Sunday, 7 December 2008

Piracy (?)

Up, Down.

What goes around, comes around ...

A larger narrative emerges from these stories - but you will have to read it all, slowly, to get the savour. A refresher on the tsunami of December 2004 would be helpful, and maybe a Google on Shidane Arone and 'Blackhawk Down' and the first battle of Mogadishu - both events in 1993.

'We consider ourselves heroes' - a Somali pirate speaks, Xan Rice & Abdiqani Hassan, Saturday November 22 2008.

Asad 'Booyah' Abdulahi, 42, describes himself as a pirate boss, capturing ships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Here he tells his story.

I am 42 years old and have nine children. I am a boss with boats operating in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

I finished high school and wanted to go to university but there was no money. So I became a fisherman in Eyl in Puntland like my father, even though I still dreamed of working for a company. That never happened as the Somali government was destroyed [in 1991] and the country became unstable.

At sea foreign fishing vessels often confronted us. Some had no licence, others had permission from the Puntland authorities but did not want us there to compete. They would destroy our boats and force us to flee for our lives.

I started to hijack these fishing boats in 1998. I did not have any special training but was not afraid. For our first captured ship we got $300,000. With the money we bought AK-47s and small speedboats. I don't know exactly how many ships I have captured since then but I think it is about 60. Sometimes when we are going to hijack a ship we face rough winds, and some of us get sick and some die.

We give priority to ships from Europe because we get bigger ransoms. To get their attention we shoot near the ship. If it does not stop we use a rope ladder to get on board. We count the crew and find out their nationalities. After checking the cargo we ask the captain to phone the owner and say that have seized the ship and will keep it until the ransom is paid.

We make friends with the hostages, telling them that we only want money, not to kill them. Sometimes we even eat rice, fish, pasta with them. When the money is delivered to our ship we count the dollars and let the hostages go.

Then our friends come to welcome us back in Eyl and we go to Garowe in Land Cruisers. We split the money. For example, if we get $1.8m, we would send $380,000 to the investment man who gives us cash to fund the missions, and then divide the rest between us.

Our community thinks we are pirates getting illegal money. But we consider ourselves heroes running away from poverty. We don't see the hijacking as a criminal act but as a road tax because we have no central government to control our sea. With foreign warships now on patrol we have difficulties.

But we are getting new boats and weapons. We will not stop until we have a central government that can control our sea.

Photo of Master Corporal Clayton Matchee & Shidane Arone, by Private Kyle Brown.

Photo of Abdul Hassan, "the one who never sleeps," by Veronique de Viguerie.

Prelude to Piracy - The Poor Fishermen of Somalia, 12/04/2008, Horand Knaup.

Firing shots at a luxury cruise ship, taking a super tanker hostage: the papers are full of Somalia's audacious pirates. But the local fishermen grab fewer headlines -- and have a stricken existence.

The outcry, addressed to the United Nations and the international community, was loud and bitter. "Help us solve the problem," said professional fisherman Muhammed Hussein from the coastal city of Marka, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the Somali capital Mogadishu. "What is happening here is economic terrorism."

Jeylani Shaykh Abdi, another Somali fisherman, added: "They are not just robbing us of our fish. They are ramming our boats and taking our nets -- including the catch."

It wasn't long ago that Somali fisherman were loudly complaining about the poor state of their lives and livelihoods. About 700 ships from other countries, they said, were casting their nets along Somalia's roughly 3,300 kilometers (2,050 miles) of coastline, using practices that showed little consideration for the fish stocks or local fishermen. None of the trawlers, the Somali fishermen claimed, had a license or an agreement with the government in Mogadishu. Of course, that government has wielded practically no influence over the past 15 years.

The intruders, Hussein and Shaykh Abdi complained, used nets with very small mesh sizes and fished with banned dragnets, and with dynamite in some cases. The foreign fishing boats would ram local fishing vessels, pour boiling water on them and, if they still refused to budge, shoot at them. It was not unusual for the intruders to hire Somali militias to drive away the local fishermen.

That was in 2006. The outcry was loud and clear -- but without any results.

Back then the Somali fishermen were doing badly. Today they are even worse off. Trawlers from faraway places continue to ply the waters off the long coastline, ships from Japan and India, as well as Italy and Spain. The Spanish fishing cutter that pirates hijacked in May and the Thai trawler an Indian warship inadvertently sank in early November provided evidence of just how attractive the Somali fishing grounds are worldwide.

Sardines To Sharks

And for good reason: The coast of Somalia has among the highest concentrations of fish in the world's oceans. Somali fishermen catch a wide variety of seafood -- from tuna to sardines, dorado to perch, shark to lobster -- in their nets. At the turn of the millennium, Somalia was home to about 30,000 professional fishermen, along with 60,000 occasional fishermen.

Fishing was never a thriving business in Somalia. Somalis are not enthusiastic fish eaters, and the bulk of their catch was traditionally exported. But today there is little left of what was already a relatively small and unprofitable industry. Fish processing, especially for export, has ceased to exist. There is no reliable transportation and there are no longer any functioning refrigeration facilities in the country, nor are there any ships left that could dock in Mogadishu.

Somali fishermen have another problem: toxic waste. Initially dumped on land, toxic waste was increasingly dumped at sea after the collapse of the regime of former President Siad Barre in 1991. Because the country has no coast guard, for the past 20 years the Somali coastline has had no protection against European ships dumping waste at sea. Although hard evidence was rare, there have been periodic and mysterious incidents. In early 2002, tens of thousands of dead fish washed ashore at Merca, south of Mogadishu. The causes remain unclear.

In the spring of 2004, fishermen spotted two large containers floating in the water near Bosaso. Whether they were deliberately tossed overboard or accidentally fell of a container ship in rough seas is unclear. The Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, which also reached the African coast, unearthed dozens of containers of toxic waste and deposited the waste along the Somali coast. According to a United Nations report, many coastal residents suffered "acute respiratory infections, heavy coughing, bleeding gums and mouth, abdominal haemorrhages, unusual skin rashes, and even death."

Experts and environmentalists have long been aware of the problem. In 2006, a team of specialists sent to the region to investigate discovered nine toxic waste sites along 700 kilometers (435 miles) of coastline in southern Somalia.

The UN envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, said last October that the UN has "reliable information that European and Asian companies are dumping toxic waste, including nuclear waste, off the Somali coastline."

An Excuse for the Pirates

In Mombasa, Kenya, pirate expert Andrew Mwangura complains "that toxic waste has been dumped in Somalia for a long time," and that the international community is looking on and "doing nothing about it," thereby giving the pirates "a convenient excuse to legitimize their actions."

The words of UN Envoy Ould-Abdallah were confirmed only a few days later, when leaking containers of toxic waste were washed ashore in Harardhere, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Mogadishu. Animals in the area contracted unusual diseases, and coastal residents suffered coughing and vomiting attacks. The lack of scruples displayed by foreigners using Somali waters to dump their toxic waste is not all that surprising: proper waste disposal in Europe costs about 400 times as much as illegal dumping in Somalia.

The extent of ocean dumping of toxic waste is just as poorly documented as the claims of adverse effects on fish populations off the coast. Speculation abounds, and yet there are no reliable studies from the last 20 years. The fact is, however, that Somali fishermen, for various reasons, have been catching fewer and fewer fish in their nets for years.

While the fishermen complained quietly, the members of another profession -- the pirate trade -- have been quick to claim the plight of the fishermen as their own. The Somali pirates have repeatedly argued that they were forced into piracy by the demise of fishing and the practice of dumping toxic waste at sea. But the truth is that only a small fraction of traditional fishermen have switched to piracy. When the recently hijacked supertanker Sirius Star dropped anchor off Harardhere, former army General Mohamed Nureh Abdulle told the BBC that the hijackers were unknown, and that they had not attempted to establish contact with the coastal population. Elsewhere along the coast, it is often unknown men -- not former local fishermen -- who are guarding the ships and waiting for ransom money.

Attractive Piracy

Nevertheless, toxic waste and illegal foreign fishing are convenient arguments for the pirates. "The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas," said Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirate group that is still waiting for its ransom for the MV Faina, a Ukrainian vessel carrying tanks and military hardware.

Pirate life is attractive. The profits are immense, even though the men carrying out the hijackings keep only about 30 percent of the ransom money. Of the remainder, 20 percent goes to the bosses, 30 percent is paid in bribes to government officials and 20 percent is set aside for future actions.

The pirates are quick to accept losses. Even though a number of pirates are now in prison in Paris, in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa and in Bosaso, Somalia's main port, and although the international community has sent a small armada of warships to Somalia, the hijackers are getting more and more audacious, targeting supertankers and ships transporting weapons, luxury yachts and chemical tankers.

In what was apparently a coordinated effort, on Tuesday night they attempted to attack five ships simultaneously in waters east of Somalia. A short time earlier, they had attacked the luxury cruise ship MS Nautica, with more than 1,000 passengers on board.

None of the attacks succeeded -- but this will not deter the pirates. Bosaso, Eyl and Hobyo, which, until recently, were miserably poor fishing towns, are barely recognizable today. Small mansions are popping up by the dozen, new restaurants are opening their doors, giant weddings are all the rage and the imports of four-wheel-drive SUVs are booming. Clan affiliation, long one of the key impediments to development in Somalia, is suddenly irrelevant. With ransom money pouring into coastal towns, former differences are fading into the background.

Everyone profits from the sudden influx of cash: construction firms, gas stations, restaurants and outfits specializing in providing food for the hostages. Even the government of Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region appears to be in on the take. "Presumably, all key political figures in Somalia are profiting from piracy," says Roger Middleton, an analyst with the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

Only one professional group is getting nothing from the boom along the coast: Somali fishermen.

Danish Navy Rescues Suspected Pirates, Alan Cowell, December 5, 2008.

LONDON -- A Danish warship on patrol to thwart piracy in the Gulf of Aden ended up rescuing seven of its presumed prey when its crew found suspected Somali pirates adrift this week with a broken motor on their speedboat, the Danish Navy said on Friday.

Danish sailors brought the hungry, thirsty Somalis on board their own ship, a naval official said. Then they sank the speedboat.

The incident highlighted the challenges facing a small international flotilla patrolling vast expanses of ocean where pirates have struck with increasing audacity, hijacking vessels including a Ukrainian freighter laden with armaments and a supertanker carrying an estimated $100 million of crude oil.

Earlier this week, pirates chased and shot at an American cruise ship with more than 1,000 people on board but failed to hijack the vessel as it sailed along a corridor patrolled by the international warships, officials told The Associated Press.

The Danish warship, a combat support vessel called the HDMS Absalon, picked up the seven men about 90 miles off the coast of Yemen on Wednesday after a maritime patrol aircraft spotted them signaling in distress, said Lt. Cmdr. Jesper Lynge, a Danish Navy spokesman, in a telephone interview from Copenhagen.

But when Danish special forces from the Absalon went alongside the stricken speed-boat, they found rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles -- familiar pirate weapons -- which they confiscated.

“Their ship had been without propulsion for several days,” he said. “They were hungry and thirsty. We had them checked out by our doctor. We gave them blankets, food and water.”

But they did not arrest them.

“We had a situation where these guys were shipwrecked persons,” Lieutenant Commander Lynge said. “But we haven’t caught them in an act of piracy, and what their main purpose was -- your guess is as good as mine.”

The Danish crew handed them over early Friday to the Yemen coast guard, he said.

The Absalon, with a crew of 100, was deployed in the Gulf of Aden last September as part of an international effort to curb piracy.

The Danish actions followed another incident last month in which an Indian Navy warship sank what officials called a pirate “mother ship,” but later described by its owner as a hijacked Thai fishing trawler.

Negotiations are under way to free the Ukrainian freighter, the Faina, captured more than two months ago.

Last Sunday, Andrew Mwangura, who as head of a Kenyan maritime association has helped mediate the situation, said the Somali pirates who seized the Ukrainian vessel had agreed on a ransom with the ship’s owners. He would not reveal the figure, but he said that the only thing left was to figure out how to get the money to the pirates and hand over the ship.

The hijacked supertanker, the Sirius Star, is anchored a few miles off the coast of Somalia, near the town of Xarardheere. Its cargo of 2 million barrels of Saudi crude is worth about $100 million; the ship itself is worth more than $100 million. There are 25 crew members aboard. The pirates who seized it have been reported by news agencies to have demanded between $15 million and $25 million for its release.

Life is sweet in piracy capital of the world, Xan Rice & Abdiqani Hassan, Wednesday November 19 2008.

Dhows rest on a white sand beach in front of a few dozen ramshackle homes. A creek cuts inland, traced by a dirt road that runs to a craggy fishing settlement two miles away. Until recently Eyl was a remote and rundown Somali fishing outpost of 7,000 people. Now, thanks to some spectacular ocean catches, it is a booming mini-town, awash with dollars and heavily armed young men, and boasting a new notoriety: piracy capital of the world.

At least 12 foreign ships are being held hostage in the waters off Eyl in the Nugal region, 300 miles south of Africa's Horn, including a Ukrainian vessel loaded with 33 tanks and ammunition that was hijacked last month.

They are being closely watched by hundreds of pirates aboard boats equipped with satellite phones and GPS devices. Hundreds more gunmen provide backup on shore, where they incessantly chew the narcotic leaf qat and dream of sharing in the huge ransoms that can run into millions of pounds.

In a war-ravaged country where life is cheap and hope is rare, each successful hijack brings more young men into the village to seek their fortune at sea.

"Even secondary school students are stopping their education to go to Eyl because they see how their friends have made a lot of money," Abdulqaadir Muuse Yusuf, deputy fisheries minister for the Puntland region, said yesterday.

The entire village now depends on the criminal economy. Hastily built hotels provide basic lodging for the pirates, new restaurants serve meals and send food to the ships, while traders provide fuel for the skiffs flitting between the captured vessels.

The pirate kingpins who commute from the regional capital, Garowe, 100 miles west, in new 4x4 vehicles splash their money around. When a ransom is received the gunmen involved in hijacking the particular ship join in the splurge, much to the pleasure of long-time residents. Jaama Salah, a trader, said that a bunch of qat can sell for $65 (£44), compared with $15 in other towns. Asli Faarah, a tea vendor, said: "When the pirates have money I can easily increase my price to $3 for a cup."

Somalis in the diaspora - especially in Kenya, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and the UK - finance the pirate gangs and keep a large chunk of the ransom money, estimated at more than £20m this year alone, far more than Puntland's annual budget. But the gangs of gunmen sometimes split hundreds of thousands of pounds between them.

In the region's bigger towns, such as Garowe and Bosasso on the Gulf of Aden coast, a successful hijack is often celebrated with a meal and qat-chewing session at an expensive hotel.

One successful pirate based in Garowe, Abshir Salad, said: "First we look to buy a nice house and car. Then we buy guns and other weapons. The rest of the money we use to relax."

The pirates appear to have little fear of arrest by the weak administration, who many suspect of involvement in the trade. By spreading the money to local officials, chiefs, relatives and friends, the pirates have created strong logistical and intelligence networks, and avoided the clan-based fighting that affects so much of the rest of the country.

And though few believe the pirates when they claim to be eco-warriors or marines defending Somali waters from foreign exploitation, their daring and wealth has earned them respect. It has become something of a tradition for successful pirates to take additional wives, marrying them in lavish ceremonies.

Naimo, 21, from Garowe, said she had attended a wedding last month of the sort "I had never seen before".

"It's true that girls are interested in marrying pirates because they have a lot of money. Ordinary men cannot afford weddings like this," she said.

Pirates seize vessel off Somalia, BBC, Sunday, 22 February 2009.

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden have seized a Greek-owned cargo ship. The BBC's Jonah Fisher, on board a UK warship 100km (60 miles) away, said the captain of the MV Saldanha radioed that pirates had boarded his ship. The Saldanha is now heading to Somalia under pirate command after the UK navy's HMS Northumberland judged it was beyond its remit to pursue the ship. The warship is part of an EU task force patrolling the waters off the unstable Horn of Africa to deter pirate attacks. But when the captain of the Saldanha made contact with HMS Northumberland, he told the ship that pirates had warned the British warship to stay away. Trying to retake captured ships is not what the EU's anti-piracy task force does, our correspondent reports from on board the UK vessel. After sending a helicopter up to take a closer look, the frustrated commander of HMS Northumberland had to accept there was nothing more his men could do.

Rising tide

The MV Saldanha was reportedly sailing under a Maltese flag when it was hijacked. The Greek merchant marine ministry confirmed the Saldanha was seized, adding that the ship was manned by a 22-strong crew, Reuters news agency reported. The ministry said the ship was loaded with coal and was heading to Slovenia, Reuters said. Pirates from Somalia target merchant ships sailing through the busy Gulf of Aden, which connects Europe and Asia. Greek ships have found themselves in the pirates' sights before, with a ship carrying salt to Kenya seized off Somali waters in September 2008. The MV Genius and all of its 19 crew were released in November.

The International Maritime Bureau has issued a warning to shipping recently, saying that the risk from piracy off the coast of Somalia was rising again, after the number of pirate seizures dropped off at the end of last year. The bureau's reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur says six ships were attacked last week, but all managed to escape. The bureau blamed the heightened risk on more favourable weather and the temptation for pirates to target more ships for ransom, after recently releasing a number of hijacked vessels.

What goes around, comes around ...


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