Friday, November 28, 2008

Where is the international solution?

Despite a pledge from NATO, a fleet of international ships patrolling the waters in and around the Somali coast, and a new U.N. resolution against the pirates, none of the solutions seem to be ebbing the influx of hijackings. And the pirates are becoming even more daring in their takeovers of some ships.

The U.S. navy declared it is impossible to patrol all 2.5 million miles of sea surrounding Somalia and Yemen. The navy has instead called on the shipping companies to hire private security contractors to protect their ships. 

But according to Cyrus Mody, the head of the International Maritime Bureau, navies are reluctant to seize or detain any pirate ships because they don't know if it is legal.

Three anti-piracy guards (who were supposed to protect the latest chemical tanker that was hijacked today, though they don't carry weapons) were the first three crew members to jump ship. 

But does the reluctance to actually confront and battle the pirates come from the protectors' lack of ability to locate the pirate ships soon enough, or from the fear that the pirates are more than willing to give up their lives for a million dollar ransom?

At what point (when the pirates have hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons and artillery? when ships can no longer travel through the Gulf of Aden or surrounding waters? when the pirates begin to travel beyond their surrounding waters?) will international forces actually care about confronting the pirates?

One Hijacking, One Release, One Ransom Deadline Approaching

The pirates hijacked a chemical tanker, with 25 Indians and two Bangladeshi men on board, in the Gulf of Aden on Friday.

The pirates also released a cargo ship on Thursday, and the crew of 25 Filipino men were unharmed, though held captive for two months. 

Some shipping companies are beginning to use nonlethal measures to deter the pirate ships, including evasive maneuvers, electric handrails and painful sounds blasted at the pirates. 

The pirates currently hold 17 ships. 

Sunday is the deadline for the owners of the Saudi oil tanker, the Sirius Star, to pay a ransom of $25 million (the earlier offer of $15 million seems to be off the table.) The owners of the ship seem likely to pay the ransom.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Germans To Send Troops, India Makes Mistake

Though unconfirmed by the German Defense Ministry, a report on Tuesday in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says that Germany's government could deploy up to 1400 troops to combat Somali piracy.

The German government already announced its intention to send a frigate to the region as part of the European Union's mission "Operation Atalanta," which is expected for sometime in mid-December.

India Mistaken

And remember when the Indian navy said they sunk a pirate ship (shown in the picture)? Turns out it was a Thai trawler.

One crewman from the Thai boat was found alive after drifting for six days in the Gulf of Aden. India insists that the vessel was agressive and fired upon their ship.

But the mistake begs the question of how international forces will be able to distinguish between the hijacked ships and fishermen's boats.

Update on Yemenese Boat

Yemen's government is in direct contact with officials in Somalia to work on rescuing the ship, for which the hijackers are asking for a $2 million ransom.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mapping/Tracking the Piracy

The U.N. has published an in-depth map of all of the reported incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and other areas surrounding Somalia. The map pinpoints areas where the highest density of hijackings and incidents are arising (the most frequent areas seem closer to Yemen than Somalia).

ICC Commercial Crime Services also publishes a weekly piracy report, complete with the latitude and longitude of the suspected incidents and detailed descriptions of the pirates' arms and some of the details of the attacks.

Blocking the Pirates in?

The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, whose members own 2,900 tankers or 75% of the world's fleet, called for a military blockade of ships to keep the pirates from moving off their coastline.

But how easily would a blockade be constructed along the 2,400 miles of Somali coastline?

And why haven't the 14 military ships from Denmark, France, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, the U.S. and NATO, been more successful in blocking these renegade Somali speed boats?

Reduced Ransom

The pirates also seem to be learning about the woes of the world economy and are adjusting their ransom prices accordingly.

Andrew Mwangura, the coordinator of the East Africa Seafarers Programme based in Mombasa — said that his sources confirmed that the pirates would now settle for $15 million for the ship, which is $10 million less than their initial price for the Arabian Sirius Star.

Another hijacking

On Monday, Yemen's Interior Ministry said Somali pirates have hijacked a Yemeni cargo ship in the Arabian Sea. The hijacking brings the year's total to more than 40.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saudi Tanker Moves

The Islamic Courts Union warned the pirates to leave Harardhere, a Somalian port town, after threatening to attack.

The ICU issued the warning because the ship is considered Muslim property.

The piracy also has apparently angered the Shehab, a militant Islamic group controlling much of southern and central Somalia.

Pirates have since anchored the ship off their base in Harardhere, north of Mogadishu, and demanded the ransom be paid by November 30.

They currently hold at least 17 ships, including a Ukrainian cargo carrying 33 combat tanks, which was on its way to Sudan.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Connections to 18th Century Barbary?

Michael Oren in today's Wall Street Journal tries to connect the Somali pirates with the barbarous Morrocan pirates from the late 18th-century, but the analogy does not seem analogous. The Somali pirates of today have not attacked or captured any American ships, and they seem to care little to none about the political/religious/ethnic affiliations of the ships and tankers they are capturing...

In related news, the pirates released a Greek tanker, with all 19 of the ship's crew kept safe, after the ship's management company paid the pirates' ransom.

Also, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Friday that they are not negotiating with pirates and would not do so, but that what the oil tanker's owners did was up to them.

The same day, a radical Islamic group in Somalia (the same one fighting for power in Mogadishu) said ships belonging to Muslim countries should not be seized and that it would fight the pirates holding the Saudi supertanker.

Cmdr. Jane Campbell of the U.S. Navy's 5th fleet in Bahrain, said hijacked ships are docked in four or five ports along Somalia's coastline. Roughly 330 merchant mariners from 25 different countries are being held hostage, she said.

Also of note: Roughly 11% of the world's seaborne petroleum passes through the Gulf of Aden (off the coast of Somalia), where NATO, the United States, Russia, India, Malaysia and Denmark have warships patrolling.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pirate facts and quotes

$2 million: average ransom obtained by the Somali pirates per ship.

1,080 feet: the length of the Saudi MV Sirius Star supertanker hijacked Nov. 15, 450 nautical miles from the coast of Somalia, and loaded with 2 million barrels of crude oil.

$25 million: the ransom that the pirates are demanding for the supertanker.

3: number of ships taken ransom since the supertanker was hijacked.

39: the number of successful hijackings out of 92 pirate attacks in Somalia this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

220: the number of hostages being held in Eyl.

250%: the increase in the cost of staple foods over the last 12 months in Somalia because of inflation.

77%: the increase in the number of Somalis in need of humanitarian aid since January, according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

8: number of Somali pirates charged in a Kenyan court yesterday.

5: the age at which 25% of the country's children die.


Sugule Ali, the pirates' spokesperson, said, “Killing is not in our plans,” he said. “We only want money so we can protect ourselves from hunger.” When asked why the pirates needed $20 million to protect themselves from hunger, Mr. Sugule laughed and said, “Because we have a lot of men.”

Fatuma Abdul Kadir said she went to a pirate wedding in July that lasted two days, with non-stop dancing and goat meat. "It was wonderful," said Fatuma, 21. "I'm now dating a pirate."

Roger Middleton, an African analyst at Chatham House in London, said, "The average income in Somalia is around $650 a year, but a low level pirate can earn up to $10,000 per raid."

Mohammed Abdel Salam, a national security expert with Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said, "We are not talking here about conventional pirates but about organized gangs who have a lot of money, weapons and demonstrate organizational abilities and good knowledge of ship technology that allow them to catch ships quickly."

Attack the Somali pirates?

While the Pentagon defended international military action against the Somali pirates today, and India also said that they will expand their offensives (after successfully blowing up one of the pirate ships in the Gulf of Aden), the pirates themselves -- from northern coastal towns like Haradhere, Eyl and Bossaso -- seem content with their efforts toward a better life.

New Somali businesses are actually thriving through the use of the $30 million in ransoms they've obtained from the 95 hijackings this year. And the treatment of hostages seems surprisingly well, by "hiring caterers on shore to cook spaghetti, grilled fish and roasted meat that will appeal to Western palates."

So is this a case of mere ruthless Islamic terrorist thuggery in a country where the life expectancy is 46 years, or a simple case of natural selection, where men are taking advantage of the millions of dollars in transported goods being shipped just off the coast of their country, one of the poorest in the world.

"Regardless of how the money is coming in — legally or illegally — I can say it has started a life in our town," said Shamso Moalim, a 36-year-old mother of five in Haradhere.

"Our children are not worrying about food now, and they go to Islamic schools in the morning and play soccer in the afternoon. They are happy."

Situation Elsewhere

But outside of these pirate villages, people are experiencing some of the worst conditions in all of Africa.

Without a functioning government since 1991, United Nations officials who specialize in Somalia said the country had higher malnutrition rates, more current bloodshed and fewer aid workers than Darfur -- often considered the most dire humanitarian crisis worldwide.

In some of the worst areas in the country, like Afgooye, recent surveys said the malnutrition rate is 19 percent, compared with about 13 percent in Darfur. The UN considers 15 percent to be the emergency threshold.

The UN also concedes that Somalia was in better shape during the brief reign of the country's Islamist movement in 2007, considered by many as Somalia's "golden years," but which was overthrown with the help of U.S. dollars.

The total amount of U.S. humanitarian assistance committed to Somalia in the 2006 and 2007 fiscal years exceeded $95 million, USAID said. And Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice pledged an additional $16.575 million in early 2008.

But in comparison to the amounts that the U.S. has given to Sudan and eastern Chad, these numbers are paltry. In the fiscal year 2008, the U.S. gave $1.27 billion in humanitarian aid to these neighboring areas.

An end or a beginning?

With the recent capture of a Saudi oil tanker worth more than $100 million, and with hunting grounds for more treasure reaching about 1 million square miles (roughly four times the size of Texas) these small-time crooks may be encouraged to turn their modest efforts into a full-time, well-funded endeavor. And perhaps the international community will recognize that the 11 ships attacked over the last week is not a cry for military action but a cry to save a country from its impending doom.