19 December 2008

Pirates to receive millions in ransom for release of arms ship

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From Mike Mount
CNN Senior Pentagon Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pirates holding a ship full of tanks and ammunition off the coast of Somalia are likely to be paid millions of dollars in ransom within days, senior U.S. military officials said.

The pirates have been holding the Ukrainian-operated, Belize-flagged MV Faina and its 20-person crew in the Gulf of Aden since September 25.

Military officials said the cash payment will be brought on the ship, directly to the pirates. Such a procedure is common because of the lack of electronic banking in Somalia.

The officials would not say how much ransom is being paid or who is paying it because it would be up to the individuals or company to make that announcement.

What's known is that the pirates originally asked for a $35 million ransom, but lowered their demand to $20 million, Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya Seafarers Association told CNN in November.

The ship is laden with Soviet-era tanks, tank artillery shells, grenade launchers and small arms.

The merchant vessel was heading for Kenya, whose government had bought the weapons from Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuri Yekhanurov said, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

Officials said a ransom was close to being paid to the pirates weeks ago, but it did not come through and the merchant vessel remained under control of the hijackers.

The captain of the ship died of a heart attack days after the hijacking. His body remains on the ship, kept in a giant cooler to slow down decomposition, officials said.

The U.S. Navy has been shadowing the Faina every day since its capture, officials said. There has been some communication with the pirates during that time, such as checks on the status of the crew.

The Pentagon has been very interested in this hijacking because of concerns that the large amount of ammunition on board might be taken off the ship and put into the hands of gangs on the Somali shore.

Navy officials said its ships would offer medical aid and food to the crew once the pirates give up the ship.

Pirate activity off the coastline of east Africa is a cause of growing international concern, with a number of ships -- including the Saudi-owned supertanker Sirius Star -- being captured in the past few weeks.

The Gulf of Aden is now being patrolled by a number of international navies.


02 December 2008

CNN Special Section: Troubled Waters

CNN Special Section on Piracy


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Luxury cruise ship outruns pirates

(CNN) -- A 30,000-ton luxury cruise ship outran pirates off the coast of Yemen this weekend, the ship's owner said Monday.

The Nautica was in an area patrolled by international anti-piracy task forces when two small skiffs appeared to try to intercept it, Oceania spokesman Tim Rubacky said.

The ship took evasive maneuvers and accelerated to its full speed of 23 knots or 27 mph. One of the smaller craft closed to within 300 yards and fired eight rifle shots at the cruise ship, he said, but the ship was able to pull away.

It was the first report of a pirate attack on a passenger ship of its size this year, said Cyrus Mody of the International Maritime Bureau, which runs a piracy reporting center.

"There have been a couple of passenger yachts hijacked, but they were much smaller," he said. It is "quite common" for pirates to target ships the size of the Nautica and even larger, he said, but they tend to be cargo ships, not passenger vessels. Map of pirate activity in the area »

The Nautica escaped without damage or injury to its 684 passengers and 400 crew, and arrived safely on schedule in Salalah, Oman early on Monday morning, Rubacky said.

He emphasized that the ship was not off the coast of Somalia, which has become a base for pirates, but off the coast of Yemen.

The International Maritime Bureau has issued piracy warnings for both areas. The Nautica was in a Maritime Safety Protection Area which is patrolled by international anti-piracy task forces, Rubacky underlined.

But the International Maritime Bureau's Mody warned that there was only so much navies could do even in that zone. "The zone has been created to enable navies to patrol and concentrate on a much smaller area than the entire Gulf," he said.

"But, saying that, it is still a large area. Vessels do not automatically get guaranteed safe passage even if they use it."

The Nautica left Rome November 18 on a 32-day cruise to Singapore. It was the first time one of the company's cruise ships had encountered possible pirates, Rubacky added.

He said the company did not plan to change routes to avoid the area, which has seen increasingly audacious piracy in recent months. "We're not considering re-routing as the Gulf of Aden is the most viable gateway from the Med to Asia," he said.

On Sunday, an official from the Kenya Seafarers Association said pirates have reached a deal with the owners of a Ukrainian ship loaded with arms that was seized more than two months ago.

"A deal has been reached to free the MV Faina. Talks on how to deliver the ransom money are ongoing," Andrew Mwangura of the association told CNN.

It is not clear how long those talks will take, but the ship could be freed as soon as an agreement has been reached.

The ship, which is laden with Soviet-era tanks, tank artillery shells, grenade launchers and small arms, was seized on September 25.

It was heading for Kenya, whose government had bought the weapons from Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuri Yekhanurov said, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

The pirates originally asked for a $35 million ransom, but lowered their demand to $20 million, he said.

The Faina is owned and operated by Kaalbye Shipping Ukraine, and its crew includes citizens of Ukraine, Russia and Latvia, the Navy said.


No way to stop us, pirate leader says

From David McKenzie

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- Somalis are so desperate to survive that attacks on merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean will not stop, a pirate leader promises.

"The pirates are living between life and death," said the pirate leader, identified by only one name, Boyah. "Who can stop them? Americans and British all put together cannot do anything."

The interview with the pirate was conducted in late August by journalists employed by the Somali news organization Garowe. The complete interview was provided to CNN last week and provides a glimpse of why piracy has been so hard to control in the region.

Recorded on grainy video, the interview took place in the Somali port city of Eyl, now a center of pirate operations. Eyl is on the east coast of Somalia in the autonomous territory of Puntland. It is a largely lawless zone, considered extremely dangerous for Westerners to enter.

The Puntland government said two unidentified Western journalists were taken hostage Wednesday as they attempted to report on pirate activity.

Boyah said that the piracy began because traditional coastal fishing became difficult after foreign fishing trawlers depleted local fish stocks. Traditional fishermen started attacking the trawlers until the trawler crews fought back with heavy weapons. The fishermen then turned to softer targets. VideoWatch why fishermen turned to piracy »

"We went into the deep ocean and hijacked the unarmed cargo ships," Boyah said.

"For the past three years, we have not operated near the Somali coast. We have operated at least 80 miles [out], in international waters."

When merchant shipping started avoiding the Somali coast, Boyah said, "we went to ships traveling other routes."

Over the past year, the number of pirate attacks has increased dramatically. The International Maritime Bureau cites more than 90 pirate attacks off East Africa so far in 2008. When attacks are successful, the hijacked ships are taken to Somali waters, where the ships and crew are held until a ransom is paid. See how pirate attacks have increased »

Ships recently captured include a massive Saudi supertanker laden with crude oil valued at more than $100 million and a freighter carrying Russian-built tanks.

The hijackings have been profitable. Kenya's foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, estimates the pirates have been paid more than $150 million during the past year. One pirate gang wants $2 million dollars to release a Yemeni freighter and crew seized last week.

Facing increasing disruptions through one of the busiest sea lanes in the world, several countries have sent warships to patrol the area. There have been reports of skirmishes between pirates and naval forces, but the military presence does not concern pirate leader Boyah. He boasts the pirates literally sail in a vast ocean beneath the radar of the warships. VideoWatch how piracy thrives off Somalia »

"No ship has the capability to see everything," he said. "A ship can see 80 miles or so [on radar]. It cannot see us at all. No one can do anything about it."

Boyah said it is unlikely the Puntland regional government would ever crack down on piracy because government officials are involved in financing the piracy and collect a cut of the ransoms.

"They motivate us. It's their money and their weapons," Boyah said. "Thirty percent belongs to them."

The Puntland foreign minister, Ali Abdi Aware, denied government involvement with the pirates, including taking bribes. The minister cited the arrest of six pirates earlier this year as evidence it is acting to stop piracy.

Pirate Boyah said he is unimpressed with the arrests by Puntland authorities.

"The pirates are at sea and Puntland does not approach them. The pirates are on land and Puntland does not approach them," Boyah said. "They arrest some small people and tell the world that they captured pirates, but they are liars."

While Boyah may have been outspoken about the government's ineffectiveness, he did not allow interviewers to show his face, an indication that even in this lawless country, pirates still have some fear.


25 November 2008

The Buccaneer Stops Here

Daily Show News Clip

Pirates of the Somalian waters: Curse of the Filipino seafarers

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MANILA, Philippines - The sea was peaceful that moonless evening of June 2006. Filipino seafarer Alfonso Constantino was on duty aboard the MV Sea Epoch, a Panamanian-flagged ship carrying coal from the Middle East to Asia.

As the carrier cruised smoothly off Somalia’s coast toward the Gulf of Aden, Alfonso noticed that the ship’s radar picked up three small vessels speeding behind.

“Through the telescope I could see them getting closer to the ship," Alfonso said. “At that point I said, ‘This is it, the pirates will hijack us.’"

Alfonso rushed to notify the ship’s Filipino captain, who immediately gave the command to sound the vessel’s warning siren. But the pirates were undeterred.

Speeding at 16 nautical miles per hour in the calm African waters, the fishing boats easily caught up with the ship.

The captain told Alfonso and the rest of the predominantly Filipino crew to assemble at the end of the ship and show their full force on the pirates.

“Some of us were shouting. Others waved broomsticks and thick wood slabs. The captain readied the fire house in case one of them gets stupid and decides to board the ship," he said.

An hour later, the 22-man crew managed to breathe a sigh of relief as the pirates of Somalia gave up and disappeared in the darkness.

Others aren’t as lucky as Alfonso.

Israel Lumpas, one of the two kidnapped seafarers on board the Japanese cargo ship MT Stolt Valor said his 62-day captivity in Somalia might have scarred him for life.

“It will take years for me to get over the harrowing experience," Lumpas, told online news site Khaleej Times before his scheduled return to Manila on Tuesday (November 25) evening.

Lumpas, 28, was kidnapped last September 15 when about 20 heavily-armed pirates boarded his ship and commandeered the vessel back to Somali shores.

“We were all very scared. They did not harm us, but kept threatening us. They were wielding AK47 rifles and carrying dozens of grenades, looked very fearsome and mean," he said.

Pirates guard the crew of the Chinese fishing vessel FV Tianyu 8 as it sails through the Indian Ocean on Nov. 13. Three Filipino seafarers are on board the ship. US Navy
A total of 17 vessels - that range from small fishing boats to huge oil supertankers – with 208 Filipino seafarers on board have been hijacked by Somali pirates this year. Through ransom allegedly paid by ship owners, 74 of the 208 seafarers have been released.

Unfortunately, 134 Filipino seafarers on board eight ships remain captive in Somalia.

The numbers are not surprising as Filipinos are present in all of the world’s ships. Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs executive director Crescente Relacion said one-third of the world’s shipping manpower requirement or an estimated 350,000 seafarers are supplied by Filipinos.

"This puts them at a very high risk (to abductions)," Relacion told GMANews.TV.

As the number of attacks continues to climb to alarming levels, the Philippine government has seen allies in other countries to put an end to the hijackings in the Horn of Africa.

But as the international community maintains to approach the issue of piracy with non-violent tactics, and the willingness of wealthy ship owners to pay millions in ransom, the Somali pirates remain to be a curse to Filipino seafarers.

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21 November 2008

Q&A: Somali piracy

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'Experts' lead Saudi tanker talks

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Negotiations between Somali pirates and the owners of a captured Saudi tanker are being conducted by a multinational specialist firm, the BBC has learnt.

A reported figure of $25m (£17m) for the MV Sirius Star was denied by the company, which specialises in kidnap and ransom talks, shipping sources say.

Shipping industry experts expect the ransom for the tanker, its 25 crew, and $100m cargo of oil to be much higher.

Regional leaders at crisis talks have appealed for international help.

Senior officials from countries bordering the Red Sea, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia, met in Cairo and called for political, humanitarian and economic help from the international community.

Egypt's Deputy Foreign Minister, Wafaa Bassem, said Somalia had to be helped by the international community to stop it becoming a "magnet for pirates".

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The captured tanker and its crew, which includes two Britons, are being held near the Somali port of Harardhere.

The BBC's Frank Gardner says the crew are believed to be being well treated while intensive discussions are being held by their captors over how best to proceed.

He says the Somali pirates are said to be stunned at the huge size of their catch and some want it to be treated as being worth the same as 10 ships.

Others, he says, are arguing for a quick deal at a reasonable price, aware that they may already be attracting unwanted attention from warships patrolling the area.

In a rare victory against the organised gangs, the Indian navy earlier said it had sunk a suspected pirate "mother ship" after it failed to stop for an inspection in the Gulf of Aden, several hundred kilometres north of the location where the hijackers boarded the Sirius Star.

Escort plea

Correspondents say the pirates who seized the Sirius Star on Saturday are a sophisticated group with contacts in Dubai and neighbouring countries.

Money from previous hijackings has been used to buy new boats and weapons as well as develop a network across the Horn of Africa.

On board a Nato warship heading towards Somalia

Shipping companies are now weighing up the risks of using the short-cut route to and from Europe via the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal.

However, travelling around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope would add several weeks to average journey times and substantially increase the cost of goods for consumers.

Maersk, one of the world's biggest shipping firms, announced on Thursday that some of its fleet, mainly tankers, would no longer use the Gulf of Aden unless there were more naval escorted convoys.

BBC Africa editor Martin Plaut says there is currently no formal system of convoys in the area.

Indian and Russian ships are working independently in the region, while Nato and the US Navy are working together, advising merchant ships that they are in the area and can protect them.

Other warships are escorting World Food Programme ships carrying aid destined for Somalia, and merchant ships can travel with them as long as they do not slow them down.

A naval taskforce is due to be sent by the EU in December.

'World only cares about pirates'

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Ex-Somali Army Colonel Mohamed Nureh Abdulle lives in Harardhere - the town closest to where the hijacked Saudi oil tanker, Sirius Star is moored. He tells the BBC, via phone from his home, that the town's residents are more concerned about the apparent dumping of toxic waste than piracy.

The Harardhere-born military man advises the town's elders on security matters and is in his fifties.

Somalia has been wracked by conflict since 1991 - when its last national government was forced from power.

The super-tanker is close to our coast. It is a very, very long ship. Some time ago we had our own problems of piracy in our town but that has not happened lately.

The people who have been hijacking these ships in our seas are not from our region. We do not know any of the guys on the super-tanker and they haven't made any contact with us.

You know, our problem is not piracy. It is illegal dumping.

These problems have been going for sometime and the world knows about it. The Americans have been here in the region for a long time now - they know about the pollution.

Instead, no, the world is only talking about the pirates and the money involved.

Mysterious illnesses

Meanwhile, there has been something else going on and it has been going on for years. There are many dumpings made in our sea, so much rubbish.


It is dumped in our seas and it washes up on our coastline and spreads into our area.

A few nights ago, some tanks came out from the high sea and they cracked it seems and now they are leaking into the water and into the air.

The first people fell ill yesterday afternoon. People are reporting mysterious illnesses; they are talking about it as though it were chicken pox - but it is not exactly like that either. Their skin is bad. They are sneezing, coughing and vomiting.

This is the first time it has been like this; that people have such very, very bad sickness.

The people who have these symptoms are the ones who wake early, before it is light, and herd their livestock to the shore to graze. The animals are sick from drinking the water and the people who washed in the water are now suffering.


We are people who live in a very remote town and here, we are isolated; we only rely on God.

This town is close to the sea. It is a very old town which has a mixture of Somali clans. It is not big but it has a well-knit community.

Our community used to rely on fishing. But now no-one fishes. You see, a lot of foreign ships were coming and they were fishing heavily - their big nets would wipe out everything, even the fishermen's equipment. They could not compete.

So the people here began farming and keeping greater numbers of livestock. Like in any other Somali town, all one can do is rely on oneself.

But now we have these medical hazards.

What can we do about it?

Kenya to host forum on piracy

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By OLIVER MATHENGEPosted Friday, November 21 2008 at 11:46

In Summary

  • President directs Foreign minister to convene summit.
  • Piracy result of international community failure to deal with internal politics of Somalia.

President Kibaki is set to host an international conference in Nairobi to discuss the escalating incidences of piracy along the East African coastline.

Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula has said that the president has instructed him to convene the meeting at the earliest opportunity.

“The President has directed me to organise an international conference where he will take the leading role on the issue of piracy along the Indian Ocean waters.”

He was speaking at Hotel Intercontinental, Nairobi where he hosted heads of foreign missions in the country for a consultative meeting.

Ambassadors from various countries including Britain and Germany attended the meeting. Also in attendance was Kenya’s Defence minister Yusuf Haji.

Mr Wetang’ula said that he will request the envoys to organise for representation from the highest level of their governments to attend the conference.

He noted that the piracy situation in the Indian Ocean was as a result of the international community’s “collective failure” to deal with the internal political issues facing Somalia.

“The plot has been thickening day by day and has now turned into a major international enterprise affecting all of us,” he said.

He added that the fact that the pirates were now hijacking ships from as long as 800 kilometres from the shore showed that the problem was bigger.

Lauding a decision by India three days ago to destroy one of its hijacked vessels, Mr Wetang’ula said that all countries must now prepare to act tough on the pirates.

He said that Kenya would sanction Somali leaders and their families noting that they would not be allowed to stay in the country unless they sorted Somalia’s internal problems.

“Sometimes we must take decisions that are harsh as for the sake of humanity they are justifiable. We must stop this menace and hard decisions have to be taken.”

He added that Kenya does not support countries that are paying ransom for the release of their vessels and cargo noting that this amounted to paying off criminals.

Late last month, President Kibaki called on Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) member states to work with the international community to draw up a joint anti-piracy framework.

20 November 2008

Red Sea nations condemn pirates, vow action

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(CNN) -- Red Sea nations in the Arab League met in Egypt's capital on Thursday to coordinate a common strategy against piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.

The Egyptian government hosted the meeting, which was attended by representatives of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, and Djibouti. A Somali transitional government official was also there.

The group issued a communiqué condemning all acts of piracy.

The communiqué said Arab nations around the Red Sea were principally responsible for security there and recommended establishing joint mechanisms between those countries to ensure the safety of shipping.

The group welcomed international and regional support in fighting piracy, and stressed the importance of coordination between the Red Sea Arab nations and regional and international bodies. VideoWatch more about the pirates' tactics »

It also said Arab countries in that region should be open to having dialogues with other parties about the fight against piracy.

"We did not touch upon the military aspect, but we touched upon aspects related to promoting coordination, consultation and exchange of information, as well as focusing on the importance of regional arrangements, with particular reference to the establishment of the regional maritime center in Yemen," said Ali al-Ayashi, Yemeni deputy foreign minister.

The communiqué emphasized the importance of strengthening Arab and African cooperation to fight piracy and noted the respect the group has for the sovereignty, unity and independence of Somalia.

Wafaa Bassem, Egyptian deputy foreign minister and chair of the conference, said "the international community in the short term should help and support the transitional government of Somalia and the Somali people with humanitarian, economical and political support to be able to prevent piracy acts in this region."

The Gulf of Aden, which lies between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula, is the gateway to the southern Red Sea, which is linked to the Mediterranean Sea by the Suez Canal. See where pirates are operating »

Egypt has a lucrative industry from the shipping traffic in the Suez Canal, but it is concerned about shipping firms pursuing other routes to avoid the Gulf of Aden.

One Norwegian shipping firm, Odfjell SE, has ordered its vessels to avoid the waters off the Horn of Africa. VideoWatch Maersk CEO describe risks to shipping »

That decision means that Odfjell SE's 90-plus ships will take the additional time and expense to sail around the southern tip of Africa instead of going through the Suez Canal, a shortcut for mariners for nearly a century and a half.

Going around the Cape of Good Hope would add thousands of kilometers (miles) to a voyage from the Middle East to Europe or North America.


19 November 2008

Somali strategy could spur Asian pirate attacks

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By Andrew Marshall - Analysis

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - In high seas and heavy rain, the supertanker Kasagisan was steaming through the Malacca Strait in February when it was suddenly surrounded by six small boats.

The crew of the vessel, heading from Saudi Arabia to Japan with a cargo of oil, sprayed the pirate boats with the tanker's fire hose, sounded its sirens and initiated evasive maneuvers.

With the weather worsening, the pirates retreated. But the botched attack, one of at least 71 actual or attempted incidents of piracy in Asia recorded by shipping monitors in the first nine months of 2008, shows it is not only Somali pirates who have the audacity to threaten even the world's biggest tankers.

The Strait of Malacca between peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra is among the world's busiest shipping lanes, used by more than 70,000 ships in 2007, including vessels supplying about 80 percent of the energy needs of Japan and China.

Piracy in the Strait became so serious that in 2005 the Joint War Committee of the Lloyd's Market Association added the area to its list of war risk zones, sending premiums sharply higher. Concerted efforts by Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore to tackle piracy helped slash the number of attacks in subsequent years.

But with Somali bandits attacking ships off Africa with impunity and netting huge profits, the risk is that their example could be followed by Asian pirates eager to reap similar wealth.

"I am sure that a lot of criminals and criminal syndicates in Asia are watching events in Somalia with great interest," said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur.

"The Somali pirates are making so much money, and have been facing very low risk. Any time you have an activity that is low risk but with huge rewards, that will encourage criminals."

Data compiled by the Singapore-based Information Sharing Center of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) show a general downward trend in piracy in the region since 2003.

But India, Vietnam and the Philippines saw an increase in attacks this year compared to 2007. And the past few months have seen several attacks around the Malacca and Singapore straits, mainly targeting tugboats towing barges.


So far, Asian pirates operating around the Malacca Strait lack a secure base like the Somali town of Eyl.

"Countries in Asia have functioning governments," Choong said. "In Somalia if somebody hijacks a ship, they can get away with it. In Asia, where would you go? If you hijack a ship you would be hunted down and arrested."

But there are plenty of potential pirate havens. East of the straits, Indonesia's remote Anambas islands have seen an upsurge of pirate activity. Further east, the islands of the southern Philippines are dotted with the bases of Muslim insurgents.

This makes the Sulu and Celebes seas a piracy flashpoint -- threatening the Makassar Strait between Sulawesi and Borneo, increasingly used by Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) like the Kasagisan -- and the Sirius Star seized by the Somalis this week.

"The Sulu and Celebes seas have become notorious for illegal maritime activities such as smuggling, piracy and trafficking in illegal narcotics, guns and people," said Ian Storey, a fellow of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, in a research note. "In short, the seas have become an ungoverned maritime space."

A particular concern of security analysts is that militant groups like the Abu Sayyaf group in pirate-infested Jolo and Basilan islands and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao, which have already used piracy to help fund their operations, decide to emulate the Somali strategy.

There is already a precedent.

In 2000, the Abu Sayyaf Group seized 21 people, many of them Western tourists, in a raid on a resort in the Malaysian island of Sipadan. More than $10 million was paid for their release.

A year later three Americans and more than a dozen Filipino tourists and resort workers were captured in a seaborne raid on Palawan in the Philippines. Two of the Americans were killed -- one of them beheaded -- and other hostages were held for ransom.

A further risk is that Asian pirates turn their hand to terrorism. Reports that al Qaeda-inspired militants were planning more attacks on global shipping, and even considering seizing a large ship to use as a "floating bomb," played a role in designation of the Malacca Strait as a war risk zone by Lloyd's.

The strait was taken off the war risk list in 2006. But an upsurge in piracy -- or a terrorist attack -- could change that.

"Even one terrorist attack in the Strait of Malacca likely would send insurance rates skyrocketing," Storey said.

"International pressure, the spectre of maritime terrorism, the efforts of regional states, and support from external powers have done much to improve security in southeast Asia's maritime domain," he said. "But much remains to be done."

(Additional reporting by Jalil Hamid and Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur; editing by John Chalmers)

Pirates Exploit Confusion About International Law

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On Saturday, off the coast of East Africa, pirates seized their largest catch ever: a giant Saudi-owned oil tanker called the Sirius Star. The brazen attack came on the heels of the capture of a Ukrainian vessel (loaded with armaments destined for Kenya) by Somali pirates in September. Humanitarian food shipments into Somalia have had naval escort for nearly a year -- evidence of how much the security of sea-lanes has eroded. Media reports suggest that Somali pirates have already attacked more than 80 ships in 2008.

These are unprecedented and dangerous developments. Suppressing piracy and the slave trade, accomplished by the last quarter of the 19th century, were among mankind's great civilizing achievements. These were brought about by major maritime powers such as Great Britain and the United States. Indeed, in the American republic's earliest days, President Jefferson dispatched the infant U.S. Navy to confront the Barbary pirates, both on shore and at sea.

By the 1970s, as a part of a growing chaos in parts of Africa and Asia, incidents of piracy began to pick up. But it was not until the 21st century that piracy has experienced a meteoric rise, with the number of attacks increasing by double-digit rates per year. Last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau, 263 actual and attempted pirate attacks took place. Large maritime areas have now become known as pirate heavens, where mariners can expect to be routinely molested. The Victorian self-confidence that drove pirates from the seas is gone.

Twenty-first century economics being what they are, the pirates have been more interested in the payment of ransom by anxious owners and insurers than in the vessels or their cargoes. Piracy is nonetheless a vicious and violent activity that exposes the world's merchant mariners to additional risk of death or injury. Even more fundamentally, the dramatic surge in piracy is, like terrorism, part of a broad challenge to civilization and international order.

Experience -- especially that of colonial America -- suggests that a few sporadic antipirate efforts will not be enough to solve the problem. Only a dedicated naval campaign, along with a determined effort to close the pirates' safe havens, will succeed in sending piracy back to the history books.

There has been some progress on this front. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has dispatched a formidable multinational force -- including British, Italian and Greek ships -- to join the American, French, Canadian and Danish vessels already cruising off Somalia's vast coastline. France has also aggressively pursued pirates, freeing captured vessels and hostages.

Capturing pirates is not the critical problem. Rather, the issue is how to handle those in captivity. Traditionally, pirates fell within that category of illegitimate hostiles that once included slave traders, brigands on the roads and, in wartime, unprivileged or "unlawful" enemy combatants. As Judge Nicholas Trott, presiding over a pirate trial, explained in 1718: "It is lawful for any one that takes them, if they cannot with safety to themselves bring them under some government to be tried, to put them to death." This law, of course, has changed since the 18th century. Pirates, brigands and unlawful combatants must now be tried before they can be punished.

One solution would be for the capturing state to press charges based on the much misunderstood and abused principle of "universal" jurisdiction. This is the notion that any state may criminalize and punish conduct that violates certain accepted international-law norms. Although its application in most circumstances is dubious -- there is very little actual state practice supporting the right of one state to punish the nationals of a second for offenses against the citizens of a third -- piracy is one area where a strong case for universal jurisdiction can be made (if only because piratical activities often take place on the high seas, beyond any state's territorial jurisdiction).

Moreover, given the nature of naval operations, discerning who is a pirate is usually a much easier task than separating Taliban and al Qaeda members from innocent bystanders. This fact, all things being equal, should make the task of prosecuting captured pirates an easier process, both from a legal and public-relations perspective.

The key problem is that America's NATO allies have effectively abandoned the historical legal rules permitting irregular fighters to be tried in special military courts (or, in the case of pirates, admiralty courts) in favor of a straightforward criminal-justice model. Although piracy is certainly a criminal offense, treating it like bank robbery or an ordinary murder case presents certain problems for Western states.

To begin with, common criminals cannot be targeted with military force. There are other issues as well. Last April the British Foreign Office reportedly warned the Royal Navy not to detain pirates, since this might violate their "human rights" and could even lead to claims of asylum in Britain. Turning the captives over to Somali authorities is also problematic -- since they might face the head- and hand-chopping rigors of Shariah law. Similar considerations have confounded U.S. government officials in their discussions of how to confront this new problem of an old terror at sea.

In the last few years, France determined to return its pirate prisoners to Somalia based on assurances of humanitarian treatment. The U.S. has, of course, rendered terror prisoners to foreign governments based on similar assurances, and only time will tell whether they are genuine. An equally important question is whether the transfer of captured pirates to local authorities will result in prosecution at all. In many areas, local governments may be subject to corruption or intimidation by strong pirate gangs.

One thing is certain: As in the war on terror, the new campaign against piracy will test the mettle of Western governments. It will also require them to balance the rights of lawbreakers against the indisputable rights of the law-abiding to not live their lives in danger and fear.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey are Washington, D.C., lawyers who served in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Indian warship destroys suspected pirate ship off Somalia

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Navy ship
The Indian Navy ship Tabar is shown escorting another vessel in this file photo.
India says the military vessel opened fire after coming under attack and that some of the pirates escaped on high-speed rafts as their boat sank.
By Borzou Daragahi
7:40 AM PST, November 19, 2008
Reporting from Beirut -- An Indian warship patrolling the treacherous waters off the Horn of Africa destroyed a suspected pirate ship late Tuesday, at least the second time in a week that India's armed forces have unleashed military force to combat piracy amid a surge in maritime lawlessness.

According to a news release issued today by the Indian Defense Ministry, the Tabar opened fire on a pirate ship after it came under attack Tuesday evening, leaving the burning vessel to sink. There was no mention of rescuing or capturing its crew.

Along with the U.S., Russia and European nations, India is among the naval forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden, a major shipping lane between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula. Concern over piracy surged after audacious bandits Saturday hijacked a gigantic 1,000-foot tanker loaded with at least $100 million worth of crude oil and moored it near a pirate's haven off the coast of Somalia.

The pirates aboard the tanker, the Sirius Star, today demanded money in exchange for the $120-million ship, its crew and cargo.

"Negotiators are aboard the ship and on land," a suspected pirate calling himself Farah Abed Jameh, described as one of the bandits who hijacked the Saudi tanker, said in an audiotape aired by the Arab-language Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite news channel.

"Once they agree on the ransom, it will be taken in cash to the oil tanker," he said, without specifying an amount

On Tuesday, pirates off Somalia's coast seized an Iranian-owned and Hong Kong-flagged freighter carrying 35 metric tons of wheat and a crew of 25, a Greek freight ship with a crew of 23 and a Thai fishing boat and its crew of 16. The ships, crew and cargo are typically anchored off the Somali coast and ransomed for huge sums of cash.

The scourge has become a major headache for shippers facing increased insurance and security costs. Already a major Norwegian shipping firm announced that it would no longer sail through the Gulf of Aden, directing its freighters and tankers to take a circuitous route around Africa to avoid the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the oil-rich Arabian peninsula.

The move would incur "significant" extra costs, which would be passed on to customers and consumers.

"We will no longer expose our crew to the risk of being hijacked and held for ransom by pirates in the Gulf of Aden," Terje Storeng, the president and CEO of Bergen, Norway-based Odfjell said in a news release. "Odfjell is frustrated by the fact that governments and authorities in general seem to take a limited interest in this very serious problem."

The U.S. military said it could take only limited steps to intervene and thwart pirates. Maritime experts say international law on jurisdiction regarding pirates is murky, with naval forces clearly permitted to attack pirates only when a commercial ship is under assault.

But New Delhi has apparently taken a different approach. Last week, Indian marine commandos on a helicopter swooped in on the scene of a hijacking to fend off pirates assailing an Indian commercial ship. Two suspected pirates were killed in a shootout with British commandos defending a Danish vessel this month.

In the latest incident, New Delhi said the Tabar tried to stop a suspected pirate vessel about 300 miles southwest of the Omani city of Salalah on Tuesday evening. Instead of allowing the sailors to inspect the ship, the alleged pirates threatened to "blow up the naval warship if it closed on her," the statement said.

"Pirates could be seen roaming on the upper deck of this vessel with guns and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers," the statement said.

The pirates opened fire, the news release said, and the Tabar, a 400-foot warship, fired back. Fire and explosions erupted on board the suspected pirate ship, possibly the result of ammunition going off, the military said.

As the boat sank, some of the pirates escaped on high-speed rafts, the news release said.

More than 90 ships have been hijacked by pirates this year off the Horn of Africa. Since it arrived in the Gulf of Aden this month, the Tabar has escorted about 35 ships through the "pirate-infested" waterway, the Indian government said.

The piracy epidemic has captured the imagination of a public enamored with the romantic image of swashbuckling seamen of yore, engaged in swordplay and barking out orders to fellow buccaneers. But experts say today's pirates are tough young criminals armed with AK-47s and dressed in camouflage.

Storeng, the chief of the Norwegian shipping company, described modern piracy as "ruthless, high-level organized crime."

Daragahi is a Times staff writer.

Pirates hijack Thai fishing boat off Somali coast

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Kuala Lumpur - Pirates have hijacked a Thai fishing boat with 16 crew members off the coast of Somalia, bringing the number of pirate attacks in the troubled region to 95 this year, a maritime watchdog said Wednesday.

The vessel, which was seized Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden, had made a distress call late Monday as it was being chased by pirates in two speedboats, said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur.

However, the phone line got cut. The Thai boat was heading for the Middle East, said Choong. He said the fate of the crew members remains unknown.

India: Pirate 'mother ship' left in flames

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(CNN) -- An Indian warship has exchanged fire with a pirate "mother vessel" off the hijacking-plagued Horn of Africa, leaving the ship ablaze in the Gulf of Aden, an official said Wednesday. A file photo shows the Indian frigate Tabar, which was involved in the skirmish. The skirmish took place Tuesday evening about 525 kilometers southwest of Oman's Salalah port when the frigate INS Tabar spotted a suspected pirate ship with two speedboats in tow, India's Defense Ministry reported. The pirate ship was badly damaged, said spokesman Nirad Sinha, but he could not confirm reports it had sunk. "This vessel was similar in description to the 'Mother Vessel' mentioned in various piracy bulletins," the ministry said in a written statement. The battle follows a recent surge in piracy off the Horn of Africa, including the weekend hijacking of a Saudi-owned supertanker by pirates based in largely lawless Somalia. See where latest hijacking took place. » Three other vessels have been captured since then in what a London-based maritime official called a "completely unprecedented" situation. The Saudi owners of a hijacked oil supertanker carrying an oil cargo worth up to $100 million, which pirates Tuesday anchored off the Somali coast, said they were negotiating with its captors. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal said he could not confirm if a ransom had been demanded, but said the owners of the 300,000-ton Sirius Star were "negotiating on the issue," The Associated Press reported. In its clash with the pirate vessel, the Tabar's crew hailed the ship and demanded it stop for inspection, the pirates threatened to destroy the Indian ship, the ministry reported. "Pirates were seen roaming on the upper deck of this vessel with guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The vessel continued its threatening calls and subsequently fired upon INS Tabar," the ministry said. The Indian frigate returned fire, setting the pirate ship ablaze and setting off explosions on board, the statement said. Two speedboats in tow behind the ship fled; one was found abandoned after a pursuit by the Tabar. It was not clear Wednesday whether the mother ship sank after the fighting, naval spokesman Prem Raj Rawat told CNN. Michael Howlett, assistant director of the International Maritime Bureau in London, which tracks pirate attacks, said the recent upsurge in activity was unprecedented. "We've never seen a situation like this," he said. Watch Mersk CEO describe how "all ships are at risk" » On Tuesday, pirates hijacked a Thai fishing vessel and a Chinese-flagged Iranian cargo ship carrying wheat in the waters off the Horn of Africa. A third ship -- a Chinese fishing vessel -- was hijacked Saturday, but word did not reach authorities until Tuesday, Howlett said. Noel Choong, who heads the IMB's Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said 95 pirate attacks have taken place so far this year in the Gulf of Aden. Of those, 39 resulted in successful captures; 17 of those vessels and their crews -- a total of about 300 sailors -- remain in the hands of the pirates. But the seizure of the 300,000-ton supertanker Sirius Star took place well south of the gulf, in the Indian Ocean off Kenya. Pirate attacks are spreading farther north to the Gulf of Aden and farther south off the Kenyan coast, Choong said. "The risks are low and the returns are extremely high for these pirates," he told CNN. Pirates know that their chances of getting killed or captured during a hijacking are very low, he said.

18 November 2008

Pirates Seize 7 ships in 12 Days, Latest from Iran


Somali pirates hijacked their seventh ship in 12 days on Tuesday, as the U.S. Navy reported that pirates had seized an Iranian cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden.

U.S. Navy Commander Jane Campbell of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said the bulk cargo carrier was flying a Hong Kong flag but was operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. The status of the crew or the cargo was not known, she said.

Elsewhere, pirates anchored a hijacked Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million in crude oil off the Somali coast on Tuesday, causing residents in impoverished fishing villages to gawk in amazement at the size of the 1,080 foot (329 meter) tanker.

Pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia have surged recently, despite the presence of NATO ships, U.S. warships and a Russian frigate all working to prevent piracy in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

International Maritime Bureau on Sunday reported five hijackings since Nov. 7, before the hijackings of the Saudi ship or the Iranian ship were announced

With few other options, shipowners in past piracy cases have ended up paying ransoms for their ships, cargos and crew.

The U.S. and other naval forces decided against intervention for now. NATO said it would not divert any of its three warships from the Gulf of Aden and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet also said it did not expect to send ships to try to intercept the Saudi supertanker, the MV Sirius Star. The tanker was seized over the weekend about 450 nautical miles off the Kenyan coast.

Never before have Somali pirates seized such a giant ship so far out to sea - and never a vessel so large. The captors of the Sirius Star anchored the ship, with a full load of 2 million barrels of oil and 25 crew members, close to a main pirate den on the Somali coast, Harardhere.

Iranian-Operated Cargo Ship Hijacked Off Somali Coast

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The U.S. Navy says a cargo ship has been hijacked off the Somalia coast — the latest in a series of attacks by pirates operating out of the African country.

Navy Commander Jane Campbell of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet says the 26,000-ton bulk cargo carrier was attacked Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden.

She says the ship was flying a Hong Kong flag but is operated by the Islamic Republic of IranShipping Lines.

The status of the crew or its cargo were not known. Campbell says the ship is likely heading toward an anchorage site off the Somali coast.

The ship's name or other details were not immediately known.

The wheat-loaded Delight, bound for Iran, had 25 crew members on board and was captured off the coast of Yemen, Reuters reported.

The hijacking comes just days after a Saudi oil supertanker was hijacked and anchored off a Somali port.

The ship was carrying wheat to Iran's Bandar Abbas port, Reuters cites a Chinese news agency as reporting.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Saudi Supertanker Hijacked by Somali Pirates

Listen: NPR Morning Edition Segment


Morning Edition, November 18, 2008 · Somali pirates seized a supertanker carrying $100 million worth of Saudi oil Saturday. The ship — which is three times the size of an aircraft carrier — was nearly 500 miles off Africa's coast when it was hijacked in waters patrolled by foreign navies. Its 25 crew members are being held hostage.

The pirates are expected to anchor the supertanker in the Somali port of Eyl on the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, until a ransom can be worked out.

"This is estimated to be more than 100 million dollars' worth of crude oil, and that represents about a quarter of the daily output of Saudi Arabia," NPR's Gwen Thompkins tells Renee Montagne. So it's in Saudi Arabia's interest to get the ship back and get it to its ultimate destination, which is believed to be the United States, Thompkins says.

Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that it will join the international fight against piracy, and Somali officials vowed to try to rescue the hijacked supertanker by force if necessary. But the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, has said the presence of hostages complicates possible military intervention.

Scores of hijackings have been stopped in the Gulf of Aden this year, but there's no way to cover the whole area. Plus, big cargo ships generally don't require large crews, and the crew doesn't usually carry weapons.

"This is dangerous work but isn't particularly hard work for the pirates," Thompkins says.

And the pirates are highly motivated.

"There's no fallback job for them. ... Somalia has fallen apart. There is no real opportunity for people who need to make money," she says.

Many fishing towns along the coast of Somalia have turned into pirate towns. "Men in those towns who used to be fishermen say, 'A woman won't even look at me unless I'm a pirate making a lot of money,' " Thompkins says, and young boys there say they want to grow up to be pirates.



Can I Get an Arrgh?

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these people annoy me

Can there be International Law?

How can one enforce international law on the water? Or worse yet in law-less Somalia? The answer is not guards and safe passage ways, the answer is an international law which would give the pirates some type of discipline and punishment (Foucault) Currently there is no risk to pirating. Even if captured, which is highly unlikely, the two pirate attempts thwarted last week by the Indian navy did not capture the pirates, there is no standard to punishment.

But can there be international law? I don't believe so. Where would one extradite the captured pirates? to the nation who caught the pirates, to the nation of the flagged ship (not that that has any relevance to the ship at all) to the home country of the owners of the ship? Who punishes? Can we have an international tribunal? That would be the most effective measure, but that in and of itself is its own horror show.

There is also the problem of labelling. What exactly is a pirate attack? The UNCOLS has a stated definition.
  1. any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed

    1. On the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft.

    2. Against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction or any State

  2. Any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft.

  3. Any act inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in sub-paragraphs a or b.

(Article 101: United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas 1982)

This is a very clear definition, but the problem here is that certain acts can be labeled differently and will not come under the definition of piracy. Is the recent Sirius Star attack piracy or terrorism? Do the pirates have other ends for Sirius Star than just money? Couldn't that ship be used for terrorism? Are the Somali pirates doing this for private ends? Is it not a 'social movement' against the lack of regulation of fishing? Some pirates are using their gains to help the local infrastructure and schools, is that still piracy? Such a strict definition is problematic for many reasons.

The Achille Lauro case is an excellent case of why this definition has been problematic in the efforts against piracy, particularly because of the “official definition” of what a pirate attack is. In October of 1985, the Achille Lauro, a passenger liner, set sail from the port of Alexandria to Port Said in Egypt. Four men in connection with the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked the ship and held the passengers and the crew hostage with intention to conduct a terrorist attack in the port of Ashdod. (Snoddon 2007)When the potential attack was thwarted, the hijackers/ pirates/ terrorists, executed a Jewish- American wheelchair bound passenger Leon Klinghoffer and threw his body off the ship. (Achille Lauro 2008) The Egyptian government negotiated with the hijackers and the ship returned to Port Said. The Egyptian government then offered safe passage to the hijackers with a flight out of the county but the flight was intercepted by a U.S. Navy aircraft and the flight was forced to land at a NATO base in Italy. Once in Italy, the Italian government refused to extradite the criminal to the United States. The act of hijacking the ship and killing a passenger was not labeled as piracy because the ends of the attack were for political purposes; therefore the international courts had no jurisdiction. (Gottschalk 2000)

The labeling of the attack on the Achille Lauro defined the jurisdiction of the case and changed the potential outcome of the case. Although the four hijackers were tried in Italy, Abu Abbas, the founder and leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, left the jurisdiction of Italy and was tried in absentia, but was not captured until the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (Achille Lauro 2008) Had the international legal community been able to label the incident as piracy, as the United States did, the United States would have been able to arrest the pirates under 18USC, sub. Sec. 1651 “Whoever, on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life” (Section 1651. Piracy under law of nations 2004)