25 November 2008
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.
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.
21 November 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
- 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
(CNN) -- Red Sea nations in the Arab League met in
The Egyptian government hosted the meeting, which was attended by representatives of
The group issued a communiqué condemning all acts of piracy.
The communiqué said Arab nations around the
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. Watch 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
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
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
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
One Norwegian shipping firm, Odfjell SE, has ordered its vessels to avoid the waters off the Horn of Africa. Watch 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
Going around the Cape of Good Hope would add thousands of kilometers (miles) to a voyage from the Middle East to Europe or
19 November 2008
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)
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.
7:40 AM PST, November 19, 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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
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.
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.
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
"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
Scores of hijackings have been stopped in the
"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. ...
Many fishing towns along the coast of
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.
“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
On the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft.
Against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction or any State
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.
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)
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website
Food aid ships headed for Mogadishu need guarding
The international effort to stop piracy off Somalia has not worked and the effort clearly needs to be stepped up into a higher gear.
The response so far has been twofold: first, to assemble naval forces to try to stop the pirates on the high seas; second, to encourage a political settlement within the fractured state of Somalia to enable law and order to be established.
The naval forces are growing all the time. There is already a small flotilla of warships in the region from the US, UK, Canada, France, Turkey, Germany, Russia and India, among others.
This shows how the world's trading powers regard the piracy as a joint threat.
There has been some success. The warships have established a safe shipping lane and escort food aid ships into Somalia. The British Royal Navy recently shot and killed two pirates and captured others. The French staged a daring capture of pirates who had taken over a yacht. The Indian navy has thwarted two attempted hijacks, though the pirates in both cases got away.
And the European Union is about to launch its first naval action. It has approved Operation Atalanta, in which about eight ships will add their weight to the international effort.
It is under the control of Commodore Antonius Papaioannou of Greece and Rear Adm Philip Jones of the UK, whose command will be based at Northwood, outside London.
It offers a chance, perhaps, for some dashing naval commander to make his name in the style of some of the great anti-pirate commanders of the past.
The problem these days, however, is that the operation is hemmed in by rules and regulations.
In 1815 the American Cmdr Stephen Decatur, sent to stop the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean, simply captured the flagship of the Algerian Dey and forced a capitulation. When the Dey later repudiated the agreement, the British and Dutch bombarded Algiers.
The authorities these days have a real problem because of international law... As in the days of the Caribbean pirates, everything is on the pirates' side
Dr David Cordingly
These days, there is no question of a bombardment of the port of Eyl, the main pirate base on the Somali coast. That might be the most effective response but it would require a UN Security Council resolution.
There is a resolution (1838, passed in October) which authorises the use of "necessary means", meaning force if need be, to stop piracy in international waters. There is also another resolution (1816) which allows anti-pirate operations within Somali waters, but only with the agreement of the Somali transitional government.
But even all these operations have to be conducted within international law, defined in this case as the provisions of the UN Law of the Sea Convention.
There has also been a legal opinion by the British Foreign Office that captured pirates cannot necessarily be sent back to whatever authorities can be found in Somalia, in case they are subject to harsh treatment. That would contravene the British Human Rights Act. The pirates captured in the Royal Navy action have now been handed over not to Somalia, but Kenya.
The Law of the Sea Convention places limitations on daring action. Under Article 100 of the convention a warship has first to send an officer-led party to board a suspected pirate ship to verify any suspicions.
The warship cannot just open fire. Any inspection has to be carried out "with all possible consideration". That sounds rather tentative.
Maritime writer Dr David Cordingly, author of "Life among the Pirates", says that, historically, firm measures were taken against pirates.
"There would often be a show trial in London, Jamaica, Boston or Charleston," he said.
International forces often try to intercept pirate vessels
"That was followed by a public hanging and the bodies would be left swinging on the gallows at the entrance to harbours. Sailors would draw the conclusion that piracy was not a good career option.
"The authorities these days have a real problem because of international law. There are measures ship owners can take like having firehoses to aim at the pirates, acoustic devices to hurt their hearing or electric fences but, as in the days of the Caribbean pirates, everything is on the pirates' side.
"Modern pirates use very similar methods to the old. They shadow and then board their victims. They usually outnumber the small crew on board the ship.
"The difference is in what they do next. They used to remove the valuables and maybe abandon or kill the ship's crew. The pirates of the Caribbean did not seek ransom though the Barbary pirates did, as the Somali pirates do.
"But the old ways of dealing with them are no longer possible."
As for the diplomatic effort on land, that is going even more slowly. Somalia is basically split into three.
The capital, Mogadishu, is nominally under the control of a transitional government set up after an Ethiopian-led intervention that removed the Union of Islamic Courts.
Between the lack of decisive naval operations and the chaos on land, the pirates have thrived
Since then, a breakaway Islamist group known as al-Shabab has gained control of much of the south and centre of the country. An African Union peacekeeping force has been ineffective. There have been some calls for a larger UN force. Large parts of population survive on food aid.
The pirates, however, are based further north, in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region, where the port of Eyl is the main pirate base.
There is a president but he has either no power or no interest in stopping a lucrative form of income.
It is believed that the money gained from ransom is more than the income of the local government of Puntland.
Further round the coast again is Somaliland, which would like international recognition of its independence. The chances of there being a united, peaceful Somalia in the foreseeable future are close to nil.
Between the lack of decisive naval operations and the chaos on land, the pirates have thrived.Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk
Published: November 18, 2008
The vessel, the 1,080-foot Sirius Star, is the largest ship ever seized by pirates — about the size of an aircraft carrier — and was captured off the coast of Kenya.
"At this time we believe the ship is just off the Somali coast," said Commander Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, stationed in Bahrain. "We don't have a specific indication that the ship is at anchor, but if it follows the pattern of previous attacks, that's what will happen and negotiations will begin between the pirates and the owners of ship."
Although the supertanker's exact location near the Somali coast is not clear, in the past most pirates have brought hijacked vessels to a stretch of coastline between Eyl in the north to the Harradera region to the south, Campbell said in a telephone interview.
The hijacking follows a string of increasingly brazen attacks by Somali pirates in recent months, but this appeared to be the first time that pirates have seized a loaded oil tanker.
Asked about a possible naval intervention, Campbell said: "Once the attack takes place, this is a hostage situation, and there are 25 crew members on board that ship. As with any hostage situation, there has to be concern for those individuals." Negotiations with pirates have often taken weeks or even months. A Ukrainian vessel hijacked in September, loaded with tanks and other heavy weapons, is still being held at Hobyo on the Somali coast, where the ship's crew remain captives, Campbell said.
The International Maritime Bureau, the global clearinghouse for piracy reporting, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has seen a sharp increase in maritime piracy this year.
Noel Choong, head of the piracy reporting center at the bureau, said Tuesday that 88 ships have been attacked in the Gulf of Aden alone this year. And 14 hijacked ships remain in the gulf — the heavily armed hijackers still on board, with the crews, cargo and the vessels themselves being held for ransom.
"They're still at sea and still negotiating," he said, noting that as ransom payoffs have risen, pirates have raised their demands. "They know the going rate."
Only a few years ago, the average ransom was in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now payments can range from $500,000 to $2 million.
The pirates' profits are set to reach a record $50 million in 2008, Somali officials say. Shipping firms are usually prepared to pay, because the sums are low compared with the value of the ships.
The attack on the Sirius Star took place despite an increased multinational naval presence off the Somali coast, where most of the recent hijackings have taken place. The pirates, often armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, travel in speedboats equipped with satellite phones and GPS equipment.
The supertanker was hijacked more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya, navy officials said. That is far to the south of most recent attacks, suggesting that the pirates may be expanding their range in an effort to avoid the multinational naval patrols now plying the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.
"I'm stunned by the range of it," said Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a news conference in Washington. The ship's distance from the coast was "the longest distance I've seen for any of these incidents," he said.
The vessel was headed for the United States when it was seized, Reuters reported.
Maritime experts recently have noticed a new development in the gulf — the pirates' use of "mother ships," large oceangoing trawlers carrying fleets of speedboats that are then deployed when a new prize is encountered.
"They launch these boats and they're like wild dogs," said Choong in Kuala Lumpur. "They attack the ship from the port, from starboard, from all points, shooting, scaring the captain, firing RPGs and forcing the ship to stop."
There are some countermeasures the merchant ships can use when approaching pirates are spotted. Fire-retardant foam or huge blasts of water can be sprayed from the ship to douse the would-be hijackers.
Once pirates get aboard, however, the ship is theirs, because crews on commercial vessels are rarely armed, according to Choong and other maritime experts. "They are not mentally or physically fit enough to handle weapons," he said.
Nor do many ship owners use armed contractors — seagoing mercenaries — to fight or ward off approaching pirates. Experts said crew safety and insurance liability were overriding concerns of captains and owners.
"We do not advocate this, having armed escorts on board," said Lee Yin Mui, assistant director of research at the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships at Sea. Known as ReCAAP, the 16-nation network is based in Singapore.
"Armed escorts could only escalate the situation," she said, "and perhaps trigger off heavy crossfire."
The Sirius Star is owned by Vela International, a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabia-based oil giant Saudi Aramco. Its 25-member crew includes citizens of Croatia, Britain, the Philippines, Poland, and Saudi Arabia, the United States Navy said.
Robert F. Worth reported from Jidda, Saudi Arabia, Mark McDonald reported from Hong Kong and Alan Cowell contributed from Paris
An undated photo of the Sirius Star in South Korean waters.
The Sirius Star's crew of 25, including British, Croatian, Polish, Filipino and Saudi nationals, are reported to be safe, according to Dubai-based Vela International Marine.
"Our first and foremost priority is ensuring the safety of the crew," said Vela President Salah Kaaki. "We are in communication with their families and are working toward their safe and speedy return."
The Saudi-owned vessel was seized on Saturday more than 450 nautical miles southeast of
The incident is the latest in a series of major acts of piracy around the
The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet said it was not expecting to send ships to intercept the tanker. NATO also said it would not divert any of three ships currently in the
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, speaking during a visit to
U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet Cmdr. Jane Campbell said the tanker -- flagged in
A multinational naval force including vessels from the
The burgeoning piracy crisis has flourished in lawless
"It was attacked more than 450 nautical offshore of
Oil industry insiders say a tanker of the Sirius Star's size can carry up to 2 million barrels of oil, and the ship's operator says it is fully laden.
South Korean officials said on Sunday that armed gunmen hijacked a Japanese freighter and its 23-member crew off the coast of Somalia. The hijacking came as the Korean government was considering sending a warship to join those of other countries to combat piracy in the area.
A Russian patrol ship also thwarted an attack on a Saudi vessel.
Eleven vessels are currently being held by pirates hoping to secure ransoms for their release, according to AP. They include the MV Faina, which was hijacked along with 20 crew and a cargo of weapons and T-72 tanks.
Ninety percent of ships in the area are using a guarded corridor and there had been no hijackings inside the zone since it was set up on August 22, Danish Commodore Per Bigum Christensen told AP last week.
Around 20,000 oil tankers, freighters and merchant vessels pass along the crucial shipping route each year.
Meanwhile, a Norwegian shipping firm has ordered its vessels to avoid the waters off the Horn of Africa and criticized governments for failing to curb the wave of piracy.
The decision by the maritime company Odfjell SE means its 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.