UN investigators have
found that the Somali pirates are working closely with Yemeni smugglers to
obtain weapons. For years, the Yemeni smugglers have been moving illegal
migrants (Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalis) to Yemen (and thence to Saudi
Arabia, the other Gulf States and the Middle East in general.) For the return
trip, the smugglers could carry legal cargo or, as the UN imposed an arms
embargo on Somalia in the 1990s, weapons. The arms shipments were far more
profitable. Some of the Yemeni smugglers also joined with the Somali pirates.
Many of the pirate crews are mixed, with the Yemenis running the boats, and the
Somalis providing the muscle (the armed boarding parties.)
The Yemeni Coast Guard has only nine
operational boats (with another six laid up for repairs, which the Yemenis
can't afford to get done anytime soon.) Only two of the boats are large enough
to operate away from the coast. As a result, the smugglers lose few cargos to
the law. And even then, they can often bribe their way out of going to jail.
The millions of dollars in ransoms has
made arms smuggling more lucrative, as the Somalis can now afford more
expensive weapons, as well as more expensive equipment like night vision
goggles. In response, the United States and Italy are donating more boats and
equipment to the Yemeni coast guard. In particular, the Italians are providing
a coastal radar system that will make it more difficult for the smugglers to
hide in the dark, or in poorly patrolled areas along the coast.
Yemen is also trying to reduce the
number of weapons in the country. In 2007, new laws were passed to restrict
weapons ownership. Since then, over 150,000 weapons have been seized, and 200
weapons workshops shut down. This large haul of weapons was largely the result
of the flood of weapons that entered the country in the 1990s, as former
communist countries in Eastern Europe (particularly Albania), came undone. Government
armories were looted, or corrupt officials sold the unneeded weapons off cheap.
Communist countries were police states, and tended to stockpile enormous
quantities of assault rifles, RPGs, and machine-guns. Just in case. Many of
these weapons ended up in Yemen, and then were smuggled into Africa. These
AK-47s and RPGs have killed millions in Africa, and the slaughter continues.
Cutting off the weapons flow out of Yemen will save many lives.