Sunday, May 29, 2011

Seat of the Shah, Part 6

In Part 1 we introduced the situation in Somalia; toward the end of the post I commented:

We hear about Somali piracy and Somalia as a base for terrorists, but we don't often hear the other side of the story: foreign fishing vessels fishing Somali waters and depleting fish stocks, foreign vessels dumping hazardous waste in Somali waters... Somalis have a right to be angry over these infringements on Somali sovereignty, and just because Somalia does not have an effective government to deal with this does not give foreigners the right to essentially rape Somalia like this.

In Part 2 we examined more of the chaotic situation there, and considered efforts by Somali government officials to restore order in their country. Then, in Part 3 we saw the mechanics of piracy - how the money gets distributed - and considered how the pirates held sway in one Somali town.

Part 4 addressed more on the mechanics of piracy, and touched on how the al-Shabaab terrorists were beginning their own television station, while Part 5 explored how environmental factors helped create conditions favorable to piracy, and how pirates actually help local communities by bringing much needed cash into the economy; and, we again touched on one motivating factor - the desire for revenge against foreign exploitation of Somali waters in the absence of an effective Somali governmental response.

In this post, we will update and explore a variety of themes. We begin with South Korean court jails four Somali pirates, dated May 27, 2011:

A Somali pirate has been jailed for life by a South Korean court, after being convicted of the attempted murder of the captain of a hijacked ship.

Mahomed Araye was one of several Somalis seized in January when South Korean special forces stormed a cargo ship hijacked in the Arabian Sea.

Another man was sentenced to 15 years; two others received 13-year terms.

The trial marks the first attempt by South Korea - a major seafaring nation - to punish foreign pirates.

The court in the port city of Busan ruled that only Araye had been involved in the shooting of Capt Seok Hae-Kyun, who is still recovering in hospital.

For additional background regarding the legal questions involved in trying pirates, may I suggest Q&A: What do you do with a captured pirate?

Meanwhile, the story quoted above is interesting, with an interesting tidbit of information found farther down:

In the course of the trial, prosecutors also said that a British man working in the insurance industry contacted the Samho shipping company shortly after the kidnapping, allegedly to broker a possible deal with the hijackers.

Some Brits looking to broker a deal...

Another recent article addresses how some people were arrested at the airport in Mogadishu trying to pay a ransom. Excerpts are from Brits arrested in Somalia with '£2.2 million ransom for pirates':

LONDON (Sh. M. Network) – The Britons, who are among a group of six foreigners also understood to include two Kenyans and an American - were allegedly caught with $3.6 million in cash at the airport in Somalia's capital Mogadishu.


'It will be a risk consultancy-type operation and typically the guys doing it would be very experienced, military guys that have a clear understanding of the tasks they are going to be undertaking,' he said. 'The arrests were probably down to an information leak that caught them out, not the way they were doing it or where they were going because it's a regular thing.'

Andrew Mwangura, Maritime Editor for the Somali Report and founder of the Seafarers' Assistance Programme, which monitors piracy off the coast of East Africa, said: 'Ransom-handling is a very lucrative business – the majority of handlers are professionals working with private security companies.

'But this is the first time that anyone has been arrested whilst transferring the money.'

"Ransom-handling is a very lucrative business."

Skipping down:

Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, which controls only part of the war-torn country's territory, is opposed to the payment of ransoms, saying that it fuels piracy.

But according to a report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in May 2011, ransoms totalling $112.79m were paid to Somali pirates in 2010, up from $75.68m the previous year. Pay-offs are sometimes dropped onto vessels from aircraft, or passed through middlemen.

I wonder if the payment of ransoms doesn't fuel piracy for a variety of reasons.

Obviously, it's a get-rich-quick scheme for pirates in a country where honest work can only earn grinding poverty.

But, pirates aren't the only ones to profit off the endeavor.

Handling the ransoms is also a get-rich-quick scheme, isn't it?

Pirates take a vessel, middlemen negotiate, a ransom is paid and delivered, and everyone makes money, except for those who pay the ransom - often an insurance company.

Would that constitute both motive and opportunity for some of the ransom handlers and security people to work with the pirates?

We consider a report of a successful ransom payment and vessel release; Somali pirates say release Syria ship after ransom (again, recent but undated):

MOGADISHU (Sh. M. Network) – Somali pirates say they have freed a Syrian owned and Togo-flagged ship seized this year after they received a $2.5 million.

The 24,022 deadweight tonne MV Khaled Muhieddine K crewed by 22 Syrians and three Egyptians was taken by pirates in January in the North Arabian Sea, approximately 330 nautical miles southeast of the Omani port of Salalah.

Somali pirates said late on Wednesday they had received the ransom drop on Wednesday morning.

'The ransom has been dropped early in the morning and it was $2.5.million. We have abandoned the ship and it has just started to sail away from our shores safely,' a pirate who gave his name as Omar told Reuters from the pirates hideout of El-Dhanane.

Andrew Mwangura, a Kenya-based former maritime official and now the maritime editor of The Somalia Report said he was aware negotiations for the release of the ship were at an advanced stage, but was trying to confirm news of the ship's release.

Somali pirates are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from seizing ships, including tankers and dry bulkers, in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, despite the efforts of foreign navies to clamp down on such attacks.

Andrew Mwangura has a particular understanding of the situation involving the pirates. We now consider excerpts from an article he wrote, Somalia: Pirates or protectors?, dated May 20, 2010 (the date is listed as 2010, but the article was posted on May 23, 2011, and some of the references are to information current as of late 2010; other sites have the article with the 2010 date - ?):

The devastating Somali civil war since 1991 forced the Somali marine and fisheries sector to an abrupt collapse and almost all Somali fisheries activities shut down. The vessels of the Somali national fishing fleet were abducted and have never been returned. It is estimated that at least 200,000 people lost their jobs and the Somali fishing communities are still struggling to recover.

However, illegal fishing by foreign fleets and the more serious nuclear and toxic waste dumping from the industrialised world pose since then an environmental, socio-economic and ecological threat, which is unparalleled.

Very sophisticated factory-style fishing-vessels, which were designed for distant-water fishing and travel from faraway countries, whose harbours are thousands of miles away from Somalia and whose own fisheries resources are either under tight legal protection or already drastically overexploited, poured into the unprotected Somali waters.

They are in search of high-priced tuna, mackerel, swordfish, grouper, emperor, snapper, shark and of course the other valuable species in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. With impunity they rob rock-lobster and shrimps for the tables of the wealthiest in this world, and dolphins, sea turtles and sea-cucumbers for the deranged tastes of the Far East. They have diminished the extraordinary population of dugong to near extinction.

Their task is solely oriented toward short-term gains, knowing the ecological limits, since Somalia does not only experience political but also resource displacement. Besides civil strife and outright war, the massive foreign fishing piracy, bringing criminal poaching and wanton destruction of the Somali marine resources for the last 19 years, may be one of the most damaging factors for the country, economically, environmentally and security-wise.

The article provides a wealth of background information. Skipping down:

Mr [Mohammed] Waldo [a Somali specialist working with ECOTERRA International], who keeps a close watch of his country, traces the origin of sea piracy and pirate fishing in Somalia back to 1991 when the Siad Barre regime fell, resulting into the disintegration of the Somali navy and coastguard services.

'Following severe draughts in 1973/74 and 1986, tens of thousands of nomads, whose livestock were wiped out by the draughts, were re-settled along the villages on the long, 3,300 km Somali coast,' says the analyst. The resettled groups were developed into large fishing communities whose livelihoods depended mainly on inshore fishing, as well as the processing of the offshore catch.

From the early beginnings of the civil war in Somalia (as early as 1988) illegal fishing trawlers started to trespass and fish in Somali waters, including in the 12-nautical mile inshore artisanal fishing waters. The poaching vessels encroached on the local fishermen's grounds, competing for the abundant rock-lobster and high value pelagic fish in the warm, up-swelling 60km deep shelf along the tip of the Horn of Africa.

ECOTERRA International and Waldo describe the deadly events that were to follow in the war torn country thus: 'The piracy war between local fishermen and the IUU [illegal, unreported and unregulated - fishing] ventures started here. Local fishermen documented cases of trawlers pouring boiling water on the fishermen in canoes, their nets cut or destroyed, smaller boats crushed, killing all the occupants, and other abuses suffered as they tried to protect their national fishing turf.' ECOTERRA International has many well documented cases that fishing nets provided by the emergency funds from the international community to ease the disaster of 1992/3 were wiped from the coast by foreign trawlers just days after they were provided to the impoverished fishing communities of Somalia.

Later, the fishermen armed themselves. In response, many of the foreign fishing vessels armed themselves too and with more sophisticated weapons and began to overpower the Somali fishermen again. It was only a matter of time before the local fishermen reviewed their tactics and modernised their hardware. This escalation and cycle of warfare has been going on from 1991 to the present. It is now developing into fully a fledged, two-pronged illegal fishing and sea piracy conflicts, which in addition soon will become politicised and radicalised if nothing stops the foreign impact.

The local fishing net incidents from 1992/3 - that was when US forces were in Somalia trying to stabilize the country and help the economy get back on track so the people wouldn't starve. Meanwhile, international fishing vessels were destroying the emergency nets, causing further harm to the local economy and further instability, contributing to the dangerous situation our troops and the troops of our allies faced.

The direction this could go in now is that the pirates could ally themselves with the al-Shabaab jihadists - both groups are enemies of the international community, and preying on infidel business could be justified using some interpretations of Islamic texts. Somalia could develop into not just a regional but a serious global menace - menacing more than just critical international shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean.

Or, efforts could be made to deal with some of the underlying problems, which include the other pirates, those who dump toxic waste and fish Somali waters illegally.

Two hundred years ago, when our young nation was dealing with Islamic pirates off the coast of North Africa, it was cannonballs, not gold, that stopped the piracy. Near those same parts of Africa today, Islamic militants operate in a sea of sand - the Sahara/Sahel region - and fund their insurgency through kidnappings and ransoms; they are now turning to narcotics, arms and human trafficking. The payment of ransoms to Somali pirates needs to stop - it is merely fueling the crisis, and could easily contribute to a pirate/terrorist coalition which, in turn, could evolve in the direction of moving drugs, guns and other contraband. And the middlemen need to be investigated, because some of the biggest money to be made in piracy is to set oneself up as a middleman/negotiator/ransom handler.

Consequently, efforts to fight the pirates and police Somali waters need priority from the international community, but must be in conjunction with established and legitimate Somali authorities, and must include efforts to keep foreigners from exploiting Somalia's territorial waters.

This needs to happen before the situation deteriorates, fueled by Islamic extremism and easy ransom money, and perhaps spreads into neighboring countries.

Heavy battle rocks parts of Mogadishu:

MOGADISHU (Sh. M. Network) – Heavy battle between Somali army supported militarily African Union peacekeepers and Al shabaab on Thursday night broke out in northern part of Mogadishu, according to local residents.

The fighting erupted after Al shabaab, which US alleges to be al Qaeda’s proxy in the horn of Africa nation, have launched the northern districts of Bondhere and Abdul-aziz.

Sporadic firefight leaves two dead in Mogadishu:

MOGADISHU (Sh. M. Network) – Sporadic firefight and artillery barrages erupted between Somali government forces backed by African Union peacekeepers and Al shabaab in Somalia’s war torn capital of Mogadishu, witnesses said of Friday.

The fighting started after Somali forces and AMISOM troops attacked key Al shabaab military bases in Hodan district in southern Mogadishu.

In the duration of the battle, the two warring factions used both heavy and light weapons as the echoes of artillery barrages could be heard most of the capital neighborhoods.

Al Shabaab fighters in Gedo region called for ceasing fire:

MOGADISHU (Sh. M. Network) – The administration of Somali government in Gedo region in Southern Somalia on Friday called for the fighters of Al shabaab in the region to cease fire.

Speaking to Shabelle Media Network, Mohammed Abdi Kalil, the governor of Gedo region said that Al shabaab fighters to stop violence and take peace.

Somalia: People start displacing from Gedo as battle looms:

BURDHUBO (Sh. M. Network) – As tense between Somali government forces and Al shabaab fighters is escalating, a lot of local residents in Gedo region started fleeing from their homes.

Ugandan Police Says Somali Extremists Sneak into Country:

KAMPALA (Sh. M. Network) –Ugandan police on Thursday confirmed that 'suicide bombers' trained by Somali extremists had sneaked into the country with the intention of carrying out bomb attacks similar to the July 2010 blasts that killed dozens of people.

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