Sea Transportation: When Piracy Isn't Piracy


March 23, 2006: On February 26th, the Indian motorized dhow Bhakti Sagar, with about 25-30 crewmen, was captured by pirates in Somali waters northwest of the port of Kisimayo. Bhakti Sagar was carrying rice, and had departed Kisimayo some hours earlier, after depositing some of her cargo. Since then, the ship has been anchored inside Somali waters near Harradene, south of Mogadisciu, with some of the crew and a number of pirates aboard. Meanwhile, the pirates have been demanding ransom for the ship and her crew, initially set at $100,000 but since increased to about $300,000.

Upon learning of the hijacking, the Indian Navy DDG (guided missile destroyer) Mumbai, which was on "routine patrol" in the western Indian Ocean, was dispatched to take station off the Somali coast. There she joined the growing number of warships patrolling the region, mostly from NATO nations, including the U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands, as well as an occasional Pakistani vessel. Some Western naval intelligence analysts believed that Mumbai's presence indicated the Indians were preparing a snatch-and-run operation to rescue the Bhakti Sagar. But days passed and nothing happened. Then something very curious did happen; a couple of days ago Mumbai sailed for home, and is now in Indian waters, and, reportedly, there is much disgruntlement in the ranks of the Indian Navy.

So what was going on?

Well, it seems that while the Indian Navy - and the world at large - thought Bhakti Sagar had been captured by pirates, the Indian Foreign Ministry believes she has been "impounded" by a local warlord with whom her owners were having a commercial dispute. While details are by no means clear, apparently the ship's owners tried to put one over on their customers in Kisimayo, and the local warlord decided to take action.

It's worth noting that local tribal leaders and warlords around Kisimayo have begun forming their own regional "administration," possibly signally yet another secessionist movement, similar to those in Somaliland and Puntland, on the country's northern end.


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