Saturday, April 16, 2011

Seat of the Shah, Part 5

Previous parts of this series are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Especially in Part 3 and Part 4 we began looking hard at piracy from Somalia.

We now consider an April 15, 2011, article entitled Somali pirates get ransom, free ship but keep Indian hostages:

MOGADISHU, Somalia — In a move that could change the pirate-hostage equation, Somali pirates on Friday took in a multimillion-dollar ransom, then released the ship and some of the crew but kept all the Indian crew members as hostages.


"We decided to keep the Indian because India is holding our colleagues," the pirate, Hassan Farah, said. "We released the other crew members who sailed away from our coast. We will keep these Indians until the Indians release our colleagues."

Farah said the pirates in the stronghold of Haradhere have taken that collective decision. The Indian hostages are to be moved to land.


Friday's pirate action marks a major departure from the standard pirate business model of release-for-ransom and could complicate international military efforts against the piracy trade.

Earlier this year pirates killed four American hostages while U.S. Navy warships were shadowing the hijacked yacht, the first time pirates had done that.

Overall, analysts say pirates are becoming increasingly aggressive, violent and hostile.

The problem of pirates based in Somalia is spreading, too.

From Pirate attacks hit an all-time high worldwide, April 14, 2011:

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Piracy hit an all-time high worldwide in the first three months of 2011 led by a surge in incidents off the coast of Somalia, a maritime watchdog said Thursday.

The International Maritime Bureau said a record high of 142 attacks in the first quarter came as Somalian pirates become more violent and aggressive.

The International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center said 97 of the attacks occurred off the coast of Somalia, up sharply from 35 in the same period last year.

It said attackers seized 18 vessels worldwide, including three big tankers, in the January-March period and captured 344 crew members. Pirates also murdered seven crew members and injured 34 during the quarter.

The Kuala Lumpur-based center's director Pottengal Mukundan said Thursday that there was a "dramatic increase in the violence and techniques" used by Somali pirates to counter increased patrols by international navies.

A little background can be found in articles reprinted in the Somaliland Times. From For a Somali pirate, it's all about skill, contacts and luck, April 7, 2011 (reprinted at Somaliland Times):

HARGEISA, Somalia // Ahmed Mohammed Adan knows that every Somali pirate who sets out to sea is taking a big gamble.

An attempt to hijack one of the giant cargo ships or oil tankers passing through the Indian Ocean or Arabian Sea could end in capture, death - or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Adan, six feet tall, broad-shouldered, and 23 years old, speaks with some authority on the subject, having been convicted of piracy in a local court more than a year ago. He is now in a prison in Hargeisa in northern Somalia.

Though he denies ever hijacking a ship, or even trying to, he is still able to detail the life of a pirate. Despite its great risks, piracy continues to lure thousands of young Somali men like him because of the prospect of great rewards.

"There's a lot of people who are actually interested," he said, sitting in a prison office in his crisp yellow uniform. "But you have to be well-connected."

Skipping down:

The booming piracy industry, which is centred in the Horn of Africa, has gone far beyond the ragtag days of three or four years ago. Sophistication has replaced improvisation, with successful pirates required to know how to fire a rocket-propelled grenade and an AK-47, as well as use a satellite telephone and read a GPS system, an official with the United Nations counter-piracy programme said.

Equally important, an accomplished pirate must also belong to the right clan, the critical circle of trust in Somali society.

These prerequisites are no guarantee of success, Adan said. Weapons break. Engines fail. Navies stand more prepared than ever to protect the sea lanes with force.

It was the last pitfall that ensnared Adan. Along with six others, he was arrested in Somaliland by the regional coast guard, tried by a local court and sentenced to 15 years in jail. The sentence was reduced to two years on appeal.

Despite the risks, however, for an impoverished young Somali whose prospects are dim, the lure of piracy can be irresistible.

According to Adan, a team of pirates typically includes a veteran leader and fresh recruits. A group of investors, usually about five, supply the team with a boat, fuel, ladders and weapons. A deal is struck, sometimes in writing. The investors usually get half the profits and the negotiator a quarter. The crew splits the rest.

A typical piracy operation in the Indian Ocean lasts two weeks and costs $3,000, Adan said. If the team fails to seize a ship in that time, they return to port, refuel and set sail again, he said. When they succeed in capturing a ship, they dock it, keep the kidnapped crew alive and wait for their negotiator to secure a ransom.

Commander Stein Olav Hagalid, a Nato representative, said pirates succeed about every one in four attacks. While ransom negotiations are more arduous now, lasting an average of about seven months, ransoms are rising, too. The average payment now tops $5 million, Commander Hagalid said.

So, after perhaps as few as four attempts, costing $3000 each, the pirates can expect success, worth millions. One quarter of the ransom gets split among the pirates, so a pirate could easily have $100,000 after just a few attempts at hijacking a ship. At that point, the pirate need not go to sea, but can become an investor:

Even with their relatively small split of the profits, that means that after just one, two or perhaps three successful missions, a pirate can become an investor, recruit others to carry out the dangerous work and relax, Adan said.

"Once they get some money, they don't want to take chances - they send another crew to go," he said.

With tens of millions of dollars in ransoms streaming in, Adan's hometown of Galkayo is thriving. More of its residents are opening small businesses, driving big cars and building homes.

So... the pirates help the local community develop job skills, then reinvest the profits back into the local community, generating a localized economic boom.

No wonder... from Unrepentant pirate shows how far world has to go to curb growing scourge, April 7, 2011 (also found at Somaliland Times):

HARGEISA, Somalia // Farah Ismail Idle has only one regret about being a pirate: getting caught.

Idle, who has three years left to serve in prison after being convicted of piracy, said he cannot wait to head back to sea, a desire he reiterates every chance he gets, whether to his cellmate or the prison guards.

"When I finish my sentence in prison, I will go back and resume my business," he says.

The resolve of Idle and other convicted pirates suggests that the international community will have to offer far more carrots - and wield a far larger stick - if it is to stem the growing problem of piracy. Pirates have seized 14 ships and 250 crew so far this year. All told, they now hold 28 vessels and 587 crew hostage, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

But, why, besides money, are they doing this? Skipping down:

Nevertheless, Idle, the unrepentant pirate, illustrates how far the international community has to go in order to curb the growing scourge.

Before he was caught by Somaliland's coast guard, convicted and jailed, Idle, 38, spent four years trolling the Indian Ocean for ships. He organised men, food, ladders, pistols, AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, he said. He denies actually hijacking a ship.

But like many Somalis, Idle justifies piracy as an answer to foreign firms that he said overfished Somali waters and polluted them with toxic waste.

"I call them 'pirates' because they invaded my sea," he said.

By hijacking ships, Somalis seek revenge and international attention to their languishing fishing industry, he said.

"Our plan was twofold: first to hijack them, then ask for ransom. And the world would be alert - would know why we are doing this."

The collapse of a government in Somalia made Somalian waters a haven for predatory international business - deplete the fishstocks, dump toxic waste - and now some elements feel justified in retaliating against these international predators.


Now, Idle is keen to serve out his sentence and resume work in what he describes as a booming business.

"The people who are going to the field are getting more," he said. "In the beginning the ransom was around $500,000, but day-by-day it's increasing."

"I am not giving up," he said. "More pirates, more happiness."

Farther to the south, in the part of Somalia bordering Kenya, the economic situation is deteriorating due to environmental conditions. From Drought Hits Villagers And IDPs Fleeing Fighting, April 15, 2011:

Nairobi — A severe drought in and around Somalia's southern town of Dobley is taking its toll on thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), some of whom have been displaced several times by fighting.

As a result, lack of water, food and shelter has worsened the condition of an already weak population, according to local sources.

The displaced include hundreds of families who fled the capital, Mogadishu, and had to flee again when Dobley recently became a battle-ground between the Islamist opposition Al-Shabab and a pro-government militia, the Raskambone Group.


Mohmamed Muhumud Hassan, a traditional elder, told IRIN on 14 April that many of those displaced from Dobley did not even have utensils. "These are people who fled for their lives, taking with them very little. They are now stranded in villages ravaged by drought," Hassan said.

Food, water and shelter were a priority for both the displaced and the locals, he added.

"Almost all the cattle, sheep and goats have been lost due to the drought," he said. "They [the villagers] cannot help anyone; they need help."

How long until these people join terrorists, a militia, a group of pirates... or perhaps decide to hire out as mercenaries in some place like Libya?

Back on March 2, 2008, Dobley - the Somali town mentioned above - was the target of a US strike aimed at Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists who, in turn, are establishing outreach to local communities. From Somalia: "Oh My Gosh, Pirates!" dated April 29, 2008:

Islamist al-Shabaab militants in southern and central Somalia are combining their military operations with political outreach. Ultimately, the rise and consolidation of an Islamist movement pursuing a regional and international agenda will create a growing threat to the rest of the Horn of Africa.

And, as I mentioned in Part 4, the terrorists were "the first to have a local TV station in a place where only terrorists and pirates can afford a TV. :)"

Piracy, Islamic terrorism, environmental disasters... funny how these things interact.

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