23 July 2009

AP: Anti-pirate force shifts to counter Somalis

The European Union’s anti-piracy force will move some surveillance aircraft further south from the Gulf of Aden to help counter the spread of Somali pirates into Indian Ocean waters, the force’s operation commander said.

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20 July 2009

CNN: Somali pirates release German ship

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Somali pirates released a German cargo ship Saturday that they have held since May, the German Foreign Ministry said. The MV Victoria was able to set sail on its own with all of its crew after being released, a ministry spokesman said.

13 July 2009

Somali pirates end monsoon lull with hijacks, attack

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* Four Gulf of Aden attacks in four days

* Monsoon lull over for Somali sea-gangs

By Alison Bevege and Abdiaziz Hassan

NAIROBI, July 13 (Reuters) - Somali pirates seized two ships over the weekend and used one to attack an oil tanker in a flurry of activity in the Gulf of Aden ending a monsoon season lull, maritime officials said on Monday.

The pirates seized a dhow, called "Nefya", on Saturday to use as a mother-ship, said Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program. It was unknown how many crew were on board or the Nefya's nationality.

On Sunday, pirates hijacked an Indian dhow carrying camels, sheep and cattle away from north Somalia, said Captain Awad Salim, harbour master at Mukalla port, Yemen. There were 15 Indian crew members on board.

Then on Monday, the Nefya was used for a failed attack on the 265,000-tonne, Liberian-flagged oil tanker, according to the European naval force, Atalanta.

Pirates in two skiffs, operating with the Nefya, opened fire on the "A Elephant" at dawn in waters between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, according to Mwangura and the European Union anti-piracy force's Lieutenant Commander Daniel Auwermann.


The merchant vessel was slightly damaged but escaped after the attack was thwarted by a helicopter from Atalanta's French warship ACONIT, Auwermann told Reuters by telephone.

The weekend attacks came after another dhow was taken on Friday, and a Turkish ship was hijacked earlier last week.

Maritime groups say the pirates had been keeping a lower profile for more than a month due to monsoon rains.

Cyrus Mody, manager of the International Maritime Bureau, said wind and high waves from the region's monsoon, lasting from early June until the end of August, hampered the pirates, who generally operate from small twin-engine fishing skiffs.

"The presence of foreign navies is also being felt and the robust actions of merchant ships are acting as a deterrent," Mody said, referring to international anti-piracy patrols and extra security measures taken by ship crews.

A Somali pirate, who called himself Duran, told Reuters his gang had taken the Indian dhow with its 15-man crew and 100 head of livestock to the island of Raas-Harfoon, off Somalia. But the hijacking was a mistake, he said, and the boat would be quickly released.

"All the livestock onboard belong to Somali businessmen and we have excluded Somali business and humanitarian shipments from attacks," he said.

Somali pirates have carried out 148 attacks this year, hijacking about 30 boats, according to the IMB. That compares to 111 attacks and 42 hijackings in 2008, which was the worst year for piracy off the lawless Horn of Africa state.

About 17 ships are still being held, with 191 mariners held hostage, according to Mwangura's group.

Not all hijacks, however, are known about. (Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Sophie Hares)

12 July 2009

In defence of Captain Kidd

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Published Date: 10 July 2009
My name was William Kidd;

God's laws I did forbid,

And so wickedly I did,

When I sailed.

The Ballad of Captain Kidd
HE IS renowned as one of the most notorious pirates in history, was a source of inspiration for both Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Edgar Allen Poe's The Gold Bug, and is said to have left priceless treasure buried across the globe.

Born about 1645 in the Dundee area, Captain William Kidd was hanged for piracy in London in 1701, his body left to rot above the Thames for 20 years as a warning of the grisly fate awaiting any would-be pirates. However, for years historians have protested his innocence, and now SNP MSP Bill Kidd – no relation – has tabled a parliamentary motion to try to clear the name of one of the world's most infamous pirates.

In 1695, the "trusty and well beloved Captain Kidd" was appointed by the Crown as a privateer to fight piracy and to capture and loot enemy French ships. His expedition was financed mainly by a handful of English noblemen, and Kidd was presented with a letter of marque, signed by William III, reserving 10 per cent of the loot for the Crown.

Kidd embraced his appointment with gusto, and in 1698 he looted the Armenian ship the Quedagh Merchant, which is said to have been sailing under a French pass. The ship's captain, however, was English and, as such, a number of naval commanders were subsequently ordered to "pursue and seize the said Kidd and his accomplices" for the "notorious piracies" they had committed. Kidd was captured and executed three years later.

However, new research by American writers Dan Hamilton and Chris Macort – authors of the forthcoming book The Most Innocent of Pirates; the Quest for Captain Kidd's Lost Treasure Ship – supports the argument that Kidd was innocent of the charge of piracy, and it is on the back of this research that the Glasgow MSP is calling for the seafarer's name to be cleared.

"There's evidence to suggest that his trial was a fix-up by the Crown, who wanted to make an example of him," Mr Kidd says.

"An injustice is an injustice, no matter when it happened, and as far as I'm concerned, it's still very much a current case. People have been looking at the case for three centuries now, and I'm going to keep going at it."

Hamilton is also clear an injustice was committed. "Analysis of existing documents and reports from Kidd's trial show that he was the victim of politics," he says.

"King William III had an enormous conflict of interest. He had to appear to be tough on piracy – an international problem that was inaccurately portrayed around the world as an English one – but, on the other hand, he was an investor in Kidd's mission to hunt pirates and stood to profit from it."

However, it was not just piracy for which Kidd was executed, but also for the murder of a member of his own crew. In 1697, he killed a mutinous gunner, William Moore, by hitting him over the head with a bucket, fracturing his skull. But Hamilton and Macort's latest research suggests that under Admiralty law – under which Kidd might have been, at worst, scolded for attempting to suppress a mutiny in such a violent manner – he should have been exonerated of that charge.

"The newest development is our examination of the key difference between civil and Admiralty law in the early 18th century," says Hamilton. "Our research reveals that if Kidd had been tried under Admiralty law, in a maritime court where virtually all other pirates were tried, he would probably have been exonerated on the charge of murder and perhaps even the charge of piracy.

"When Kidd threw a bucket at his gunner, he was within the rights granted to British navy captains, especially because Moore was stirring up a mutiny. But under civil law, the fatal blow helped cost him his life."

Over the years, many historians have argued that Kidd was simply a scapegoat, that he was used by some of the most powerful men in England to advance their wealth, then abandoned by those very men when the scheme imploded.

"What this was really about was some very powerful lords who had been frozen out of the English East India Company hiring a captain to chase pirates and bring back the wealth of the Indies – even if some of that wealth happened to be recently stolen from the English East India Company and some other very wealthy Englishmen," says Richard Zacks, author of The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd.

"Kidd's mission was to bring stolen goods back to New York and then divvy up the profits. The origins of the items were not very important to the lords until the whole scheme blew up when Kidd was accused of piracy."

The captain of the Quedagh Merchant may have been an Englishman, but he had purchased passes from the French East India Company, promising him the protection of the French Crown. These passes, which may have saved Kidd from the hangman's noose, were suppressed at his trial and were not to surface again for more than a century.

"The irony is that, a year earlier, those documents had been read into the official record of the House of Commons and can still be found there. But the judges and lawyers at his trial treated Kidd like a conman or madman when he referred to them," says Zacks. "The Quedagh Merchant was an Armenian ship, but the letters of passage justified Kidd's actions.

"It is a grand and cruel cosmic joke that he has gone down with Blackbeard as a notorious pirate. There's no record he killed anyone during the taking of ships. And the only confirmed kill is of his own gunner, who was clearly plotting mutiny. And Kidd accidentally killed him with a bucket, and was convicted of premeditated murder. I love the premeditation: 'Ah yes, my weapon of choice is, of course, a bucket…'"

Not everyone believes Kidd should have escaped the gallows, however. Kenneth Kinkor, a historian and the author of Real Pirates, believes that, while he should have been acquitted of charges of piracy, other crimes that Kidd is rumoured to have committed (legend has it, for example, that he attacked one of the Japanese islands of the Tokara archipelago and burned its inhabitants alive) are sufficient to have justified his execution.

"Under modern standards, Kidd would not have been found guilty of the specific piracy charges brought against him at his trial," says Kinkor. "Having said that, by the standards of the time, he was likely guilty of other crimes.

"That he was not charged with most of these was, in my opinion, the product of political decisions on the part of the government, which were made on the basis of considerations of foreign policy, as well as the desire to protect certain individuals in very high places. In other words, he fully deserved to hang, but he should not have been hanged alone."

Captain Kidd's hanging drew enormous crowds. After the noose was placed around his neck, the rope snapped and he had to be hanged a second time before his body was strung up in a gibbet over the Thames. His grisly and humiliating death may just be the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of piracy, but perhaps his legacy, as one of the most notorious pirates of all time, is the biggest injustice of all.


• KIDD is thought to have been born in Dundee in 1645, although some claim he was from Greenock.

• When he was five, his father died and Kidd moved to New York in America, possibly becoming a seaman's apprentice.

• The first official records of Kidd's life date from 1689, when he was a member of a pirate crew that sailed in the Caribbean. Along with other members of the crew, he mutinied, renamed the ship the "Blessed William" and became captain.

• In 1695, he was asked by New York governor Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont, to attack and loot pirate ships and enemy French vessels – the voyage that would lead to his eventual capture and execution.

• Bellomont had Kidd arrested and imprisoned in 1699. After a year in prison, he was sent back to England to stand trial and was hanged in London on 23 May, 1701.

Scots pirates and privateers

Alexander Dalzeel

Born in Portpatrick in 1662, Dalzeel captained his own ship by the age of 23. While sailing in the Caribbean, Dalzeel ordered the crew to attack a Spanish war galleon, drilling a hole in the side of his own ship so that his crew would be forced to fight to the death. Against all odds, they took the ship. For more than 20 years, Dalzeel was repeatedly captured, then released or escaped, but was finally captured in Scotland and returned to London where he was hanged in 1715.

'Red Legs' Greaves

Greaves worked under the notoriously cruel pirate Captain Hawkins before killing him in a duel and being elected captain. He was known as something of a kind pirate, but was arrested and sentenced to hang. However, while awaiting his execution in the prison dungeon of Port Royal in 1680, he managed to escape following an earthquake. He went on to become a pirate-hunter, earning a royal pardon before retiring to a plantation and becoming a philanthropist in later life.

Thorbjorn Thorsteinsson

Nicknamed Thorbjorn the Clerk, Thorsteinsson was an Orcadian pirate, who was executed in 1158. He fought with Sweyn Asleifsson (to whose sister he was married) after Asleifsson attacked and burned down the tower of Thorbjorn's grandmother with the old woman inside. The two men reconciled, however, and sailed in the Hebrides, looting as they went. They fell out again over the distribution of their bounty, and Thorbjorn was later outlawed for murder and eventually put to death.

Alexander Selkirk

Born in 1676 in Lower Largo, Fife, Selkirk is said to have inspired Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. He spent four years marooned on an uninhabited island at his own request, after questioning the seaworthiness of the ship he was sailing on with his fellow privateers. He was rescued by a passing ship in 1709 and became something of a celebrity upon his return to the UK. In 1717 he went to sea once more but died in 1721, most likely from yellow fever.

John Gow, 1698-1725

A notorious pirate, John Gow's career on the high seas was relatively short. Born in Wick and raised in Orkney, he sailed as a pirate off the Iberian Peninsula before returning to Orkney. In early 1725, in an attempt to throw off the authorities, he went by the name of Smith, renamed his ship the George, and passed himself off as a wealthy trader. However, he was eventually recognised and captured. He was tried and hanged in London, his body left to hang over the Thames just like Kidd's.

08 July 2009

Turkish ship seized off Somalia

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A Turkish cargo ship with 23 crew on board has been seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Istanbul-based Horizon Shipping said pirates in speed boats had surrounded the Horizon I vessel in the Gulf of Aden at about 0530 GMT.

Three attackers managed to board the tanker, which was heading from Saudi Arabia to Jordan, the firm said.

Maritime officials believe pirates in Somalia are still holding about 10 ships for ransom.

The country has been without a functioning central government since 1991, allowing pirates to operate almost uninhibited in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

In this season it is hard to take ships because monsoon winds make the seas rough. No one expected attacks at this time
Negotiator Andrew Mwangura

Omer Ozgur, from Horizon Shipping, told the Associated Press that the Horizon I was continuing on its course despite the hijack.

The pirates have not yet issued any demands, or contacted the firm.

Andrew Mwangura, of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme which works to free ships, confirmed the seizure.

"In this season it is hard to take ships because monsoon winds make the seas rough. No one expected attacks at this time," he told Reuters news agency.

After the release of a Belgian ship last month, the International Maritime Bureau said pirates were still holding 12 ships and 200 crew.

Earlier in June EU ministers agreed to extend an anti-piracy operation - known as Atalanta - off the Horn of Africa until the end of 2010.

Two dozen ships from European Union nations, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy, patrol an area of about two million square miles.

07 July 2009

Global piracy: the hidden side

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ISTANBUL (AP) — While Somali pirates top headlines with brazen ship hijackings for ransom, many smaller-scale attacks in the world's oceans — maritime muggings, essentially — go unreported, depriving mariners of information about possible threats to their safety and vessels.

Industry analysts say some owners and masters of commercial boats prefer not to report relatively small losses from piracy, or attempted boardings, because they worry about clean records, costly delays in the event of an investigation in the nearest port, jittery clients who might take business elsewhere, and the likelihood of higher insurance rates if they log an attack with authorities.

The International Maritime Bureau, a leading monitor of piracy, warns that a failure to report even a minor or failed assault at sea makes it harder to raise public awareness and pressure governments to take robust measures against pirates.

"You have to look at the criminal intent. They come at least armed with a knife or a pistol," said Noel Choong, head of the maritime watchdog's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur. "They may not steal anything valuable, but people may be killed for nothing."

Choong estimated that more than 50 percent of pirate attacks are not reported, but some experts speculate that the figure is even higher. The maritime bureau recorded 239 pirate attacks as of July 1 this year, well over half carried out by Somali pirates; it recorded 116 attacks in the same period last year.

Reporting is especially erratic in the piracy hotspot of Nigeria, where militants in speedboats have staged attacks in their campaign against the alleged exploitation of oil wealth by multinational firms. Some armed groups are believed to use that cause as political cover for thievery and extortion, targeting oil vessels and off-shore installations for economic gain.

"Many of the vessels attacked call regularly at Nigerian ports or operate exclusively within Nigerian waters supporting the local oil industry," the IMB said in a report. "Owners may feel that it is best to resort to local measures to cope with this crime for fear of reprisals if they report the attacks."

Peru has seen increased activity by pirates, while Southeast Asian waters, including the Malacca Straits, and the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong are considered anti-piracy successes, with reported attacks sharply down from past years because of patrols and other efforts. Still, attacks on fishing and other local vessels in developing countries are routinely difficult to document.

Some robbers sneak aboard a berthed or anchored ship or yacht at night and vanish after stealing whatever they can: paint cans, mooring lines and electronic equipment. Such petty theft falls under a broad definition of piracy if the criminals are armed.

John Burnett, author of "Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas," said it costs $20,000 to $80,000 a day to run a cargo vessel, and the economic fallout of reporting a crime at anchor or on the high seas can entail a costly layover in a port far from home.

"They have to stop the ship and take days for an investigation, which would probably lead nowhere," Burnett said. "The captain is frequently pressured not to make a big deal out of it."

Yusuf Capoglu of Lori Denizcilik, an Istanbul-based firm that ships iron, wheat, coal and other commodities worldwide, said he knew of three or four Turkish vessels that repelled Somali pirate attacks with water jets.

"One of those vessels belonged to us, actually; there was no harm done, so it went unreported," he said. "Everybody knows these things happen to all of us. But it is the insurance issues we face; insurance companies do not want to work with us once something like that happens to a vessel we have."

The spectacular nature of attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia's east coast makes them all but impossible to handle discreetly. Somali pirates have grown more sophisticated, dispatching armed men in skiffs from "mother" ships and securing ransoms with the aid of Mideast contacts, possibly Somali emigres. Their operations are in a lull because of bad weather and naval patrols.

A French navy helicopter even photographed part of the Nov. 28 hijacking of the MV Biscaglia, a Liberian-flagged tanker that was carrying palm oil through the Gulf of Aden, said Carl Mason, a British security guard on the ship at the time.

The Biscaglia's three guards did not have firearms due to a shipping company fear of the potential for a deadly fight, and high-pressure water jets and a sonic device designed to incapacitate with intense sound waves failed to deter pirates who corralled the crew. With few means of resistance, the guards jumped into the water and were picked up by a helicopter with a winch.

Piracy reporting in the area is complicated by naval or merchant crew fears that legitimate fishing vessels, as well as boats smuggling people from Somalia to Yemen on routes perpendicular to commercial sea lanes, are pirates on the prowl. The situation can lead to false alarms.

Shipping culture often dictates that a company or captain will stay silent about minor piracy, partly because they don't think much can be done about it and because a boarding can reflect poorly on their vessel's security, said Nick Davis of Britain-based Gulf of Aden Group Transits, which provides security to ships.

"You don't want to stick your head above the parapets," Davis said. "As long as the crew doesn't get hurt, you tend to leave it be."

Associated Press writer Ceren Kumova contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey

03 July 2009

On dry land - The onshore drivers of piracy

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The surge of pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa has focused greater international attention on the perennial problem of maritime piracy. According to International Maritime Bureau (IMB) figures, 293 incidents were recorded around the world in 2008, roughly 38 per cent of which were attributed to Somali gangs operating in the wider vicinity of the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and Western Indian Ocean. Perpetrating groups have exhibited the ability to both hijack extremely large ocean-going vessels (the Sirius Star, which was seized in November 2008, was three times the size of an aircraft carrier), as well as mount assaults far from shore.

The scale of the problem has prompted unprecedented action on the part of the international community, the vast bulk of which has been explicitly militaristic in nature. While the ensuing responses have provided a certain deterrent effect, they will never be able to comprehensively confront the problem, given the expanse of the area to be covered (over 2 million square miles) and because they only address piracy at its end point (on the sea), rather than at its root (on land).

As such, this military approach ignores the complex interplay between governance, society and economics, and their impact on maritime disorder (including drug smuggling, terrorism, illegal fishing and arms trafficking, as well as piracy). Although piracy should certainly not be viewed as commensurate with Somalia (or vice versa), what is currently occurring in the waters off this east African state provides an excellent, if unfortunate, example of these dynamics at work.

02 July 2009

US House passes piracy amendment

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AN AMENDMENT that requires the US Department of Defence to provide military personnel on US-flag ships carrying government cargoes through piracy-prone waters has passed the US House of Representatives.

Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland sponsored the amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act, which contains this language.

It follows up on a strong hint issued by Mr Cummings at a subcommittee hearing in May that lawmakers under his guidance would take this matter into their own hands if the US Department of Defence and the US Coast Guard did not come up with a similar plan.

Mr Cummings, who chairs the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, said: “It is truly preferable to prevent an incident from occurring rather than to respond to a hostage situation.

“We are talking about only providing security to US-flag vessels carrying US government cargoes operated by US citizens. Surely, we can provide that.”

The US Senate now needs to pass its own version of the Defence Authorisation Act that retains the language regarding piracy, and the two versions then need to be melded into a final Bill before it becomes law.

The House amendment requires the US Secretary of Defence to “embark military personnel on board a US-flag vessel carrying government-impelled cargoes if the vessel is operating in an area designated by the US Coast Guard or the International Maritime Bureau of the International Chamber of Commerce as an area of high risk of piracy”.

Such personnel will also mandatorily be embarked on ships that the USCG determines to be at risk of being boarded on pirates. The Bill does not mention specific regions.

The issue of armed support for US merchant crews came into the US spotlight following the April piracy incidents involving the Maersk Alabamaand Liberty Sun.

As the House and the Senate held hearings, the passionate and firebrand Mr Cummings emerged as a champion of US merchant mariners.

In May he took the DoD, US Navy, and USCG to task for leaving US mariners to fend for themselves. He said the USCG’s otherwise well-regarded piracy directive issued to US shipowners amounted to instructions to mariners on how to protect themselves without committing government resources.

In his statement in support of his amendment, Mr Cummings said that the Pentagon has been reluctant to have military ships patrol the waters off Somalia because of the vastness of the area and the ineffectiveness of such an approach.

Republican Congressman Buck McKeon from California, in his objection to Mr Cummings’ amendment, said: “Commercial shipping lines bear responsibility to secure their cargoes and should not be given free US military protection everywhere in the world.”

The US does not have enough military resources for the specialised job of protecting US vessels, Mr McKeon argued.

Mr Cummings said the issue is more manageable than that. The US Maritime Administration estimates that 54 US-flag vessels transit the Horn of Africa region in a year. Of these, about 40 would carry US food aid cargoes, and 44 have the ability to carry military cargoes.

“Only a handful of these vessels, fewer than 10 in a three-month period, are estimated to be at serious risk of attack by pirates due to their operating characteristics,” Mr Cummings said.