa Marreb who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. “But when the Ethiopians left and the Shabab kept the war going, that to us didn’t make sense.”

The Sufis, a loosely organized, religious brotherhood, also drawing from many different clans, had studiously avoided getting gummed up in Somalia’s back-and-forth clan battles, often no more than thin cover for power struggles between businessmen and warlords. But in November, Sheik Omar said, the Shabab shot dead several Sufi students. The next month, the Shabab tore apart Sufi shrines.

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A cleric leading Sufi fighters in an outdoor Koranic class.

A spike of panic shot through the Sufi schools, where young men like Siyad Mohammed Ali were studying Islamic philosophy. “We had never told the Shabab how to worship,” he said. “But now we were under attack.”

Men like Mr. Siyad became the backbone of the new Sufi militia, which got a crate of AK-47s from one set of clan elders or a sputtering armored truck from another. In December, the Sufis, whose organization is called Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama, which roughly translates as the followers of the Prophet Muhammad, drove the Shabab out of Dusa Marreb. Since then, the Sufis have defended their territory several times against Shabab incursions.

Hassan Sheik Mohamud, the dean of a college in Mogadishu, said the rise of the Sufis was “absolutely, totally new historically.”

“They had a reputation for being peaceful,” he said.

The Sufis are loosely allied to the transitional government, which has promised to rule Somalia with some form of Islamic law. The president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, is a bit of an enigma, coming from a long line of Sufi clerics, yet rising to power in 2006 as part of an Islamist alliance with a decidedly Wahhabi bent. He has said that he wants women to play an important role in government, but several prominent Somali women said that during a recent meeting, he would not look them in the eye.

Many Somalis say that Sheik Sharif is making the same mistake his predecessors made, spending more time riding around foreign capitals in a Mercedes than working Mogadishu’s streets to cultivate local allies.

Out here, the Sufis are moving ahead with their own small administration, meeting with United Nations officials and running patrols. At night, in a circle under a tree, they rest their AK-47s on their Korans, drop their foreheads to the earth and pray.

“We have jihad, too,” said Sheik Omar, a tall man with a long beard and warm eyes. “But it’s inner jihad, a struggle to be pure.”

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Full article and photos: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/world/africa/24somalia.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

More Somali immigrants say Britain should ban khat

Britain’s large Somali community chews at least seven tons a week of a drug banned in most Western countries.

Deep in the bowels of west London, amid the warren of subways running under Edgware Road, two Ethiopians stand behind a sparsely stocked kiosk.

Except for a few Mars Bars, they preside over a shop conspicuous for its lack of confectionary.

Customers instead make a beeline for two large fridges packed with tightly wrapped green bundles of khat – the Horn of Africa’s favorite drug.

“It arrived this morning, but you must chew it in two or three days or it will go bad,” one of the shopkeepers says as he passes a £4 ($6) bundle of the narcotic leaf to an eager-looking customer.

Although illegal in the United States since 1993 and banned throughout much of Europe, khat remains legal in Britain.

But community campaigners, backed by psychiatrists and a warning from the World Health Organization, have long believed that one of the active ingredients, cathonine, can lead to mental problems among regular users and have called for Britain to join much of the developed world by banning the drug.

Some of the most vocal critics of the drug have emerged recently from within the Somali community here. Khat, they say, is not only bringing harm to individuals, but it’s also stymieing wider integration efforts.

“My people are in trouble because of this drug and I tell you … London hasn’t seen the worst of it,” says Abdi Hussein, a young Somali migrant and former addict.

Thus far, Britain’s Home Office has parried arguments for controlling khat, saying it is a mild narcotic and an innocent cultural past time with few proven social or medical ills.

‘Khat has slowly been killing our community’

Each week, according to a widely cited but likely outdated government estimate, around seven tons of the leafy stimulant arrives at Heathrow Airport from the khat fields of Ethiopia and Kenya, to be whisked to khat cafes, known as mafreshis, frequented by many of Britain’s 250,000-strong Somali migrant community, as well as the country’s smaller Ethiopian and Yemeni groups.

Chewers devour up to two pounds of the leaf in a session. Similar to the chewing of cocoa leaves among Andean people, khat use is a centuries-old tradition originating in East Africa and the Arabian peninsula.

It has a social function of lubricating political debate and religious study – early users reportedly included Koran scholars – as well as quelling hunger in a poor corner of the world. In a Western context, the role of khat is less clear. A growing clamor of voices favor a ban amid concerns that the drug is wreaking havoc in Britain’s large Somali population.

Khat has slowly been killing our community but no one has paid any attention, until now,” says former khat addict Abukar Awali. At the height of his habit, Mr. Awali says he chewed up to eight pounds of leaves daily.

“It’s no exaggeration to say it is preventing us from integrating,” he says. “When you chew, you don’t work or meet anyone apart from Somalis. Maybe 80 percent of our men chew khat. When you are not chewing, you become paranoid and depressed. Everybody in my community knows someone with a khat problem; they are just afraid to say it.”

While the debate over whether to control the drug continues, campaigners say its use is playing a role in alarming rates of unemployment, crime, and poor educational achievement among the country’s Somalis.

The leaf’s path from Mogadishu to London

The largest wave of Somali refugees arrived in Britain in 1991 after the collapse of Somalia’s government and the onset of civil war. Already dislocated from their homeland, the majority were heaped into Britain’s already overcrowded and poor inner-city estates.

With the newcomers came a more relaxed attitude toward khat. The drug has become more widely accepted now by the British Somali community.

Khat is now seen as something from ‘our’ culture; an identifying point,” says youth worker Hanad Mahamoud, from Brent, a London borough with at least 3,8000 Somali residents. “But that’s nonsense. In Somalia, clan elders used to chew khat and talk politics. Here, men, women, and teenagers are chewing it all day just to get marqaan” – high – “on the bus, in the street, not working, not looking after themselves or their kids. They can’t see that it is a part of ‘culture’ which has grown on the streets of Brent, not Mogadishu.”

It is a dangerous myopia being intensified by the government’s refusal to engage with the khat problem, says Barry Gardiner, the Labour Party’s representative in Parliament for Brent North.

“It is at the heart of the dysfunctionality of the Somali community,” Mr. Gardiner says. “It’s a driver for crime, dropping out of school, and unemployment. It is also clearly a gateway to taking – and dealing – harder drugs. It is frankly rubbish to suggest it is innocent.”

Is khat preventing British Somalis from thriving?

The government recently hinted that it may at last be listening to the warnings about khat.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which helps shape Britain’s drug laws, last month commissioned new research into the medical and social impacts of khat. The new report is expected to be released by the end of the year and the Home Office.

Last month, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith heard private testimony from a group of young Somalis whose lives have been blighted by khat. She was, by all accounts, moved by their stories of neglect and squandered opportunity.

Among those giving evidence was Mr. Hussein, the young Somali migrant who was able to kick his addiction.

“I used to think khat was a leaf, just like chewing grass – animal antics,” he says with staccatoed urban eloquence.

“But it messed up my head. You’re chilled when you chew, but the lows are very dark. Lots of my friends don’t go to school because they are chewing all night. It started them into other drugs, but I got out in time.”

Student Miski Abdullahi agrees, suggesting that khat has even dulled the entrepreneurial instincts of the community.

“Families are claiming state benefit and then spending it on khat, not their children. Somalis are doing well in the US and Canada, but are backward here. You have to ask ‘why?’ ”

Concerned youngsters like Ms. Miski and Abdi campaign with the knowledge that they are fighting both the Home Office and the elders of their closely knit community, many of whom are reluctant to kick the khat habit or the lucrative businesses it has seeded.

The question of criminalizing Somalis also looms large, given the growing number of young Somalis falling into the criminal-justice system and the current negative connotations in Britain ascribed to being young, black, Muslim, and from a refugee community.

But campaigners say until khat is banned Somalis will struggle to find their place in Britain.

“They say ‘the night which is darkest, is the night before dawn,’ ” explains youth worker Hanad Mahamoud, citing a Somali proverb. “Khat is a cancer killing my people, we will never integrate until it is gone.”

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Full article: http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0508/p06s04-woeu.html

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

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.

nivose-sss

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.

corte_real_a

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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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See also:

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

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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See also:

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 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

Two aid staff abducted in Somalia

Map

Two employees of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have been kidnapped by gunmen in central Somalia.

The BBC’s Somali Service says the two men, who work for MSF-Belgium, were taken in their car with their Somali bodyguards in Hudur, Bakol region.

The BBC’s Mohammed Moalimo in Mogadishu says the area is run by the radical Islamist al-Shabab insurgent group.

According to unnamed MSF sources, one of the aid workers is Belgian and the other is Danish.

The UN estimates 35 aid staff were killed last year and 26 abducted in the Horn of Africa nation, which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

The dead included three MSF workers – a Kenyan doctor, a French logistician, and a Somali driver – caught in a roadside bomb in the town of Kismayo in January 2008.

Al-Shabab has sworn to topple Somalia’s fragile federal transitional government, which is backed by African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu.

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8007039.stm

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

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

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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

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

Kenya ‘will try Somali pirates’ captured by French warship

A picture released by the French Army shows French soldiers intercepting pirates off the coast of Kenya, 15 April 2009

The pirates were intercepted on Wednesday east of the Kenyan coast

Eleven Somali pirates captured this week by a French warship are being taken to Kenya for trial, the French defence ministry has said.

The pirates will be tried under an agreement between the EU and Kenya, French officials said.

They were captured by a warship from an EU force deployed to tackle a recent surge in piracy.

In the past year, French forces have captured more than 70 Somali pirates, and killed three others.

Fifteen of the pirates are awaiting trial in France because they attacked French ships.

Most of the others have been handed over to the authorities in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

The warship Nivose captured 11 pirates on Wednesday about 550 miles (900km) east of the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

Map of pirate attacks

The ship was expected to arrive in Mombasa within four days, a defence ministry spokesman told AFP news agency.

Its speed was limited by the fact that it was towing captured pirate vessels, he said.

In recent months Britain, the US, and the European Union have signed memorandums of understanding with Nairobi that Kenya will act as a kind of international tribunal for pirate crimes.

Several Somali pirates turned over by the US and Germany are already undergoing legal action there.

Despite anti-piracy patrols being conducted by various countries, attacks against ships have increased in the past few days.

Pirates have vowed to avenge the deaths of those killed in recent rescue operations by US and French forces.

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Full article and photos: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8003031.stm

Russian warships to resume Horn of Africa patrols in late April

 
 

A task force from Russia’s Pacific Fleet will resume anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa in late April, a Navy spokesman said on Thursday.

The Admiral Panteleyev destroyer, a salvage tug and a tanker will replace a task force led by the Admiral Vinogradov destroyer, which has been involved in the anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia since the beginning of January.

“The Navy command has been closely watching the situation developing around the Horn of Africa, in particular in close proximity to Somali coast, where piracy has been on the rise lately,” the officer said.

He said the area would be patrolled on a regular basis by Russian destroyers and missile frigates, as well as support and auxiliary ships.

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 Admiral Vinogradov and the Boris Butoma tanker have completed their anti-piracy mission around the Horn of Africa and have returned to their base in Vladivostok.

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 and photo: http://en.rian.ru/russia/20090416/121162666.html

French warship captures pirates

French navy warship Nivose

The French warship is part of the EU’s operation in the Gulf of Aden

A French warship has captured 11 pirates off the coast of Kenya, amid calls for the international community to deal with the problem of piracy.

The pirates were captured by a warship from an EU piracy patrol, hours after a failed attack on a US ship.

News of the incidents came as the UN special envoy for Somalia said the attacks threatened international peace.

He urged financial backers of the “bandits”, as he called them, to be identified and held accountable.

The latest attack involved pirates firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at a US-flagged cargo ship, the Liberty Sun, which was carrying food aid for Africa.

‘Mother ship’

The French Defence Ministry said the warship Nivose captured the pirates about 550 miles (900km) east of the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

It had detected a “mother ship”, or command vessel, on Tuesday, and observed it overnight before launching an assault early on Wednesday, the ministry said.

An attack on a Liberian-registered vessel was also thwarted, the ministry added.

The Nivose is part of the European Union’s operation to protect shipping in the Gulf of Aden.

Despite several anti-piracy patrols, there has been an increase in attacks in the past few days, with four ships seized and others attacked.

The United Nations special envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, said the attacks were threatening international peace.

In a BBC interview, he also called for help for poor Somalis themselves, many of whom were being exploited by the pirates.

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8000447.stm

Attorneys File Suit in Germany on Behalf of Alleged Pirates

In the latest dispute over the European Union’s anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia, lawyers representing two suspects being detained in Kenya have filed suits against the German government. They want Berlin to foot the bill for the suspects’ defense and ensure they are given a fair trial.

Two suspected pirates detained by German naval forces in a mission off the coast of Somalia on March 3, who were later turned over to Kenyan officials for prosecution, are now suing the government in Berlin for a fair trial.

Attorneys for the men filed a suit on Tuesday demanding that the German government pay for the men’s defense and provide support to a group of suspected pirates currently being held in the Shimo La Tewa prison in Mombasa.

SOMALIA-GERMANY-PIRACY-SHIPPING

Picture released by the German Bundeswehr on March 4, 2009 showing Bundeswehr soldiers (front) approaching pirates in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia on March 3, 2009, after the German frigate Rheinland-Pfalz had received a distress call from a German-owned container ship saying she was under fire from pirates armed with bazookas and machine guns. The frigate then dispatched a helicopter which together with another chopper from the US naval ship Monterey stopped the attempted attack by firing warning shots. German soldiers boarded the pirates’ vessel and took the nine into custody, the German military said. The container ship in question was the MV Courier, sailing under the flag of Antigua and Barbuda.

In two separate cases filed in two Berlin courts, lawyers representing the defendants are arguing that the German government is responsible for ensuring that the men receive a fair trial. After their capture by German armed forces, the two suspected pirates were handed over to Kenya for prosecution. The lawyers are also demanding they be provided with support from the German embassy in Kenya for two of the nine suspects in custody.

The two detainees belong to a group of nine suspected pirates who attempted to hijack the MV Courier cargo ship, which is operated by a Hamburg-based shipping company that flies under the flags of Antigua and Barbuda and has a mostly Filipino crew. As they were intercepted by a German navy frigate on March 3, the men allegedly fired at the ship using Kalashnikovs and a rocket propelled grenade. After a chase, the men were captured and turned over to Kenyan authorities.

The Kenyans were given jurisdiction for prosecuting the men as the result of a hastily negotiated treaty between Kenya and the European Union. The countries involved in the Atalanta anti-piracy mission knew the arrests could lead to very complicated legal procedures in Europe because of murky jurisdiction in cases that occur in international waters, so they convinced the Kenyans to take responsibility for suspects. In exchange, the EU agreed to give the Kenyans speed boats, helicopters and two modern fire trucks.

But it’s precisely that agreement that prompted this week’s lawsuit. The EU-Kenya deal stipulates that Nairobi guarantee the proceedings agains the suspects “observe the right to a fair trial.” Concretely, the deal also stipulates that suspects have the right to an attorney. If they can’t afford this on their own, they are to be provided with a lawyer “free of charge.” The problem though, the suspect pirates’ attorneys argue, is that this isn’t automatically guaranteed by the Kenyan legal system. Germany, they claim, must step in and make sure that this happens.

The lawyers claim that during a recent visit to Kenya, they were provided with only minimal support by the German embassy and that Kenyan authorities refused to provide them with access to their clients or court documents pertaining to the case.

Attorney Schulz said the prisoners were the German government’s responsibility, even if Kenya has taken custody of them. “An unfair trial in Kenya would spoil promises made by the German government that rule of law would be adhered to,” he said.

The German Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the suits. However, a diplomatic source within the ministry said there was concern about the case. “By creating a distraction with their show to try to get famous,” the diplomat said, “these lawyers are endangering an orderly trial.” The source also indicated the suspects would be represented by a Kenya-based defense lawyer. The source said there wasn’t much more that Germany could do and that the cases in the Berlin courts had little chance of succeeding.

The first major trial of pirates captured by Europeans could create significant problems for the German Foreign Ministry. Kenyan justice officials are already criticizing the fact that German naval officials sank all of the suspected pirates weapons after capturing them, meaning that key evidence is now missing. It’s also unclear whether all of the men were pirates. Several are claiming they were only on board the pirate vessel so that they could hitch a ride to Yemen.

Politically, the trial will also be closely observed. “It’s going to be a litmus test for the entire anti-piracy operation,” said lawyer Schulz. Jürgen Trittin, Germany’s former environment minister and a senior politician with the Green Party, has said he will travel to Mombasa to attend the trial and report back to the German parliament about it. The politician has said that if Kenya is unable to provide a clean trial that adheres to rule of law, that it would endanger the deal with the country.

The commotion over the case, one diplomat with the German Foreign Ministry said, could considerably dampen Kenya’s willingness to detain and prosecute pirate suspects.

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Full article and photo: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,619103,00.html

Pirates attack another US vessel

The Liberty Sun - file pic
The Liberty Sun was damaged in the pirate attack

Pirates have used rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons to attack another US merchant ship off the coast of Somalia.

The pirates damaged the Liberty Sun, which was carrying a cargo of food aid, but were not able to board it.

The ship asked for assistance from the American warship involved in the rescue of a US captain seized last week.

Pirates have vowed to avenge the deaths of those killed in recent rescue operations by US and French forces.

BBC security correspondent Rob Watson says that although it is not clear if the latest attack was intended as the promised revenge, it shows that pirates have not been deterred by military operations.

Despite renewed US calls to quell piracy, four more vessels have been successfully seized over the past two days.

Details of attack

Owners of the Liberty Sun and the US military confirmed reports of the latest, failed attack, which took place on Tuesday at midday local time.

Some details were revealed in an e-mail from one of the crewmen to his mother at her home in Illinois, AP news agency reported.

“We are under attack by pirates, we are being hit by rockets, also bullets,” Thomas Urbik, 26, told his mother, Katy.

“We are barricaded in the engine room and so far no-one is hurt. (A) rocket penetrated the bulkhead but the hole is small. Small fire, too, but put out.”

Lt Nathan Christensen, of the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, told the BBC that the ship had taken “evasive manoeuvre action” which had prevented the pirates from boarding.

The Liberty Sun had been en route to Mombasa from Houston, Texas, when the attack took place.

After coming under fire, the ship immediately requested assistance from the USS Bainbridge, said owners Liberty Maritime Corp in a statement.

The navy destroyer arrived some hours later, by which time the pirates had gone.

“We are grateful and pleased that no-one was injured and the crew and the ship are safe,” said the Liberty Maritime Corp statement.

The ship did sustain some damage, it said, but was able to resume its journey to Mombasa.

Pirates killed

The operation to free Captain Richard Phillips, who was held captive in a lifeboat for five days, ended with three pirates being shot dead by marksmen from the USS Bainbridge on Sunday.

Somali pirate leaders – who have generally treated captives well in the hope of winning big ransom payouts – said they would avenge the deaths.

Map of pirate attacks

“No-one can deter us from protecting our waters from the enemy because we believe in dying for our land,” Omar Dahir Idle told AP by telephone from the Somali coastal town of Harardhere.

Because Capt Phillips was on board the USS Bainbridge, he was unable to be reunited with his shipmates from the Maersk Alabama, in Mombasa, before they flew back to the US.

Capt Phillips is flying back to the US on Wednesday.

US President Barack Obama promised on Monday to “halt the rise of piracy” in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

But in the 48 hours prior to the latest attack, four vessels have been seized in the same area:

  • A Lebanese-owned cargo ship, the MV Sea Horse, was taken by gunmen in up to four skiffs
  • A Greek-owned bulk carrier, the MV Irene, was also seized
  • Two Egyptian fishing boats were held the previous day

Meanwhile, three Somali pirates who had taken French hostages are in custody in France, French prosecutors say.

The pirates were captured during a military operation to free hostages taken on the Tanit, a French yacht seized in the Gulf of Aden on 4 April.

The boat’s French skipper and two other pirates were killed in the operation.

‘Vast area’

Lt Christensen said that although 15 countries had navies operating in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia, the area was too large to prevent all attacks.

“The area we patrol is more than one million square miles and the simple fact of the matter is we just can’t be everywhere at once to prevent every attack of piracy,” he said.

Our correspondent says it seems unlikely there will be any major increase in the military effort unless there is a spectacular hijacking involving the deaths of many Americans.

The reluctance to mount a major international naval operation in the area may also be down to the relatively small scale of the problem.

Last year, according to figures from the International Maritime Bureau, nearly 23,000 ships passed through the Gulf of Aden, but only 92 were hijacked.

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Full article and photos: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7999350.stm

A Solution for Somalia

What it will take to stop the threats of piracy and terrorism

SKILLFUL SHOOTING by U.S. snipers rescued an American ship captain from Somali pirates Sunday — along with an Obama administration facing its first foreign emergency. Unfortunately, no silver bullets are available for the growing threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean or the toxic anarchy that has spawned it.

President Obama said in a statement Sunday that “we must continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks, be prepared to interdict acts of piracy and ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for those crimes.” Those actions are certainly necessary, and they speak for themselves. But they don’t begin to address the underlying problem, which is Somalia’s long-standing status as a failed state and the desperation and extremism growing among its Muslim population.

Since the Clinton administration abandoned a U.N. mission in Somalia 15 years ago, the United States has tried ignoring the chaos there, using proxies to subdue it and targeting its worst elements with airstrikes. An international naval task force has been cruising along the coast for months to deter piracy. All along, the country’s misery and the threat it poses to the United States and other Western countries have steadily worsened. It’s not just the pirates, who have staged at least 66 assaults so far this year and hold more than a dozen ships and 200 foreign crew members hostage. As senior U.S. officials have repeatedly acknowledged, a radical Islamist militia that controls much of Somalia has ties to al-Qaeda, which has used its Somali base to stage attacks on U.S. and Israeli targets in Africa and is believed to be training foreign militants — including some Somali Americans — for future operations.

Again and again, mostly for political reasons, U.S. administrations have refused to absorb the lessons Somalia teaches, in tandem with pre-2001 Afghanistan and the tribal territories of present-day Pakistan. Those lessons are that stateless territories, particularly in the Muslim world, can pose a significant threat to U.S. interests and even homeland security, and that the danger can be adequately addressed only by helping a state authority emerge to fill the vacuum.

Last week’s crisis offers the Obama administration an opportunity to avoid perpetuating past errors. No, we aren’t advocating another massive U.N. intervention in the country backed by U.S. troops. As the Bush administration discovered late last year, there is no appetite among America’s European or African allies for such an operation. But what would be possible is a concerted push to strengthen the most recent attempt at a Somali government — a not-unpromising coalition between moderate Islamists and various clan-based factions. The government needs massive economic aid, training and equipment for an army and coast guard, and help in brokering political deals.

A coordinated international effort to build up a Somali government and security forces would cost many billions of dollars and take many years to pay off. It would consume U.S. diplomatic capital and be domestically controversial — like the nation-building missions underway, at last, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is also the only way to end the threats of piracy and terrorism from the Horn of Africa.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/13/AR2009041301851.html