Somalia: Russia Proposes, The UN Disposes

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April 12, 2010: Pirates and the foreign warships of the anti-piracy patrol are playing cat and mouse off the east coast of Somalia. The pirates are going farther out to sea, to avoid the warships. Because the warships practice a "catch and release" policy, all the pirates risk is losing their weapons and speedboats (the mother ships are usually stolen). Merchant ships in the region (where over a fifty percent of the planets maritime traffic passes) are reluctant to equip ships with weapons (only five percent have done so.) The situation remains as it has been for over a decade. Unless the pirate bases in Somalia are shut down, the pirates will continue to attack and take ships. No one wants to supply troops to go ashore in Somalia. Aside from the loss of life, there would be all the bad publicity, and criticism from Moslem countries (for "attacking Islam.")

The Transitional Government has offered to establish a coast guard to shut down the piracy, but foreign donors don't trust the government (a loose coalition of warlords and tribal leaders) to pull this off. Corruption is a major problem in Somalia, and most money given to the Transitional Government in the past has disappeared. The Somalis get very angry when aid donors attempt to supervise distribution of aid (to prevent theft). The Somalis admit that, if they actually established a coast guard, they would go hunting for pirate boats and ships, and people would get killed. Western donors are squeamish about being associated with that sort of violence.

April 11, 2010: Somali pirates seized another merchant ship, the Rak Afrikana, off the Seychelles islands. Another pirate group has released five of the eleven dhows (wooden sailing ships that carry cargo between the Persian Gulf or Yemen and Somalia) that were seized last month. In the past, dhows were generally left alone, partly because they had no insurance for ransom. The dhows could be used as mother ships, but that does not seem to be the case either (as they require a larger, and experienced, crew to handle the sails). Only a few dhows have been seen used as mother ships. The pirates may just be stealing the cargoes (owned by Somali merchants), and selling them on shore. Several dhows were released by the pirates when the auxiliary engine ran out of fuel, and the pirates did not want to deal with guarding the crew to work the sails. The dhow seizers may just be an act of desperation, as the anti-piracy patrol has made it more difficult to go after more lucrative targets.

April 10, 2010: In the pre-dawn darkness, a speedboat full of pirates mistakenly attacked a U.S. amphibious ship that was 600 kilometers off the coast. The American warship returned fire, sinking the pirate boat. Six pirates were captured, and will probably be released.

April 9, 2010:  Al Shabaab has seized radio transmitters that rebroadcast BBC and Voice of America programs (in Somali, and other languages). These had long been left alone, because they provide what was considered a public service. But al Shabaab wants to control the local media, and that includes foreign radio broadcasts. Those Somalis with short wave radio sets (not as common as AM/FM sets) can still get the foreign broadcasts.

April 8, 2010: In the south, al Shabaab seized a UN base that ran the food aid program in the area. Al Shabaab had ordered the UN to shut down its food aid program in the area, apparently in response to UN efforts to cut down on the theft of food aid by al Shabaab and other groups. The Islamic radical group considers the food aid as a source of income, not something foreigners should control. Because of a drought, several million Somalis depend on foreign food aid to survive. Al Shabaab uses access to this food to control hostile populations.

April 7, 2010: Pirates fired on a Turkish freighter 450 kilometers off the Kenyan coast, and the crew promptly locked themselves in the control room below deck. The pirates boarded, could not find the crew, and left after a few hours. The crew then came out and resumed their trip to Mombasa, Kenya.

April 6, 2010: Several sources inside Somalia report that a dozen or more al Qaeda member have arrived from Yemen, where government counter-terrorism efforts have made life more dangerous for Islamic radical groups. There are already several hundred al Qaeda members in Somalia, but some Somalis insist that the recent arrivals were senior al Qaeda officials.

Russia has asked the UN to adopt an international agreement that would provide a legal code making it easier to prosecute pirates. Most anti-piracy laws were abandoned or repealed after World War II, and replaced by new international treaties that covered maritime matters, but contained nothing about piracy (which was considered gone for good). It was assumed that a "failed state" like Somalia (that provided a refuge for pirates) would not happen. A new UN treaty is unlikely, as many nations are already bickering over details.

April 5, 2010: A Dutch warship 800 kilometers off the Somali coast, got a call from the crew of a large container ship that had been boarded by ten pirates. The crew were all in a safe room, where they had a radio and were calling for help before the pirates found a way to get into the safe room. A nearby Dutch frigate came to the aid of the crew by dispatching a helicopter, with six commandos on board. The commandos came down onto the container ship via rope, and the pirates surrendered (after a few shots were fired by the helicopter, and the commandos moved towards the bridge area). The Dutch frigate ignored the EU bureaucracy (which, technically, must approve such operations), and quickly got permission from the Dutch government, because time was of the essence.

 

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