Somalia: Guns Over Troubled Waters


May 14, 2009:  The few clans that monopolize the piracy off the northern and eastern coasts are under pressure from other clans to halt the attacks on ships, and stop the misbehaving (booze, prostitutes and showing off) ashore. In Puntland, the clans created peace by settling their differences without constantly fighting each other. The pirates, and their actions risk bringing in foreign military action, are seen as a disruptive influence in the peaceful north. But the ransom money is so popular with the average Somali, that clan leaders are having a hard time gaining support to fight the pirates.

There were 102 pirate attacks off Somalis in the first three months of 2009, double the number of the same period in 2008. So far this year, there have been 114 attacks, with 29 ships (and 478 crew) captured. For all of last year, there were 111 attacks, with 42 ships (and 815 crew) captured. In the last few weeks, four pirate mother ships have been captured, along with over a dozen pirate "officers" and their records. Turns out that the different pirate groups cooperate in planning their attacks, and buy information from Somali gangsters living in the West (especially London, where merchant marine insurers are headquartered). The Western warships patrolling the Somali coast have interrupted up to a third  of pirate attacks, which has slowed down pirate captures, but not stopped them. No one is willing to go ashore and shut down the pirate bases, so the pirates are winning. Attempts to persuade non-pirate Somali clans to shut down the pirates has had little success.

In Mogadishu, nearly 30,000 civilians have fled the fighting between different Islamic militias for control of the city. A week of fighting has killed or wounded over 400 gunmen and civilians (mostly civilians). Somalia has suffered civil war for two decades now, and in the last three years, there have been about 50,000 casualties, and a million people driven from their homes. During that time, the south has suffered a severe drought, that has over three million people dependent on foreign good aid to survive. Another 16 million drought victims in the region are receiving similar aid. The UN would like to get peacekeepers in Somalia, but refuses to even attempt this until there is some peace to keep. No one wants to get involved with peacemaking in Somalia.

An American aircraft launched a missile at a house in Dusamareeb, 500 kilometers north of Mogadishu, and killed al Qaeda leader Aden Hashi Ayro, and ten of his followers. Ayro was working with al Shabaab to try and take control of the entire country. Two months ago, the U.S. launched a similar attack in southern Somalia. The U.S. has had a Special Forces detachment in Djibouti, for nearly a decade, collecting information on Islamic radicals in the region.

May 12, 2009: The U.S. Coast Guard has ordered all American flag commercial shipping to prepare (and file with the Coast Guard) a security plan, if they are travelling off the Somali coast. This plan must include carrying some armed security personnel. This order does not affect many ships, as the U.S. Navy has more ships than the  American flag commercial shipping fleet (fewer than 300 ocean going vessels). Most U.S. owned merchant ships fly a "flag of convenience" (for financial reasons, like lower labor and tax costs).  This means that fewer than one percent of the ships passing along the Somali coast are U.S. flag vessels. There are security companies offering armed security teams for ships passing along the Somali coast. For Dutch ships, which are not allowed (by Dutch law) to have weapons on board, there are security firms that, for about $100,000 per trip, will supply a small, seagoing, boat full of armed men to escort Dutch merchant ships through the dangerous waters.

May 10, 2009: Three days of fighting in Mogadishu have left about 300 dead and wounded. Al Shabaab claims to have gained control of the northern part of the city.

May 8, 2009: Heavy fighting, leaving about 80 dead or wounded,  resumed in Mogadishu, as al Shabaab fighters sought to take control of the city, from the more moderate Islamic conservatives running the government.




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