somalia slides further

Somalia is not growing any more stable.

Fighting in Somalia over the past weeks between the transitional government and the Muslim insurgent group al-Shabaab has cost more than 350 civilian lives with at least 450 people wounded and 23,000 displaced.

People who have been able to reach northern Somalia and neighboring countries are leaving. Most arrive on foot and on small buses, traveling without shelter in an exodus that began when the holy month of Ramadan started.

The streets of Mogadishu are completely deserted, and people are too afraid to leave their houses. In these dangerous and difficult conditions, aid distributions are becoming rare.

A mysterious helicopter attack on a gathering of Islamist leaders suggests that the United States, using either Special Forces or mercenaries, may be trying to decapitate jihadist forces who are escalating a war to topple the Western-backed government.


One more pirate story. This is one I will try to follow closely.

The force, which would have set-up costs of around £10m, would be funded by insurers and shipping companies in return for a reduction on the anti-piracy insurance premiums, which average around £50,000 per voyage and can reach £300,000 for a super-tanker. The maritime insurance industry, much of it based in London, has borne the brunt of the financial cost of the piracy problem, paying out $300m (£191m) in ransoms and associated costs in the last two years alone.

Major obstacles remain before the private navy can set sail, such as the legal status of a private force and it relationship with the Nato-controlled naval fleet. But major shipping companies and key insurers are keen to proceed with the plan. Although private contractors already offer armed teams on board vessels, the idea of a sizeable industry-funded naval force is a major departure and evidence of the strength of feeling there that more needs to be done to counter piracy.

piracy this week

Let’s start with two anti-pirate measures that won’t amount to anything:

Somalia’s Transitional Federal “Government” only controls parts of its own capital at the sufferance of a UN-backed African force. Their anti-pirate operations will likely be a showpiece for foreign donors, but not much else. And the UN’s involvement? Let’s see what Ban Ki-Moon says on the subject:

Now no less a personage than United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has expressed his outrage and concern at the escalating situation. In a letter to the International Maritime Organization  (IMO) Mr Ban underlined the need to reinforce the collective response at sea, on land, and in judicial systems around the world, and to provide effective and sustainable solutions to the governance, security and humanitarian difficulties faced by countries like Somalia.

The Secretary-General goes on to say that he will ensure the Security Council are made aware of the unacceptable plight of hostages currently being held by pirates and summon support from the Council to develop an approach that might obtain their release and that the United Nations, in partnership with the broad range of concerned international institutions and organizations, including the IMO, would spare no effort to address the challenges resulting from piracy.


Puntland, at least, has a functioning state. They may not scourge the pirates from the seas, but they can probably control their own coastline:

There have been some successful anti-pirate actions lately. For example:

It protects a few ships, brings a few pirates to justice court, but it doesn’t really fix the problem. The ocean is too big and Somalia is too much of a mess:

“Piracy is not born at sea. It’s born on land. And if you are able to patrol and protect your coastline, it’s unlikely that pirates will find a way to the high seas to cause the menace,” Wetangula said. “Instead, what are we seeing? 52 warships patroling … the waters of the Indian Ocean, but piracy is still going on.”

Wetangula said the flotilla should be disbanded and the money should be used instead to help Somalia “become a state.”

Now let’s jump back for a minute to the article about Yemen a couple of links back. Scroll down to the second half of the page, and you’ll see the other headline:

You may remember that one of the early grievances of the pirates (long since left behind as a motivation, but still relevant) was illegal dumping and illegal fishing in their waters, once there was no state to offer protection. Just a reminder that it’s still going on, and there’s plenty of crimes happening at sea besides piracy.

And to look beyond Somalia and the Horn of Africa, here’s some pirate action in the Phillipines and Bengladesh:

Finally, not pirates, but anti-pirate ships and refugees:

that was quick

Russian navy don’t fuck around.

“Unfortunately, at present there exist no legal rules for prosecuting in court the pirates operating in the region of Somali,” the source said. “This means they do not fall under the jurisdiction of any state or international law.”

pirates in my oil tanker? it’s more likely than you think!

The Russian Navy has been accused of attacking Yemeni fishermen and destroying seven fishing boats in an incident last month, Arab News learned on Wednesday following a sit-in demonstration in the coastal city of Mukalla by Yemeni fishermen. They claim harassment by naval armadas is getting more aggressive.

“They used to mistreat us at sea but would set us free with our possessions,” said Awadh Abdullah Bamagad, a 30-year-old Yemeni fisherman. “Now they don’t just confiscate fishermen’s proprieties, they destroy the boats.”

The Russian Navy has been accused of attacking Yemeni fishermen and destroying seven fishing boats in an incident last month, Arab News learned on Wednesday following a sit-in demonstration in the coastal city of Mukalla by Yemeni fishermen. They claim harassment by naval armadas is getting more aggressive.

“They used to mistreat us at sea but would set us free with our possessions,” said Awadh Abdullah Bamagad, a 30-year-old Yemeni fisherman. “Now they don’t just confiscate fishermen’s proprieties, they destroy the boats.”

pirates and hizbul islam


The rival militants al-Shabab, Somalia’s most dangerous rebel group, sent scouts into Harardhere last month. Abdiwali Gadid, a self-proclaimed pirate, said: “Two days ago Hizbul Islam sent agents to the coastal towns saying they wished to move into the area before al-Shabab and demanded a slice of the business, but the pirate leaders ignored the request. That is why they moved in today.”

The Islamic Courts Union was the only group to ever shut down the pirates in Somalia, but this faction isn’t them. Hizbul Islam needs cash and a stronger base of power. They don’t have much use for the western hostages they could probably lay hands on, but a piracy tax might be just the thing to prop them up.

I count 18 ships.

Speaking of Somalia:

“The US promised to pay the salaries of 1,800 soldiers, while other donor countries pledged to pay for some 3,300 soldiers. This is part of plans to fund the upkeep of 10,000 soldiers that would help the government retain the security,” he said.

He added that the soldiers did not receive their wages for nearly one year.

According to Somali officials, the troops were supposed to earn $100 a month, but about half of those trained in neighbouring Djibouti deserted after realizing that they are not going to get their payments.

“Some gave up the army and returned to their ordinary life and others joined the rebels,” Somali army Col. Ahmed Aden Dhayow told AP.

pirates and confusion


This next story is a little more interesting than most. It illustrates the fog of war surrounding most of these piracy stories, and the politics going on in the background. Let’s start with the story as it’s generally reported:

A Spanish trawler captain released by Somali pirates said he is haunted by his failure to save a 12-year-old Ukrainian girl held captive for more than six months, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Ricardo Blach, skipper of the Alakrana, which was freed Tuesday after being held by pirates for some six weeks, told how he saw the young girl aboard another hijacked ship, in logbook extracts published in El Mundo.

A little strange that the BBC story never mentions the kidnapped girl, but not too unusual for someone to miss part of the story, especially if they have to read another language to source it. If you don’t want to read both of those, here’s what the wikipedia has to say about it:

Somali pirates captured the Ariana on May 2 with its 24 Ukrainian crew in the Indian Ocean on route from Brazil to the Middle East.[204] In November, with the release of Spanish ship Alakrana, that was in contact during captivity with the Ariana to give fuel, was known that within this vessel are kidnapped two women and a girl of 12 years old. One of the abducted women, Larisa Salinska, 39 years old ship’s cook, was raped by pirates. Then she had a miscarriage (it is unknown if she became pregnant as a result of the rape or not) with a large hemorrhage, heavy infection, and serious health problems. The Alakrana’s skipper tried to convey to the Ariana medicines to help Salinska, but Adan Jama, one of the pirates who had hijacked the Spanish ship, threw overboard those medicines. Also, according to the testimony from the driver’s Alakrana, on board were two women, one of whom had given birth during the hijacking of the ship, having the baby about four months; also said the girl wich twelve years old was raped by a pirate very young. The ship was released on 10 December 2009 after a ransom of almost $3,000,000 was paid.

This already has a few elements that are unique to this particular story. Now along comes this article in an online paper from Salem, OR:

tl;dr version: the miscarriage resulted when the woman was beaten by a fellow crew member, the captain refused to let her be evacuated although the pirates agreed,  the crew of the Alakrana “invented” the story of visiting the Ariana, the 12-year old girl is implied to have been invented as well, and the Ariana‘s owner has cut the ship loose and doesn’t want the cargo inspected.

This article’s conclusion:

All this is believed now to be part of spin-doctoring between Ukrainian, Spanish and Greek politicians of ministerial level to distract from their own failures and to aid a stronger European military approach for which the misled public outcry over these atrocities was seen as necessary to be approved by the European ministerial conference.

And to obscure matters even more, the author of this article relies on an interview in the Kyiv Post, a couple of quotes from Ecoterra International, and a number of unattributed statements such as the one above:  “all this is now believed to be….”

The author herself has a name that sounds a lot like a pseudonym to me, and the google has never heard of her outside of reporting on this ship. The Salem News looks like an interesting paper to check out, but it all seems to be filtered pretty strongly through the publisher’s personality and opinions.

Now, I don’t trust the official press to get a story right, but that doesn’t mean I have to trust any alternate version of the story either. I’m drawing no conclusions and taking no sides, just demonstrating an excellent case of how we really don’t know anything that’s going on out there. I don’t know if we’ll ever get answers about this one, or how many other stories really turn out to be more or less than they seem.

piracy this week, b/w a sea shepherd update


Meanwhile, a funny thing happened on the way to Antarctica…. tl;dr the Steve Irwin visited some nice Frenchies for a couple of days while they tried to shake the Japanese whalers off their tail, and the Ady Gil is underway after its third try.


And since we’re on naval matters:

piracy today

Piracy this week, maybe.


Here’s some pirates a long way from Somalia:

Pirate attacks on local fishermen are common in the Bay of Bengal. Fishermen and boat owners say authorities don’t do enough to police the waters.

Salamat Ullah, the owner of the missing boat, said he filed a complaint with police.

”We are continuing our regular patrol,” Cox’s Bazar coast guard official Lt. A.K. Chakrabarty said.

Maybe this is a diplomatic broadside, but “piracy” is political hyperbole here:

Meanwhile, the big action is still off Somalia:


But one key topic raised at discussions, hosted by the International Criminal Law Network, a Hague-based think tank, was whether the International Criminal Court (ICC), also based in The Hague, could expand its jurisdiction to include piracy.

While experts said they expect the ICC — which was set up in 2002 as the world’s first permanent war crimes court — to take up the issue of piracy at its Review Conference in Uganda in May of 2010, they don’t expect an expansion of jurisdiction.

Moreover, countries in the Horn of Africa most affected by piracy — Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea — are not signatories to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC.

Enforcement, however, would be the biggest problem.

we now resume your regularly scheduled pirate updates


“Four months ago, during the monsoon rains, we decided to set up this stock exchange. We started with 15 ‘maritime companies’ and now we are hosting 72. Ten of them have so far been successful at hijacking,” Mohammed said.

“The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials … we’ve made piracy a community activity.”

No idea whether to believe this one:

Information has filtered out of Somalia about allegations of “widespread wildlife theft” allegedly undertaken by military helicopters flying off warships engaged in anti- piracy operations around the Horn of Africa.

Several such reports were availed to this correspondent, but could not be independently verified. One of the reports spoke of helicopters flying with “nets full of deer” dangling below the crafts, and also of “spraying the animals which killed livestock.”