A shocking rise in pirate attacks over the last decade has left many in the shipping industry scrambling for protection, leading to a new market for security forces trained to fight off the swashbuckling foes. Photographer Amnon Gutman witnessed this scramble for security first-hand as he sailed one of the most dangerous waterways in the world with a crew, their cargo — and a private security detail trained in pirate-deflecting techniques. The fear of attack, especially near Somalia, is a well-founded one. As Gutman notes, of the 439 attacks reported to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in 2011, 275 attacks took place off Somalia’s east coast and in the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa. However, while Somali pirates continue to account for the majority of attacks — approximately 54 percent – and while the overall number of Somali incidents increased from 219 in 2010 to 237 in 2011, the number of successful hijackings decreased from 49 to 28. The 802 crew members taken hostage in 2011 also marks a decrease from the four-year high of 1,181 in 2010.
This may be because of more aggressive policing — the European Union recently authorized its most expansive mission against pirates in Africa — but many ships aren’t taking any chances. On this journey through the Indian Ocean on a shipping vessel that wishes to remain anonymous, SeaGull security walked through the methods still being developed to combat modern piracy.
Above, crew members secure barbed wires on the side of the tanker to prevent potential pirates from climbing aboard two days before going into the high-risk zone.
The EU (European Union) agreed, on March 23rd, to allow its anti-piracy force off Somalia (EUNAVFOR) to attack coastal targets and coordinate military operations with the Somali TNG (Transitional National Government). This means that EUNAVFOR ships and aircraft can attack pirate targets on land. Most of the pirate bases (coastal towns and villages) are in Puntland, a self-declared state in northern Somalia. While less violent and chaotic than southern Somalia, Puntland officials are bribed and intimidated (by the superior firepower of the pirate gangs) into inaction. Technically, Puntland is opposed to the pirates, so the EU is hoping that Puntland won’t make a stink when EU forces begin shooting at pirates on the coast.
The EU plan apparently involves going after pirate logistics and fuel supplies in their coastal havens. This could be tricky, as the pirates are well aware of how the Western media works and could easily put many of these targets in residential neighborhoods. The EU could respond by blockading the pirate bases, and attacking pirate attempts to truck in fuel and other supplies. Pirates could put civilians on trucks, or even captured sailors from ships held for ransom. There is no easy solution to the Somali pirates. This new policy is not a radical shift in policy, but a continuation of a trend that has been under way for a while. For example, in the last year, the EU, and other members of the anti-piracy patrol, have taken a more aggressive approach to the pirates. Pirate mother ships (usually captured ocean going fishing ships) have been attacked on sight and any speedboat carrying armed men face similar treatment. Read the rest of this entry »
As the monsoon season has come to an end, the rate of pirate attacks has increased markedly. This week, there were eight attacks, of which one resulted in the successful hijack of a fishing vessel. Last night,Somalia Reportreceived information that pirates had hijacked an oil tanker, MV Leila, however we are as of yet to receive confirmation of the incident.Somalia Reportwill follow developments closely and update when possible.
As theWajillowinds die down, pirates are descending upon Harardhere, Dhinooda and Eldhanane in preparation for launching a new wave of attacks. Dozens of investors, too, are positioning themselves to invest in the coming operations.
Local officials in Puntland toldSomalia Reportlast week that they are preparing for a pirate onslaught.
“We all know what happens. Local fishermen as well as pirates wait for the winds to subside in order to head offshore. There will be a resurgence in activity after the end of the month,” Ahmed Gurey, chairman of Bargaal toldSomalia Report.
While many more pirates may be heading out to sea, their success rate is declining as a result ofthe increased use of armed guards deployed on commercial vessels.An incident this week, in which Italian naval personnel on a commercial vessel shot and killed two Indian fishermen has provoked concern, however, about the rules for the use of force in the maritime domain.
Developments On Land
On February 15, forces loyal to Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa (ASWJ) arrested six pirates, accusing them of fuelling insecurity in Dhusomareb, the capital of Galgadud.
This is but the latest incident in a series of arrests over the past couple of weeks; ASWJ arrested a group in Guriel in early February, however the eight pirates (Flastin Ali, Ahmed Mire, Dahir Salad, Abdi Gelle, Nuune Abdulahi Ali, Ahmed Abdi, Ali Abdi and Ba’adle Shiekh Hussein) were subsequently offered amnesty on account of local clan-based resistance to the arrests.
Flastin, one of the arrested pirates toldSomalia Report,“We believe local elders arranged for our release, and we thank the administration for their decision. We did not come here to carry out kidnappings, but to visit our families here.”
The Deputy District Commissioner in Dhusomareb, Sheikh Abdullahi Abdinur Barre said, “They are a threat to us, they are importing immorality into our city and we have to stop them. We will continue to make such arrests.”
On Monday, Puntland officials reported that police had arrested 11 pirates in Gabac village, near Eyl, during counter-piracy operations in Nugaal. Police seized and burned one speedboat, and arrested the pirates after they tried to flee. The pirates were transferred to Garowe jail, where they are now awaiting trial. The pirates are part of the pirate group working under Garaad Mohammed, a well known pirate leader responsible for securing the $3.5 million ransom for the release the Algerian-flagged MV Blida.
Quest Pirates Sentenced
Two pirates, Mohamud Hirsi Issa Ali and Jilian Abdi Ali, involved in the S/V Quest hijacking and shootoutwere sentenced to life in prison for a second time on Tuesday. US District Judge Mark Davis, who sentenced them the first time, recused himself, following revelations that the US Navy had transferred the yacht to a marina part-owned by his brother. A second judge was assigned to the case and came to the same verdict.
Nine more pirates have pleaded guilty in the case, with three facing murder charges.
Somaliland Commandos Graduate
Somaliland can now count on a contingent of specially trained commandos to help in the fight against piracy. The team underwent a six month training course in Dararweine district, which focused on sea, air and land-based warfare techniques. Major Ahmed Tanzania, the armed forces training commander, said the team would be deployed to aid in the fight against piracy, counter-terrorism and secessionists.
Somaliland Busy Two Speedboats To Fight Pirates
Somaliland has purchased two speedboats, which have been transferred to the Minister for Fishing, Abdulahi Jama Geeljire. The boats will be used for counter-piracy operations, and to combat illegal fishing in Somaliland’s waters. The Minister stated that the boats had not been donated, but were purchased on the part of the government in a bid to improve their counter-piracy capacity. He added that Somaliland is looking to buy more boats over the course of the year.
The Albedois still being held in the Harardhere area, after the latest negotiations failed to materialise in a ransom. After a period of silence following reports that pirates were looting goods on the vessel, ransom negotiations have resumed.
By LOLITA C. BALDOR Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:43 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:43 a.m.
A senior U.S. Navy commander is calling for a broader, counterterrorism approach to piracy off the coast of Somalia, saying likely links to al-Shabab insurgents should not be underestimated. Read the rest of this entry »
Rescue: Maersk-Alabama Captain Richard Phillips, right, with Commander Frank Castellano of the USS Bainbridge (US Navy)
Somali pirates have vowed retribution against US and French vessels and crews after this morning’s dramatic rescue of an American cargo ship captain by US Navy SEALs commandos.
Three pirates were shot dead and another was captured during the operation to free Maersk Alabama captain Richard Phillips. Read the rest of this entry »
Piracy – A Great Excuse to Write About Somalia
November 24, 2008 11:35 AM
It’s been a nice change of pace to hear stories about Somalia leading newscasts the last couple of days. The audacious hijack of a massive oil tanker has helped call attention to the phenomenon of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the conversion of fishing villages in Somalia and Puntland into pirate villages. Today’s headlines include an update that the Saudi owners of the tanker are now – as predicted – talking to the pirates and negotiating a ransom, and the more surprising news that the Indian navy sank a pirate “mother ship”.
From the ICC’s Live Piracy Map 2008 – attacks and encounters with pirates in the Gulf of Aden
I listened to stories on Somali piracy on NPR and the BBC World Service while driving into Boston yesterday, and I was surprised that coverage of the events on these excellent broadcasters was so superficial. The story appeared twice and hour, and included updates on the position of the ship, but didn’t ever drill into the circumstances in Somalia that have made southern Somalia such a basketcase. The BBC story referenced Siad Barre and the last two decades of chaos, but didn’t dip into the recent history – the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts, the alliance between the transitional federal government and Ethiopia (with US intelligence support), the increasing inability of the TFG to govern effectively, the rise of the al-Shabab.
The Associated Press commissioned an interesting report (which I’ve summarized here) on youth consumption of news media. One of their most interesting findings was the discovery that young people refresh news continually out of boredom, but feel like they never get depth or resolution to the stories they’re following. This story strikes me as a perfect example of an opportunity to add depth. Instead of updating the position of the tanker off the coast of Eyl, why not take five minutes and explain the failure of the transitional government to control Mogadishu and its complete lack of influence over Puntland? You’ve caught our attention with piracy – why not tell a slightly more complex story about one of the more important conflicts in Africa today?
Al Jazeera has been offering better coverage than many other news agencies, in part because they’ve got several Somali reporters. They offered an interesting perspective about a month ago, examining claims by the pirates who’d seized the transport ship carrying Ukranian tanks (Remember that story? How’d that one end?) that ransoms were being demanded to provide funds to clean up toxic waste off the Somali coast. It’s certainly true that large amounts of toxic waste are being dumped on the coast of Somalia, and likely that some European firms are involved with selling illegal “disposal” services for radioactive and medical waste on the Somali coast, though it’s probably a stretch to consider the pirates a coast guard trying to prevent illegal dumping.
I don’t know whether Martin Fletcher, writing in the Times of London, was motivated by the piracy stories to offer his thoughts on Somali governance and the Bush administration’s failures. He argues that the Bush administration’s support for the Transitional Federal Government and for a war fought with Ethiopian troops and American intelligence “helped to destroy that wretched country’s best chance of peace in a generation, left more than a million Somalis dead, homeless or starving, and achieved the precise opposite of its original goal.” Before the offensive, the UIC had managed to bring some semblance of stability to Somalia – markets were reopening in Mogadishu, the qat trade had quieted, and as Fletcher reports, “For the first time that most Somalis could remember, they were walking around their shattered capital in safety, even at night.”
The UIC, as my friend Abdurahman Warsame has explained, was an umbrella of groups, including moderate islamists largely interested in stability and extremists. US policy focused on the extremists, and backed their ouster by Ethiopian troops, installing a trasitional government that has very little local power or authority and has failed, utterly, at maintaining peace after Ethiopian troops pulled out. (Lots and lots more about the TFG, Ethiopia and the US role here, linking to a pile of earlier blog posts on the topic.) UIC splinter groups, including al-Shabab, have engaged in an insurgency that may have claimed 10,000 lives and forced more than a million people from their homes. Fletcher argues – persuasively, in my opinion – that UIC might have continued to centralize control and rule Somalia with a moderate hand, while there’s virtually no doubt that al-Shabab will enforce extremely strict sharia law, will likely seek to eliminate other UIC factions and will undoubtably provide sanctuary and shelter for Al Qaeda.
BBC’s stories yesterday morning didn’t focus on terrorism or fragile states, but on the way in which the pirate port of Eyl has become a boomtown. (This isn’t a knock on the author, Mary Harper, who’s written excellent pieces of analysis regarding Somalia, just surprise at this bit of focus.) My favorite detail in the piece – many of the crew members on hijacked ships don’t like Somali food, so “special restaurants have even been set up to prepare food for the crews of the hijacked ships.”
For a sense of how weird it must be for Eyl to be a boomtown, I recommend the video above. It’s a piece of travelogue from YouTube shot by “Sool“, who lives in Canada but hails from Hargeisa, Somaliland. In this video, posted in 2006, he describes Eyl: “this place is a lost town where only 2 cars a in 2 weeks come it’s so nice a cool place to chill”. Perhaps it’s a bit more lively these days.
My friends at Foreign Policy Passport highlighted the International Chamber of Commerce’s “live piracy map“, which is tracking this year’s rash of piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and around the world. They note that West Africa and Indonesia also have serious problems with piracy. I spent a while clicking around the map today and was interested to discover that many of the West African “pirate attacks” look more like breaking and entering than terror on the high seas. The attacks in the Ghanaian port of Tema appear to be men climbing onto the ships from the docks and attempting to open hatches on deck to steal stuff. Bad, yes, but hardly the high-seas drama we’re seeing across the continent.
It is interesting to note the small concentration of attacks – including a hijacking – near Port Harcourt, in the troubled Niger Delta. Given the instability and ongoing violence targetting oil facilities, I would have expected more reported attacks. I wonder if the detailed coverage of the east African attacks might lead to copycat techniques in other parts of the world that are already experiencing sustained conflict and fragile government.
This piece originally appeared on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog, My Heart’s In Accra
Piracy on the High Seas
|22 Nov 2008|
Day’s Q&A follows:
Military analyst’s warnings about piracy prove true with Somalia attacks
[Maj. W. Thomas Smith, Jr. is a military
expert, author and journalist whose work
has appeared in top media around the globe.]
(Columbia, S.C.)—Maj. W. Thomas Smith Jr. (SCSG) — military analyst, counterterrorism/counterpiracy expert, and former U.S. Marine infantry leader — says Islamists may well be “capitalizing” on high-seas piracy.
As a journalist, Smith has reported from battlefields in the Balkans and the Middle East—from the West Bank to Iraq (two tours) to Lebanon—and he covered the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks from “ground zero” in New York.
Smith agreed to an exclusive Q&A with The US Report about piracy.
[As an interesting sidenote, TUSR has obtained a special dispatch supplied by The Middle East Media Research Institute (Jul. 8, 2008). In June, 2008, Islamist websites posted a video message by Al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan Abu Yahya Al-Libi titled ‘Somalia—No Peace without Islam.” Al-Libi urged Somali mujahideen to continue their jihad in Somalia: “Do not settle for less than an independent Islamic state that does not recognize international legitimacy and non-Islamic laws…There is no shorter way than jihad to achieve your goals…”
Chaos reigns in this country with less than 2 percent arable land where droughts, dust storms and contaminated water impact the population [CIA World Factbook]. The country’s major religion is Sunni Muslim (85 percent of the population.) In July, the Somalia chief of the United Nations Development Agency was killed and 3 aid workers were also murdered.
The Boston Globe reported on Friday: “Piracy in the heavily trafficked Gulf of Aden and a widening arc of the Indian Ocean has more than doubled so far this year, with 80 ships attacked and 60 hijacked.”]
Q&A with W. Thomas Smith, Jr.
SMITH: The solution lies within the coordination of effort between the world’s navies and coastal defense forces, all of which have a vested interest in keeping the sea lanes open and safe. The free, coastal nations of the world are increasingly working together toward that aim – better sharing of information, intelligence, and counterpiracy assets; better communication; an international piracy warning network, those kinds of things – but it’s still an enormous challenge when you consider the fact that the oceans cover over 70 percent of the earth, and 60 percent of those oceans are what we might call free-to-roam international waters.
TUSR: Apparently, piracy IS the economy in some parts of Somalia . Are you aware of other countries who are willing to deal with the contraband pirates seize?
SMITH: Let’s just say that grain, oil, and other goods and resources transported in huge quantities on these huge freighters have tremendous black market value.
SMITH: On the surface this has less to do with radical Islam and more to do with big money to be made in ransoms as well as the utter lawlessness of the remote coastal areas and littorals where pirates generally maintain their bases of operation and launching and reentry points.
But there is another variable to consider according to two friends, Defense expert Peter Brookes and Africa expert Dr. J. Peter Pham:
TUSR: Since Somalia has no cohesive government and there’s internal conflict between clans and with neighboring Ethiopia , who exactly can assume responsibility for the waterways?
SMITH: No one. As I’ve said, much of Africa is lawless and ungoverned: Breeding grounds for both pirates and Jihadists.
SMITH: Admiral Mullen was ‘stunned’ by the pirate attack taking place so far from the coast, about 450 miles offshore. The attack in fact was a bit surprising. It was bold, very risky for the attackers, and much farther out into the so-called ‘blue water’ than previous attacks we’ve seen by similar bands in recent history.
Now, I’ve since seen a few bloggers and others criticizing the admiral for his remarks – suggesting that no true fighting admiral would say such – and perhaps ‘stunned’ was a less-than-stellar word choice. But the admiral is a professional Naval officer, not a politician. And so I say, it’s easy for those who have never been to war or to sea—and have no frame of reference for an appreciation of just how vast and unforgiving the sea can be—to criticize.