27 May 2009

Two Yemeni fishermen killed by anti-piracy warship

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SANAA (AFP) — At least two Yemeni fishermen were killed and another was wounded as an international anti-piracy warship fired at their boat in the Red Sea, Yemen's state news agency Saba said on Wednesday.

The boat with four fishermen on board was completely destroyed in the missile strike off Sudan on Tuesday, it said, adding that the wounded man reached the Sudanese coast while a fourth was still missing.

Sources in the Yemeni navy said the missile "probably came from sea by one of those warships conducting anti-piracy patrols in the region," Saba said.

It also quoted local officials in Yemen as saying that the boat was in Sudanese territorial waters, adding that Sudanese authorities were questioning the survivor.

International naval forces have been deployed in the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy attacks off Somalia. It was not clear what flag the warship was flying.

Saba noted that two other Yemeni fishermen had been killed earlier this year in separate attacks in the Indian Ocean believed to have been the work of naval units taking part in anti-piracy operations.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks off Somalia in the first quarter of this year surged tenfold to 61 compared with the same period in 2008, when six attacks occurred.

A total of 114 attempted attacks have been staged since the start of the year and pirates have seized 29 ships.

What to do with a captured pirate?

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By Sophie Hardach

PARIS, May 26 (Reuters) - As navies from around the world confront Somali gangs off the Horn of Africa, a small legal issue is turning into a major problem for the mission and the governments involved: what to do with the captured pirates?

Faced with escalating pirate attacks in one of the world's busiest shipping routes, European Union forces rushed to the Indian Ocean in December -- only to find that after chasing and detaining the suspects, the next step was unclear.

Many Western governments are reluctant to bring suspects into their own countries, lacking the jurisdiction to do so or fearing the Somalis might try to claim asylum. Lawless Somalia is unlikely to give them a free and fair trial.

Some forces simply set them free again.

Trying to solve the problem, the European Union, the United States and a growing number of other pirate hunters have started outsourcing trial and prosecution to Somalia's neighbour, Kenya.

But Kenya, with an eye on its volatile neighbour, has made clear it cannot take all Somali suspects.

There is already one German lawsuit challenging the Kenyan arrangement. Some lawyers say governments have thrown themselves into a legal experiment that lays them open to compensation claims and raises questions about the maritime operation itself.

"Has it been given a lot of thought? I don't think so. If it had, the legal aspect would have been considered more thoroughly," said Timothee Phelizon, a lawyer whose Somali client, Ismael, is held in a French jail.


Ismael and five other Somali men are accused of attacking a French yacht and holding its crew hostage in April 2008. Phelizon said four of them had nothing to do with the hijacking, and would have to be released without charge.

"It's a very political case. Because if in the end there are only two people who will be put on trial, then there are four who will have spent a year in France behind bars. And they can demand compensation and a parliamentary inquiry into why four innocent people spent 12 months behind bars," he told Reuters.

France holds 15 Somali pirates who were caught during or after attacks on French crews. Phelizon argues they cannot be sent back as other pirates will suspect them of having divulged secrets to the French. He expects them to claim asylum here.

Others have been shipped to Mombasa. The EU struck a deal with Kenya in March over suspects seized by its "Operation Atalanta", and has since then transferred more than 50 men.

The United States in January expanded an older deal with Kenya. Like France, it still decided to tackle the issue itself when its national interests were at stake -- a Somali teenager, the sole surviving accused pirate from an attack on U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama in April, was indicted in the United States on ten counts in May.

NATO, which is also operating in the area, is scrambling to hammer out a deal after it was publicly rebuked by the United States for freeing captives. 

Military sources told Reuters that the initial confusion was frustrating for them. Officials have cheered the Kenya deal.

"For us, it's a blessing that we have this rule, that we have a place where we can drop them off," an Atalanta spokesman said.

But despite everyone from Russia to India to the United States patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Somalia's east coast, pirates continue to do their business.

There were 111 attacks in 2008; so far, 2009 has already seen 114, according to the International Maritime Bureau.


Maritime experts believe that successful prosecution will somewhat deter pirates, who pay attention to legal developments.

But human rights activists question Kenya's suitability.

German lawyer Oliver Wallasch, whose links with human rights groups led him to represent a Somali caught by German forces and shipped to Kenya, said he should be tried in Germany.

"When I hear, oh but then they'll ask for asylum -- so what! If Germany takes on the task of playing police down there, then it should also be able to cope with asylum requests from five Somalis," he told Reuters in a phone interview.

Arguing Kenya does not meet EU justice standards, Wallasch is suing Germany's government on behalf of his client.

Germany says it cannot prosecute the men, accused of attacking a German ship with a non-German crew and flag.

An exchange of letters between the EU and Kenya, the legal basis of the deal, includes several human rights provisions. An EU official, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters lawyers are monitoring the Kenyan trials. 

"What happens if my client is sentenced to eight, nine years in jail -- once the media loses interest, who will continue to monitor his jail conditions after eight years?" Wallasch said.

Meanwhile, Western governments are seeking out other suitable partners in the region, such as the Seychelles.

Whatever the result of the talks and legal tussles, lawyers, military officials and maritime experts agree that ultimately, none of this will solve the piracy problem.

As Cyrus Mody, a piracy expert for the International Maritime Bureau, puts it: "At the end we all know that the problem lies with Somalia and its lack of a rule of law."

Task Force 151 Strengthens International Ties Against Somali Piracy

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USS GETTYSBURG, At Sea - Turkish Rear Adm. Caner Bener, commander of Combined Task Force 151, and Capt. Richard Brown, commanding officer of the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg, hosted the commander of Japan's Escort Division Eight for a discussion on counter-piracy.

"I can't say enough how vital fostering our ties with other professional navies is," said Bener. "Without the assistance of our international partners in the area, our fight against piracy wouldn't be as successful as it has been. There's a large area to cover, we can't do it alone." 

Brown gave Capt. Hiroshi Goto, the Japanese escort division's commander, a short briefing on current counter-piracy operations and discussed recent successes and challenges. 

"What Gettysburg, the U.S. and our coalition partners have been able to achieve in the Gulf of Aden is to keep the sea lines of communication free and clear," he said. "It's a difficult task given the amount of space we have to cover but being able to synchronize our efforts with other naval ships to maximize coverage in the area is a major step towards stamping out piracy and keep global commerce flowing."

Gettysburg recently apprehended 17 suspected pirates and their mothership while serving as flagship for CTF 151, a Turkish-led multi-national task force established to conduct counter-piracy operations under a mission-based mandate throughout the Combined Maritime Forces area of responsibility to actively deter, disrupt and suppress piracy in order to protect global maritime security and secure freedom of navigation for the benefit of all ations.

22 May 2009

AP: Canadian warship helps US vessel evade pirates

The Canadian Navy said Friday that one of its warships helped a U.S.-flagged container vessel evade pirates off the coast of Somalia.

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14 May 2009

U.S. Navy Detains 17 on Suspected Pirate 'Mothership'

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The U.S. Navy says 17 suspected pirates have been apprehended after an attack on an Egyptian ship in the Gulf of Aden.

The Navy said in a statement Thursday that Korean Destroyer ROKS Munmu the Great and the U.S. guided missile cruiser Gettysburg dispatched helicopters to aid Motor Vessel Amira after it came under attack.
A Gettysburg-based specialized boarding team also boarded the suspected pirate "mothership," a larger vessel which pirates use for logistical support.

The Navy said it brought the alleged pirates on board the Gettysburg for further questioning. Also confiscated were eight assault rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a rocket-propelled grenade.

The incident occurred Wednesday, about 75 miles south of Yemen's al-Mukalla port.

13 May 2009

BBC: Mogadishu mired in fresh mayhem

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Though this articles does not directly talk about piracy or maritime issues, I think it's worth a look. As with any problem, you need background to understand it fully in order to know what exactly you are dealing with as well as how to [possibly] fix it.

There are many factors that contribute to piracy, and I am sure Somalia as a "failed state" is certainly included in that batch.

Shipping company: Russian navy helps repel pirates

MOSCOW — The owners of an oil tanker say a Russian navy destroyer has helped repel an attack by pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

Novoship reports the Admiral Panteleev sent a helicopter to help the Russian vessel Spirit, after the tanker crew spotted a group of armed men moving toward them in a speedboat.

The Spirit fired warning flares before the destroyer's helicopter helped chase the pirates away Sunday morning, according to the company and media reports.

Novoship, majority owned by the Russian government, said 22 Russian citizens are aboard the tanker. No injuries were reported.

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GMANews: Somali pirates release 2 ships with 22 Pinoys

Not just 18 but 22 Filipino seafarers were freed by Somali pirates last Saturday (May 9), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

Apart from releasing the Greek-owned MT Nipayia with its Russian captain and 18 Filipino crew, the pirates also freed the 32,000-ton Malaspina Castle, which had four Filipinos among its crew, the DFA said.

Pirates seized the Italian-operated Malaspina Castle in the Gulf of Aden on April 6.

On the other hand, the 9,000-ton chemical tanker MT Nipayia was seized on March 25 at about 450 miles (720 kilometers) off Somalia.

“[We are] still awaiting details of the repatriation of the Filipino crew of the two vessels. Filipino seafarers on board three other hijacked vessels namely, MV Saldanha, Philippine-flagged MT Stolt Strength, and M/V Titan have arrived in Manila,’ the DFA said.

The Associated Press earlier reported the release of the 18 Filipino seafarers on board the Greek ship. [See: Pirates free Greek ship with 18 Filipino crew]

This development brings down to 54 the total number of Filipino seafarers held in the Horn of Africa on board three ships, based on records made available by the DFA through news reports.

The three remaining vessels are the WinFar 161, hijacked last April 6 with 17 Filipinos; MV Irene, hijacked April 15 with 22 Filipinos; and the MV Patriot, seized April 25 with 15 Filipinos on board.

The number of Filipino seafarers being held hostage in Somalia have constantly yo-yoed — from 44 at the start of the year to 108 last month — as pirates continually hijack ships passing through the Gulf of Aden, slowly releasing vessels only after ship owners pay multi-million dollar ransom.

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11 May 2009

Spanish judge urged to drop pirate case

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MADRID (AFP) — Spanish prosecutors Monday called on a judge to drop his case against seven suspected Somalia pirates who were arrested last week by a Spanish naval vessel, and release them to Kenyan authorities.

The prosecutors argued the seven should be taken to Kenya, which signed an agreement with the European Union in March to take suspected pirates detained by EU navies patrolling Somalia's waters and prosecute them in Kenyan courts.

The seven on Monday remained aboard the ship, the Marques de la Ensenada, which is taking part in the European anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia.

The group were captured in international waters in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday after their boat capsized when they were allegedly trying to board a Panamanian-flagged vessel.

National Court Judge Fernando Andreu on Thursday opened a preliminary investigation and ordered the defence ministry to bring the seven to Spain so they could be questioned under a new piracy law adopted last year after a Spanish trawler and its crew were held hostage by Somali pirates.

On Friday, he bowed to prosecutors' requests and ordered their release, but argued that sending the suspects to Kenya to be prosecuted would violate their rights since an inquiry was already underway in Spain.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks off lawless Somalia increased tenfold in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2008, jumping from six to 61.

The heavily armed hijackers operate high-powered speed boats, sometimes holding ships for weeks before releasing them for large ransoms paid by governments or ship owners.

The EU naval mission, Atalanta, began operations last December in an effort to stop attacks in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest trade routes.

Misguided Restraint Against Somali Pirates Will Only Escalate Attacks

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David Eshel

The misguided policy of restraint against the ever growing threat from pirates, roaming the high seas off the Somali coastline is becoming dangerously close to total surrender. There is little doubt left, that Islamic terror leaders will sooner or later exploit this signal of weakness and start substantial maritime terror all over the Globe, eventually bringing strategic shipping lanes to virtual standstill and with it, disaster to western economy.

Somali pirate activity off the Gulf of Aden and east coast of Somalia has soared into over a hundred pirate attacks lately. With it the cost of plying the treacherous route through the Gulf of Aden, which links the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, has risen to impossible proportions. Beyond the potential need to come up with ransom payments, insurance premiums have already increased tenfold and will no doubt continue this trend, if determined action will stop this disastrous activity.

Temptations to take the longer route also have diminished as pirates extend their range. In response to international naval forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden, the pirates are already targeting ships up to 600 miles from shore farther south, intercepting several vessels between Kenya and the Seychelles.

Sofar counter action against the pirates has been, hesitatingly slow and ineffective, to say the least. Although scores of naval surface vessels from several states have been deployed in the area, their contribution to engage the pirates was virtually noncommittal. The pirates seem to ignore their presence and continue to rule the waves in their highly lucrative trade.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claimed recently that 16 countries have deployed naval ships to the region, but they cannot patrol "1.1 million square miles" with complete effectiveness. However independent naval experts believe otherwise. "With all that complicated satellite technology modern navies have these days it should be possible to track pirate mother ships."

The USNS Lewis and Clark ancors at an East African port.

An example to this sordid state of affairs was clearly demonstrated only last Tuesday, May 5, when a US Navy Military Sealift Command ship, the Norfolk-based USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE-1), was approached by a pirate attack off the Somali coast. According to the official US Navy report: "Once shipboard lookouts spotted the two suspected pirate skiffs, the Lewis and Clark conducted evasive maneuvers and increased speed to elude the pirates." The Navy also reports the ship's embarked security team used a 'long range acoustical device (LRAD)' to issue verbal warnings to the approaching skiffs. The Navy says the suspected pirates then fired small arms weapons from approximately two nautical miles toward the Lewis and Clark, which fell one nautical mile short of the ship's stern. There was no mention that the Americans returned the fire!

What was most surprising, is the official directive issued by the US Navy: "The actions taken by Lewis and Clark were exactly what the U.S. Navy has been recommending to prevent piracy attacks - for both commercial and military vessels," said Capt. Steve Kelley, Commander, Task Force 53, to which Lewis and Clark is operationally assigned. "Merchant mariners can and should use Lewis and Clark's actions as an unequivocal example of how to prevent a successful attack from occurring." If this is the official directive, than one can expect much more deadly encounters with the pirates, which will cost lives!

However, there are also different views on this sensitive issue. Gen. David Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command, said only last month that the maritime shipping industry must do more on its own to stop pirates. "There are a number of actions that need to be taken," Petraeus said. Among them, it is important the maritime shipping industries get more serious about this problem." "They are going to have to take a very hard look at not just taking additional defensive preparations in terms of simple things, like concertina wire, Israeli cargo ships use, to make it harder to climb over the side, or again over a railing. But Petraeus is also looking at the employment of armed guards or security forces on merchant ships. We already put them on many of the ships that have our equipment on them, the General said. Well, who is right here, the Navy or the Army?

Dinghies tied to a French sail boat attacked by pirates off the Somali coast

And there are indeed others who have already taken decisive action. France is at the forefront of multinational efforts to protect the Gulf of Aden, a strategic shipping zone, and the north of the Indian Ocean, operating there since last December. In April, French Navy commandos stormed a French sailboat held by pirates off the Somali coast in an assault triggered by threats that the passengers would be executed. It was the third time the French have freed hostages from the hands of pirates "Negotiations were leading nowhere, and the boat was approaching the coast, the official report said.'' Under clear orders, from President Nicolas Sarkozy, France's policy is to refuse to allow French citizens to be taken ashore as hostages.

The Germans seem to adopt the French attitude to counter piracy as well. Last April the German-Italian cruise ship "Melody" carrying 1,500 people on board fended off a pirate attack far off the coast of Somalia. The pirates attacked the Melody and opened fire under cover of darkness, but retreated hastily, when an Israeli armed security detail, aboard the cruise ship returned accurate automatic fire and chased them off immediately!

Unfortunately, the piracy-plagued shipping industry is still resisting calls to deploy armed guards on cargo ships, fearing it will not stop pirate attacks and could make shipping lanes off Somalia's coast even more dangerous. They emphasize the disastrous explosive hazard effect that a fire exchange defending a supertanker could cause. The argument is also raised, that seamen would be unable to actually use weapons proficiently, without special training, for which they are not qualified by their non military trade. That may perhaps currently, be the logical case, but there are sufficient highly trained naval commando forces available in many western navies and if counter piracy will declared a top national priority, their deployment will become imperative to stop this harassing quandary once and for all. Moreover, if seamen will continue to be confronted by the deadly threat from pirates, it is only natural that they will wish to defend themselves adequately.

It takes of course, expert practice, shooting from a rolling, pitching, yawing, surging, swaying, heaving platform to target a small speedboat on the high seas. Indeed, shooting small arms from a ship at sea and score a hit, is more of an accomplished "Art Form" than it is a practiced skill. One has to be "in tune" with the harmonic motion of the vessel, to be able to put small arms slugs accurately inside the target's body at 100 meters, in daylight or darkness of night. Using modern targeting equipment, like monocular scopes that can vision heat and draw a bead on target will certainly help, but it still requires considerable training and skill. US Navy SEALs, UK Royal Marine Commando and the French, not to mention the Israeli elite Naval Commando are absolutely expert at this sort of warfare and only await the right order to go into action.

EU anti-piracy mission hands over 11 pirates to Kenya

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A French frigate belonging to the European Union (EU) anti-piracy mission handed over 11 presumed pirates along with their weapons and vessels to the Kenyan authorities in Mombasa on Friday, said the EU naval mission, Xinhua reported.
  The handover by French frigate Nivose was in accordance with a March agreement between the EU and Kenya which enables the latter to initiate legal action against pirates captured at sea.
  The French frigate intercepted these 11 pirates and their vessels -- two skiffs and a "mother ship" -- on Sunday morning. The operation took place some 500 nautical miles (900 km) east of Mombasa, said the EU naval mission through a statement in Brussels.
  Eleven ships and two maritime patrol aircraft are currently participating in the EU anti-piracy operation "Atalanta." They will be joined by three Swedish vessels next week. 

For Somali Pirates, Worst Enemy May Be on Shore

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GAROOWE, Somalia — Abshir Boyah, a towering, notorious Somali pirate boss who admits to hijacking more than 25 ships and to being a member of a secretive pirate council called “The Corporation,” says he’s ready to cut a deal.

Facing intensifying naval pressure on the seas and now a rising backlash on land, Mr. Boyah has been shuttling between elders and religious sheiks fed up with pirates and their vices, promising to quit the buccaneering business if certain demands are met.

“Man, these Islamic guys want to cut my hands off,” he grumbled over a plate of camel meat and spaghetti. The sheiks seemed to have rattled him more than the armada of foreign warships patrolling offshore. “Maybe it’s time for a change.”

For the first time in this pirate-infested region of northern Somalia, some of the very communities that had been flourishing with pirate dollars — supplying these well-known criminals with sanctuary, support, brides, respect and even government help — are now trying to push them out.

Grass-roots, antipirate militias are forming. Sheiks and government leaders are embarking on a campaign to excommunicate the pirates, telling them to get out of town and preaching at mosques for women not to marry these un-Islamic, thieving “burcad badeed,” which in Somali translates as sea bandit. There is even a new sign at a parking lot in Garoowe, the sun-blasted capital of the semiautonomous region of Puntland, that may be the only one of its kind in the world. The thick red letters say: No pirates allowed.

Much like the violence, hunger and warlordism that has engulfed Somalia, piracy is a direct — and some Somalis say inevitable — outgrowth of a society that has languished for 18 years without a functioning central government and whose economy has been smashed by war.

But here in Garoowe, the pirates are increasingly viewed as stains on the devoutly Muslim, nomadic culture, blamed for introducing big-city evils like drugs, alcohol, street brawling and AIDS. A few weeks ago, Puntland police officers broke up a bootlegging ring and poured out 327 bottles of Ethiopian-made gin. In Somalia, alcohol is shunned. Such a voluminous stash of booze is virtually unheard of.

Yushchenko calls on EU and NATO to fight with pirates

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President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko addressed international organizations to step up security at sea because of the rise in seizures of ships by Somali pirates, according to the President’s press office. 

The Head of State sent an address to the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO. 
Yushchenko said that there had recently been more cases of seizures by pirates of ships flying the flags of various countries, with their crews held hostage by pirates to get a ransom. In the last five years, Ukrainian citizens have been held hostage by pirates on board 15 ships. The pirates are currently holding 34 Ukrainians hostage. 

The President said that maritime piracy could pose a threat not only to maritime navigation, but also to international trade, and become a profitable criminal business. 

"Confirming its international commitments to prevent illegal acts threatening marine navigation, Ukraine is calling on all entities under international law to considerably intensify their efforts and take real joint action to fight piracy at sea," Yushchenko said in his address. 

"There is an urgent need for the international community to create security corridors to protect against pirates and open additional regional coordination centers to ensure navigation security, to give foreign military ships the right to follow pirates into territorial waters, to ensure the armed security of trade vessels using sea routes that have proved dangerous, and institute passive systems to protect civil vessels," Yushchenko said.

Somali pirates free Greek-owned vessel

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NAIROBI, May 11 (Reuters) - Somali pirates have freed a Greek-owned chemical tanker captured in late March, the shipping firm and a regional maritime group said on Monday, but the company would not say whether any ransom had been paid.

Fuelled by large payoffs, Somali pirates have run amok in the strategic shipping lanes connecting Europe to Asia despite a flotilla of foreign warships patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

"Following regular contact with the captain and very recent telephone conversations, LOTUS can confirm that the crew is well and that there have been no injuries," the shipping company said in a statement.

It said it would not comment on details of the release.

"Any discussions or comments on these matters is considered highly irresponsible and could endanger the lives of those crews still being held and those of crews taken in the future."

Somalia's interim government has condemned firms who pay ransoms. Sea gangs have made millions of dollars from seizing ships and crews. Observers expect the number of attacks to fall in coming months as the monsoon season makes waters too choppy.

The MT Nipayia was released on Saturday after being seized on March 25, the firm said. The crew included one Russian and 18 Filipinos, the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme said.

The Panama-flagged vessel had no cargo and was en route from Madagascar to the Persian Gulf when taken, the piracy monitoring group said.

Analysts say the best way to combat piracy is to ensure stability onshore in Somalia -- which has been without effective central rule for more than 18 years.

President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's government has been promised $213 million to help boost its security forces and fight piracy.

Western nations have sent warships to try to stop the gangs, who are holding about 20 vessels with nearly 300 hostages, according to piracy monitoring groups and the London-based International Maritime Bureau.

In Kenya's Mombasa port, 11 suspected brigands were charged on Monday with piracy for attempting to attack a French naval vessel. The suspects denied the charges and said they were fishing when the frigate arrested them.

On Saturday, gunmen let go a British-owned ship and its 16 Bulgarian crew after a $2 million ransom was paid, according to pirate sources. (Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou in Athens and Celestine Achieng in Mombasa, Kenya; Editing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura)

The czar and the pirates

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MOSCOW - The last time Russia took fighting pirates seriously was more than two centuries ago, when the Empress Catherine the Great, followed by her short-lived successor Czar Paul I, backed the Knights ofMalta, who in turn fought naval engagements with the pirates of Barbary - as the Arab statelets and fortress towns of the North African coast were collectively called. 

Ransoming rich European hostages was a high-margin line of business for the corsairs; European hostages too poor to buy their freedom were put to work as slaves on shore, or as oarsmen for the pirate vessels. Individually, they didn't last long, but that wasn't the point from a naval point of view. The pirate vessels demonstrated much more maneuverability in combat than the 
European navies could muster. When one oarsman died, the pirates simply grabbed another. 

For a while, Russia had a pirate of its own. That was the legendary Maxim Vasilii, who learned his seamanship from the Barbary corsairs; adapted their tactics to steal his own ship, the 
Thermopolae, from a Greek port; managed to circumnavigate the world in the mid-17th century; and was an advisor to Czar Peter the Great on the creation of the first Russian naval fleet. 

Later, and for a very brief time - after Napoleon took Malta for France in 1805 - Czar Paul became the principal host of the Knights of Malta and their commander in 
St Petersburg. At that distance from the Mediterranean, this naturally made not a whit of difference to the pirates. 

It is clear from the Kremlin transcript, made available by President Dmitry Medvedev's press office on May 4, the Russian leader sought to show that when it comes to dealing with pirates, he's as much a can-do man as Captain Vasilii or Czar Paul. It is less clear what he means to do. By the time his subordinates and the Moscow ministries involved with maritime law enforcement have been canvassed, it is even less sure that "can-do" is the right phrase. 

07 May 2009

Norfolk-based ship fends off pirate attack

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The Lewis and Clark is no stranger to African pirates.
Earlier this year, the ship played host to about a dozen men captured by a Navy-led, anti-piracy task force. The suspected pirates were eventually returned to Somalia.

Wednesday, the Norfolk-based dry cargo and ammunition storage ship had a different kind of encounter off the Somali coast.

According to the U.S. Navy Central Command in Bahrain, the ship was pursued by two suspected pirate skiffs for more than an hour.

From about two nautical miles away, the skiffs fired small arms at the supply ship, which has a crew of about 11 sailors and 124 civilians.

The skiffs got within a nautical mile of the supply ship, which sped up and used a special acoustic device to warn the boats to stop.

The Lewis and Clark has an “embarked security team,” according to a Central Command news release. It’s not clear whether the team is armed, or whether the boat has any guns mounted on it for proteection.

Capt. Steve Kelley, commander of Task Force 53, which the supply ship is assigned to, said the crew’s actions “were exactly what the U.S. Navy has been recommending to prevent piracy attacks for both commercial and military vessels. Merchant mariners can and should use Lewis and Clark’s actions as an unequivocal example of how to prevent a successful attack from occurring.”

More than 30,000 vessels transit the Gulf of Aden annually. The Navy reports that there have been 97 attempted hijacking of merchant vessels so far this year; 27 were successful.

POLITICS: Maritime Treaty Would Boost U.S. Interests, Report Says

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WASHINGTON, May 6 (IPS) - The U. S. should quickly accede to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, according to a new Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) report.

Concluded in 1982 after some 15 years of negotiations, the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) is the international accord that sets rules governing most areas of ocean policy, including navigation, over-flights, exploitation of the seabed, conservation and research.

The report released by the influential think tank, "The National Interest and the Law of the Sea," contends that ratifying LOST would benefit U.S. national security as well as the country's economic and environmental interests. It would also help U.S. interests in combating piracy and in establishing its claims to the increasingly contested Arctic region, the report said.

"To fail to join the convention this year would be to lose a unique opportunity [as] the United States is experiencing a conjunction of circumstances that includes the 'fresh start' effect of a new administration, the ascendance of two national security strategies founded on conflict prevention and partnership building, and a community of nations eager for renewed American multilateralism," according to the report.

The nearly 30-year-old treaty has been signed and ratified by 156 countries and the European Community, though not by the U.S. It was rejected by then-President Ronald Reagan who, under pressure from big U.S. mining and energy companies, objected to its provisions for deep-sea mining, particularly its requirements that mining claims be regulated by a Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA).

Reagan ordered the U.S. government to abide by all other sections of the treaty, which amounted essentially to a compilation and codification of existing international customary and maritime international law.

In 1994, the seabed provisions of the treaty were amended to satisfy U.S. objections, and the administrations of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush subsequently supported its ratification, though it never received Senate approval. The Obama administration also supports ratification, which is currently pending in the Senate.

06 May 2009

Antigua says cargo ship hijacked off Somalia

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MIAMI (Reuters) - An Antigua and Barbuda-flagged cargo ship has been hijacked by a band of pirates in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia, the government of the Caribbean state said on Tuesday.

It was the latest reported seizure of a vessel in the Gulf of Aden by pirates from virtually lawless Somalia, who over the last few years have captured dozens of vessels and hundreds of hostages, making off with millions of dollars in ransoms.

"At approximately 09:09 a.m. AST (2:09 a.m. British time), the Maritime Administration of Antigua and Barbuda was advised that the Antigua and Barbuda-flagged cargo vessel the m/v Victoria had been hijacked by eight pirates in the Gulf of Aden whilst proceeding towards the Port of Jeddah in the Red Sea," the Antigua and Barbuda government said in a statement.

It added the 7,767 gross ton, 146-metre Victoria had a crew of ten and it was believed the hijacked vessel was being taken to the Somalian port of Eyl, a known pirate lair. The statement gave no more details about the fate of the ship's crew.

Antigua and Barbuda's government said the vessel, which is managed by a company in Germany, had been registered with the European Union anti-piracy flotilla operating in the region and was navigating in the recommended East-West corridor of the Gulf at the time of the hijacking.

The ship's management company and the International Maritime Organisation had been informed of the seizure.

Despite the presence of warships from several nations in the Gulf of Aden, Somali pirate attacks have continued.

Last month, U.S. Navy commandos shot and killed three pirates to free Richard Phillips, a U.S. ship captain held hostage by the sea raiders. A fourth suspected pirate was arrested and brought to the United States for trial.

Phillips' kidnapping prompted several U.S. lawmakers to call for putting U.S. military forces on board commercial vessels, a measure opposed by the Pentagon.

04 May 2009

Southeast Asian countries team up to fight pirate attacks

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While piracy rages unabated in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia, attacks on the other side of the Indian Ocean in the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea have steadily dwindled largely because Southeast Asian nations have banded together to fight that scourge of the sea.

During the first quarter of 2009, attacks in Southeast Asian waters were down to nine, compared with 41 during the same period of 2004, according to the International Maritime Bureau. The IMB, with headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, said pirates attacked 63 ships off Somalia or in the Gulf of Aden in this period. The best known, of course, was the Maersk Alabama captained by Richard Phillips.

The director of the IMB, Pottengal Mukundan, said this surge of piracy off Somalia was worrisome "principally because attacks have taken place many hundreds of miles off the country's coastline. The problem of Somali piracy has now spilled over to neighboring countries, threatening trade routes into their ports."

In contrast, only one incident was reported during this quarter in the Malacca Strait. A seagoing Singaporean tug towing a barge was boarded by 12 pirates with rifles who stole navigation and communications equipment, plus money and personal belongings of the crew. The pirates kidnapped the tug's master and first officer and fled. The two were later freed after the owner paid an unspecified ransom.

Somalian leader defends actions on piracy

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Somalian President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has defended his government's response to pirate attacks.

Somali pirates captured a cargo ship north-west of the Seychelles islands overnight.

The Greek-owned ship has a Ukrainian crew of about 20.

A senior maritime official says none of the crew members are believed to have been hurt.

In a separate incident, a Portuguese warship taking part in a NATO anti-piracy mission prevented the hijack of an oil tanker off the Somali coast.

Mr Ahmed says efforts are being made to tackle the problem and progress is being made.

"You know the problems of the sea pirates, they are causing a lot of problems to this country," he said.

"It is important to rebuild the force, the navy, to take care of the problem.

"Efforts are also being made on pirates - every sort of effort - to make sure they stop their actions and become members of civil society. Good progress has been made so far."


Somali Pirates Hijack Two Cargo Ships

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Victoria, Seychelles (AHN) - Somali pirates have hijacked two ships on Saturday in separate instances, raising concerns of the rising piracy in the first quarter of 2009.

The international maritime authorities said that the pirates have captured a UN-chartered Ukrainian bulkier carrier off coast of East Africa, followed by British-owned Greek bulk carrier Saturday in the Indian Ocean, with 24 crew members on board.

A group of armed Somali men hijacked the UK cargo ship, the MV Ariana, early today carrying 35,000 tons of soya around 250 nautical miles (287 miles) northwest of the Seychelles, a republic consisting of a group of islands off East Africa.

The NATO officials told reporters that they are tracking down to the MV Ariana that is headed towards Somalia. But there were not further details available about the second hijacked vessel.

Pirates Hijack British-Owned Carrier in Indian Ocean

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May 2 (Bloomberg) -- Pirates hijacked a British-owned bulk carrier in the Indian Ocean a day after NATO’s anti-piracy mission foiled an attack by a ship armed with explosives and assault rifles.

The MV Ariana, carrying soya, was taken about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southwest of the Seychelles Islands, North Atlantic Treaty Organization spokesman Commander Chris Davies said in a telephone interview. The vessel is flagged in Malta and has a Ukrainian crew, Davies, based in Northwood, England, said.

“They are after its cargo and whatever they can get for its hostages is a bonus,” Davies said. The Ariana “is in the vicinity where Somali pirates have operated in the past,” he added. The attack took place around 5:30 a.m. local Seychelles time today.

The East Africa Seafarers’ Assistance Program confirmed that the bulk carrier had been boarded.

01 May 2009

Ottawa's piracy policy flouts law, experts say

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WASHINGTON — Canada's catch-and-release approach to countering piracy off Somalia is at odds with other Western navies and flouts Ottawa's obligations under international law, according to maritime and international law experts.

“Its ludicrous for the Harper government to claim that it can't arrest and prosecute pirates,” said Michael Byers, who holds the Canadian Research Chair in International Law and Politics at the University of British Columbia. “Canada has a legal obligation under the United Nations and international law to bring pirates to justice.”

Pirates seized by French, German, Spanish and other NATO warships have been clapped in irons – or at least detained – and delivered to Kenya, where they are put on trial as part of a broad international effort to punish piracy using a mix of old national and new international law.

Captain to Kerry: 'The ship was never taken'

Captain Richard Phillips quickly corrected Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) today when Kerry suggested Somali pirates had taken the Maersk Alabama, the ship from which Phillips and his crew were abducted and held hostage.

Phillips was testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the growing threat of piracy.

"For the average person sitting around saying, 'what do you mean an American ship got taken by a bunch of guys in a little–" Kerry began to ask, before Phillips interjected.

"If I could interrupt you, Senator, the ship was never taken. Never taken," Phillips said, drawing applause from the audience.

Kerry conceded the point and continued his questioning. "Fair enough," he said.

It's a point of pride for the sailors that the pirates never had control of the ship. The crew had set the engine room controls to override the bridge, so the pirates could never steer the Maersk Alabama itself. This forced the pirates to abandon the ship and take Phillips to a lifeboat.

TheHill.com: Maersk captain calls for military protection from pirates

The merchant captain who was rescued from a lifeboat after being held by Somali pirates for five days in the Indian Ocean pushed senators on Thursday to consider using the U.S. military to protect ships like his from coming under attack.

“The most desirable and appropriate solution to piracy is for the United States government to provide protection, through military escorts and/or military detachments aboard U.S. vessels,” said Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

Phillips said the military option was not a “silver bullet” solution and also suggested using methods to “harden the vessel,” or make ships more difficult to board, as part of a comprehensive plan to combat the increasing attacks in the waters in the Horn of Africa region.

Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) pressed Phillips and Maersk chairman John Clancey to consider arming members of the crew to defend themselves in the event of an attack.

And when Clancey objected, saying that many of the laws governing other country’s ports and waters prohibit crews from carrying weapons, Kerry suggested amending international convention to allow for such carrying.

Phillips told Kerry that he thought the attack on his ship, which resulted in his capture, could have been deterred if they had at least two highly trained former Special Forces soldiers on board to defend the ship.

“Understand, it’s not a mall cop that I’m looking for,” he told the committee.

Thursday’s suggestions closely mirrored comments made by Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, last Friday at a House hearing.

“I think (maritime shipping companies) are going to have to take a very hard look at not just taking additional defensive preparations in terms of just simple things like concertina wire to make it harder to climb over the side or up over a railing but also looking at the employment of armed guards or security forces. …I think that’s something they’re going to have to look hard at,” Petraeus said.

Phillips’ capture drew the national spotlight to the region, which has long been plagued with maritime unrest. Phillips was freed and all but one of his captors killed by sniper fire in a dramatic Easter Sunday rescue operation by the U.S. Navy.

There were 111 attacks in the waters in the Horn of Africa region in 2008, which was nearly double the number that occurred in 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

As of last week there had been 84 attacks this year.

Approximately 300 non-U.S. crew members on 18 vessels remain in Somali captivity following hijackings, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service released last week.

In a move similar to Phillips’ proposal, Belgium announced on Thursday that it is sending teams of soldiers to provide merchant ships with onboard protection off the coast of Somalia. The military action comes in response to the capture of a Belgian ship and its 10-person crew by Somali pirates two weeks ago. Belgian officials are still trying to negotiate the ship's release.

Like Obama, Phillips and Clancey stressed the importance on Thursday of an international solution and diplomatic cooperation to effectively combat piracy.

Harold Koh, the State Department’s nominee for legal adviser, emphasized an international role earlier this week at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

“It’s a global challenge, and to address it you need a global law,” he said. “There’s no problem with doing it alone. It’s just that it’s not nearly as effective. If there are 193 countries in the world, one country can’t stop all the pirates."

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