Somalia: It's Not A Crime, It's A Right

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April 5, 2010:  The Somali pirates, largely stymied in their efforts to take ships in the crowded Gulf of Aden, are increasingly stealing sea going fishing boats or small, sail powered transports, and heading for the high seas. Anti-piracy patrol warships are catching and destroying the sea going pirate mother-ships. But the sea area, more than a thousand kilometers off the east coast of Somalia, is vast, and some of the mother ships are going undetected. The search is often futile, because the area is thinly populated with tankers and cargo ships. But if you catch one, you are set for life.

So far this year, pirates have attacked 32 ships, and seized seven of them. Currently, pirates are holding eight ships and 142 sailors. This does not include the smaller fishing boats and dhows (300-500 ton sailing ships) seized for use as mother ships.

Efforts by the Transitional Government to establish an army or police force continue to run into problems. Political and military leaders blatantly steal money intended for pay or equipment, and there is great resistance to foreign donors closely supervising disbursement of funds (to pay the troops or pay for supplies, like tents and food for the soldiers and police.) The stealing is considered a fringe benefit, not a crime. But when the soldiers and police don't get paid, they tend to wander away. Somali leaders will pay their personal bodyguards, but not a larger force formed for the common good. Foreign donors have forced the Transitional Government to allow close supervision of aid money, and troops and police are finally being trained. But the Somalis are hard to discipline, which is one reason why the region has lacked government since 1991 (and rarely, for centuries before that.)

The UN has accused Kenya of tolerating corrupt border guards, who take bribes to allow Islamic militant militias to freely move across the frontier. The Kenyan government denies this, but anyone operating along the border (like thousands of foreign NGO staffers) knows it to be true.

April 4, 2010: Pirates in Kismayo, released two of the Indian dhows, along with 26 Indian sailors, after stripping the sailing ships of equipment.  Far off the coast, pirates seized a 319,000 ton (DWT) South Korean tanker, carrying $170 million worth of Iraqi oil headed for the east coast of the United States. The tanker was 1,500 kilometers southeast of the Gulf of Aden when taken.

April 3, 2010: Islamic radicals in Mogadishu have ordered radio stations in the city to stop playing music, because the radicals consider that un-Islamic. Radio station owners in areas not controlled by the Islamic terrorists are threatened with "Islamic justice" (eventually) if they do not comply. After two weeks of relative quiet, fighting has broken out in Mogadishu. Overnight, there were over sixty casualties, a third of them dead. Three of those killed with Islamic terrorist leaders, who were behind the outbreak.

April 1, 2010: Far off the coast, three pirates fired on an approaching American warship, believing, in the pre-dawn darkness, that it was a merchant ship. The three pirates were captured, along with two others on a nearby mother ship. In several other instances, pirates have, at night, mistaken warships for merchant vessels, and fired on them.

Kenyan courts will not accept any more pirates for prosecution. The piracy cases have overwhelmed the court system. Foreign nations, with warships in the anti-piracy patrol, had arranged for Kenya to prosecute and jail captured pirates, with the foreign (largely Western) nations picking up the tab. None of these nations wanted to prosecute pirates, because they either did not have laws to cover such crimes, or feared the pirates would claim asylum and escape punishment.  

March 31, 2010: Somali pirates tried, and failed, to seize a North Korean merchant ship headed for Mogadishu. Nine North Korean sailors were wounded in the struggle. Pirate casualties are unknown. In Kenya, police arrested seven Somalis and accused them of being al Shabaab members sent to carry out terrorist attacks.

The Indian government has banned Indian dhows (sea going sailing ships) from operating off the Somali coast. This is in response to eight dhows being taken by pirates recently (for use as mother ships). The dhows have been sailing between India and Africa for thousands of years, and most captains said they would ignore the government order. Some of the dhows move illegal goods (drugs, and anything else that pays well), and are used to taking their chances at sea. The dhows average 300-500 tons, and usually have small auxiliary engines, but mainly depend on their sails for propulsion.

 

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