28 April 2010

Security Council approves resolution against piracy

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The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution for strengthening measures against piracy near the Somali coast. The document was put forward by Russia.
It calls on the UN Sretary General to prepare “within three months a report suggesting ways for the creation of an international legal system” allowing for a more well-organized fight against pirates. The documents also urge the international community to recognize the actions of Somali pirates as a criminal offense.
A number of UN member states have sent their military vessels to the areas most affected by piracy.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, in the first quarter of 2010 pirates seized 11 ships and took 194 sailors hostage, 12 of whom have been injured. Pirates operate not only in the waters off the Somali coast, but also near Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles and Madagascar.

27 April 2010

TIME: As Patrols Increase, Somali Pirates Widen Their Reach

EU Wants Africa Trials for Horn Pirates

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The European Union is making a push for African trials of suspected Somali pirates after Kenya indicated it no longer wants to shoulder that burden.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is expected to travel to Africa shortly to make a strong case for trying suspected Somali pirates on their home continent. The Associated Press reports her trip will includes stops in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the Seychelles.
The question of where and how to bring the suspects to justice is a long-standing headache. Somalia lacks a functioning government, so a number of trials have instead taken place in nearby Kenya. But Nairobi recently stopped accepting suspects, saying they were straining its already congested justice system.
In rare cases, Western nations have agreed to bring the suspected pirates to trial in their own countries. Germany, for example, is waiting to receive half a dozen alleged pirates.
Some of the seven suspected Somali pirates are guarded by Kenyan 
security officers
Some of the seven suspected Somali pirates are guarded by Kenyan security officers as they arrived at the port's police station in Mombasa, Kenya (File Photo)
But Africa analyst at the Chatham House policy center in London, Roger Middleton, says that is the exception.
"There has been a reluctance to take them back, although they have the legal ability to do that, to the U.K. or America or whatever it is," said Middleton. "I think partly because they are worried about pirates claiming asylum and potentially bringing their families over. "
Middleton believes both African and Western nations should share the burden of trying the pirates. Others believe Western nations should help beef up justice systems in Somalia's quasi-autonomous regions, Somaliland and Puntland, so the pirates can be tried close to home.
But there is at least one piece of good news. The International Maritime Bureau reports piracy attacks worldwide have fallen by a third this year, largely because of tougher anti-piracy measures.

EU NAVFOR Dutchman Seize Two Pirate Boats

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Northwood, Middlesex--(ENEWSPF)--26 April 2010.  On Saturday 24 of April EU NAVFOR Dutch warship HNLMS Johan de Witt prevented yet another pirate group from leaving the Somali coast and confiscated their vessel.
After four days of counter piracy operations, this is the second pirate boat, so called whalers, on her flight deck. A good start for a patrol that’s slightly different from others Major Theo Mestrini explains:
“This morning, we spotted a whaler, near the Somali coast. It was very close to one of the pirate camps where we had seen activities during the night. After Commanding Officer approval, we approached the whaler. The crew was totally surprised and looked confused. Soon it was clear that this whaler was equipped to be used for pirating. They were ready to set sail to the ocean, but we prevented it!”

This was the second event in four days of patrolling in the area. Two whalers were lifted on board of Johan de Witt and 5 crewmembers of the whaler were sent safely back to the shore.
HNLMS Johan de Witt is the newest and biggest ship of the Royal Netherlands Navy. She can operate near the coast, greatly enhancing EU NAVFOR’s new strategy.

“It’s a new concept and to be honest, the ship was not designed for it. But it shows the flexibility of the ship, the craft and, of course, her crew; they are the ones that do the job!” Commanding Officer Ben Bekkering states.

EU NAVFOR Somalia – Operation ATALANTA’s main tasks are to escort merchant vessels carrying humanitarian aid of the World Food Programme (WFP) and vessels of  African Unions Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) and to protect vulnerable vessels in the Gulf  of Aden and Indian Ocean and to deter and disrupt piracy. EU NAVFOR also monitors fishing activity off the coast of Somalia.

Somali pirates flee with British hostages

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The Somali pirate gang who have been holding a British couple hostage since October fled with their captives yesterday after militants linked to al-Qaida took over their territory.
Paul and Rachel Chandler, who are both in their 50s, were bundled into a car yesterday when al-Shabaab insurgents moved into the pirate stronghold of Harardhere in the coastal region of north Somalia.
The Islamic group usually operates in southern and central Somalia but has shifted north in a possible attempt to crack down on piracy. If al-Shabaab militants take control of the pirate strongholds, the 300-plus foreign hostages could be in even greater danger.
Maslah Yare, who leads the pirate gang that is holding the Chandlers, said the group fled into a forest to escape the militants after they moved into the town.
"Al-Shabaab militants are chasing us," Yare told The Associated Press.
The Chandlers were kidnapped in October while on a yachting holiday. The pirates seized their 38ft yacht in the Indian Ocean as they sailed toward Tanzania.
Yare claimed that al-Shabaab has offered to pay £1.2m for the Chandlers but that his group is demanding £1.6m.
He said that pirates would abandon the Chandlers if the militants close in on them "because our lives are more important to us than holding on to them".
Ahmed Salad, a local businessman, said an advance team of al-Shabaab militants entered the pirates' territory in two vehicles on Sunday night after they forced out moderate Islamists from nearby villages. He said the militants later withdrew.
Another resident of Harardhere said the pirates had started to withdraw from the town to another pirate enclave called Hobyo.
"The town is nearly empty after the pirates have left it," said businessman Yusuf Arush. "It is calm but tense."
Drugs, alcohol and prostitution have thrived in Harardhere since it became a pirate stronghold. Such activities are opposed by al-Shabaab, an ultra-conservative Islamist militia that carries out lashings, stonings and amputations as punishment.
At present Somali pirates hold 15 vessels and more than 300 hostages.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security, said she will visit Africa next month to press for more help in prosecuting pirates arrested by European warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

Spain Says Navy Captures 8 Suspected Somali Pirates

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Spain says its navy has captured eight suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia.

In a statement Sunday, the Spanish defense ministry said the frigate Victoria intercepted a whaling ship and some smaller boats.  It said a search of the captured vessels revealed weapons and other items that could be used to attack ships.

The Spanish frigate destroyed the whaling ship - believed to be operating as a "mothership" for the pirates - and took the eight suspects on a smaller vessel towards Somalia.

The Victoria is part of a European Union naval force meant to protect shipping lanes off the Somali coast.

International maritime authorities say naval patrols have reduced the number of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden.  However, pirates have responded by moving further out to sea and attacking ships in the Indian Ocean.

The pirates have hijacked more than 20 ships since the beginning of March and are believed to be holding hostage 24 ships in all, along with about 400 crew members.

26 April 2010

UN trust fund backs projects in fight against piracy off Somali coast

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23 April 2010 – A United Nations trust fund set up as part of the international fight against maritime piracy today announced plans to support a series of five projects that are aimed at assisting Somalia and its neighbours to tackle the scourge.
B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and chair of the Board of the Trust Fund to Support Initiatives of States Countering Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, unveiled $2.1 million of projects after a meeting of the fund at UN Headquarters in New York.

The five projects being backed by the fund, which was set up in January by the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, are focused largely on efforts to prosecute piracy suspects.

Four projects will help strengthen institutions in the Seychelles and the autonomous Somali regions of Puntland and Somaliland in such areas as mentoring prosecutors and police, building and renovating prisons, reviewing domestic laws in piracy and increasing the capacity of local courts. A fifth project aims to help local media disseminate anti-piracy messages within Somalia.

The Seychelles, as well as Kenya, has become a regional centre for the prosecution of pirates, who menace the coast of Somalia and disrupt international shipping routes near the Horn of Africa.
Mr. Pascoe stressed today that the piracy off the Somali coast has become a problem not just for the immediate region, but for the wider world as well.

“Prosecuting suspected pirates is an important piece of the international strategy to combat the problem,” he said, adding that the fund needs fresh donations so that it can back other projects in the future.
Already it has established an emergency funding facility that offsets the costs involved in prosecuting piracy suspects, such as travel expenses for witnesses, court equipment and the transport of suspects.
The fund has 10 voting members – Djibouti, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Kenya, the Marshall Islands, Norway, Somalia and the United States. It also has three non-voting UN members – the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the UN Country Team for Somalia.

Somalia rebels battle pirates, government troops

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Mogadishu, Somalia (CNN) -- Islamist rebels advanced on a pirate haven in central Somalia and battled government troops in Mogadishu in a clash that killed at least 10 people, ambulance crews and a local journalist reported Sunday.

Fighters from the al Qaeda-linked militia al-Shabaab were advancing on Harardhere, the pirate stronghold on the Somali coast, a local journalist in contact with pirate sources told CNN. The pirates recently captured a boat loaded with weapons from Yemen that were intended for the militia, and had stopped paying bribes to the Islamists, said the journalist, whose identity is not being disclosed for security reasons.
The journalist said a spokesman for al-Shabaab, which is trying to topple Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government, said the Islamists are only a few kilometers from Harardhere. The journalist reported that the pirates appeared to be retreating from Harardhere to the port town of Hobyo, Somalia with their captured ships.

No further details were immediately available, and the European Union naval force that patrols the waters off Somalia said it had no information about the situation.
U.N. reports have found that Yemen is a source for arms shipments into Somalia despite a longstanding U.N. embargo on weapons. The Yemeni government, which is battling its own al Qaeda uprising, has attempted to crack down on arms dealing within its territory but also faces an influx of Somali refugees.
The advance on Harardhere, about 430 km (270 miles) north of Mogadishu, came the same day a clash between al-Shabaab fighters and government forces left at least 10 people dead and 40 wounded, ambulance crews reported. Heavy shelling followed an attempt by government troops to ambush al-Shabaab fighters, witnesses reported.

Al-Shabaab has ties to al Qaeda and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, but it has taken control of much of Mogadishu and southern Somalia.
The fighting has escalated a long-running humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa nation, which has not had an effective central government since 1991.

Somali militants push toward pirate stronghold

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MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Fighters from Somalia's al-Qaida-linked militant group moved into the northern region where Somali pirates operate early Monday, residents said, forcing pirates to flee and raising the specter of an insurgent attempt to close down the piracy trade.
The pirate gang holding a kidnapped British couple fled into a forest to escape the militants, a self-proclaimed pirate chieftain said.

Paul and Rachel Chandler were bundled into a car early Monday after militants neared the town of Haradhere, said Maslah Yare, who leads the pirate gang that is holding the Chandlers.
Somali pirates and insurgents are two separate groups. If al-Shabab militants take control of pirate strongholds, the 300-plus foreign hostages that pirates hold could be in greater danger. Yare said the Chandlers - who are in their 50s - were walking deep into a forest and away from the Islamist militants.

"Al-Shabab militants are chasing us," Yare told The Associated Press by phone.
A spokesman from the militant group could not be reached for comment Monday.
But a witness, businessman Ahmed Salad, said an advance team of al-Shabab militants entered the pirate lair in two vehicles around midnight Sunday after they had routed moderate Islamists from villages nearby. He said the militants withdrew a short while later for points unknown.
The pirate lairs are generally in northern coastal villages, while al-Shabab operates mostly in southern and central Somalia.

25 April 2010

Navy success cuts Somali pirate attacks: watchdog

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LONDON (Reuters) - Pirate attacks around the world fell by over a third in the first quarter versus the same period last year although Somali gangs who accounted for over half the incidents were striking deeper offshore, a watchdog said.
Somali pirates have already increased their attacks in recent months, making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from seizing ships, including tankers and dry bulkers, in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.
The London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said Somali pirates accounted for 35 out of a total of 67 global incidents in the first quarter. That compared with 102 incidents in the same period last year, 61 of which were by Somali gangs.
"This marked reduction can be attributed to the continued presence and success of the navies in the Gulf of Aden along with the robust anti-piracy measures adopted by the merchant navy fleet," the IMB said in a report published on Wednesday.
Foreign navies have boosted activities off the Gulf of Aden since 2009 and have operated convoys, as well as setting up a transit corridor across dangerous waters. But their forces have been stretched over the vast area, leaving ships vulnerable.
IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said there had been a number of examples where navies in the Indian Ocean had destroyed pirate boats and confiscated equipment.
"Such positive and robust action by the navies against mother ships, pirate skiffs and pirate action groups has been vital to keeping the attacks under control and must be sustained," he said.
The use of mother ships has enabled Somali pirates to strike as far as the Mozambique Channel and off India's coast in recent months launching smaller boats known as skiffs against ships.
"Most of the attacks involve the use of weapons, which is a cause of great concern to the merchant navy fleet as it poses a serious threat not only to the injury and death of seafarers but also to the ship, cargo and environment," the IMB said.   Continued...

Somali pirates seize Liberian vessel

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Somali pirates have seized a Liberian-owned cargo ship with 21 Filipino crew members on board in the Gulf of Aden.

According to the European Union's anti-piracy force, the 47,183-ton Panamanian-flagged vessel was seized by four Somali pirates carrying AK-47s and a rocket-propelled grenade, about 200 miles (300 kilometers) outside the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) patrolled by the anti-piracy naval force.

At the time of the attack, the cargo ship was heading west from Ruwais, UAE, making for the eastern rendezvous point of the IRTC for onward transit through the Suez Canal, a Press TV correspondent reported late on Wednesday.

The vessel is owned by Middleburg Properties Ltd, Liberia, and operated by the Greek company Samartzis Maritime Enterprises.

The pirate attack comes only a day after the EU naval force reported that suspected Somali pirates had hijacked three Thai fishing vessels with at least 77 crew members on board in the Indian Ocean.

Dozens of multinational warships are currently patrolling Somali waters under a UN mandate to deter pirate attacks.

According to a regional maritime watchdog group, Ecoterra International, some 23 ships and over 360 crew members are currently held by Somali pirates who demand ransoms for their release. 

Alleged Somali Pirates Indicted for Attacks On Navy Ships

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NORFOLK, Va.April 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Federal grand juries in the Eastern District of Virginia have returned two separate indictments charging 11 men from Somalia with engaging in piracy and related offenses pertaining to attacks on two Navy ships.  The indictments charge separate attacks by separate groups on the U.S.S. Nicholas and the U.S.S. Ashland.
Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of VirginiaGeorge Venizelos, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's New York Field Office; Alex J. Turner, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Norfolk Field Office; and Mark Russ, Special Agent in Charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in Norfolk, made the announcement.
"Since the earliest days of this country, piracy has been a serious crime," said U.S. Attorney MacBride.  "Piracy threatens human lives and disrupts international commerce.  When pirates attack U.S. vessels by force, they must face severe consequences."
"The Naval Criminal Investigative Service provides unique forward deployed law enforcement capabilities to the U.S. Navy's Maritime Strategy," said NCIS Special Agent in Charge Russ.  "This case demonstrates the working relationship between uniformed military forces and NCIS – which is a civilian agency – and our federal partners to ensure cooperative security and stability across the maritime domain."
The two indictments were returned earlier this week and remained sealed until the defendants made their initial appearances before a magistrate judge in Norfolk.
According to the first six-count indictment returned on April 20, 2010, five men – Mohammed Modin Hasan, Gabul Abdullahi Ali, Abdi Wali Dire, Abdi Mohammed Gurewardher, and Abdi Mohammed Umar – left Somalia in search of a merchant ship to pirate. They allegedly used two smaller vessels loaded with assault weapons and a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that served as attack boats, along with a larger ship full of supplies.
This indictment alleges that on March 31, 2010, Hasan, Ali, and Dire boarded one of these smaller vessels and set out to pirate and plunder what they believed to be a merchant ship. Ali and Dire each allegedly carried an assault weapon, and Hasan allegedly carried an RPG. The indictment charges that they opened fire on the ship, which they later discovered was the Nicholas.
The remaining two individuals charged in the indictment – Gurewardher and Umar –remained onboard the large ship to maintain that ship during the alleged attack.
In a second five-count indictment, six men – Maxamad Cali Saciid, Mohammed Abdi Jama, Jaamac Ciidle, Abdicasiis Cabaase, Abdirasaq Abshir and Mahamed Farraah Hassan – were charged with piracy-related offenses involving the U.S.S. Ashland on or about April 10, 2010.
All 11 men were charged with piracy, which carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison.  In addition, the indictment also charges them with the following:
  • Attack to plunder a vessel, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
  • Assault with a dangerous weapon in the special maritime jurisdiction, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
  • Conspiracy to use firearms during a crime of violence, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
  • Use of a firearm during a crime of violence, which carry a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison if convicted of one count.  The five men charged in the indictment involving the U.S.S. Nicholas face two firearm counts, which would carry an additional minimum of 25 years – to equal 35 years – in prison if convicted of both counts.

The U.S.S. Nicholas is an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate homeported in Norfolk, Va.  The U.S.S. Ashland is a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship homeported in Little Creek, Va.
This investigation was conducted by the FBI's New York Field Office and Norfolk Field Office and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benjamin L. Hatch and Joseph DePadilla, from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The public is reminded that an indictment only contains charges and is not evidence of guilt.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia athttp://www.usdoj.gov/usao/vae.  Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.uspci.uscourts.gov.
SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice
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10-nation board okays funds to fight Somalia piracy

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UNITED NATIONS — A 10-nation board approved Friday 2.1 million dollars in UN funding for five projects to help Somalia and neighboring countries prosecute suspected pirates.
"Piracy off Somalia is a menace to the region and the world," said UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe, chair of the board overseeing a new trust fund. "Prosecuting suspected pirates is an important piece of the international strategy to combat the problem."
An international armada of warships has patrolled an area in the north of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden for more than a year in a bid to curb piracy.
But countries that have captured pirates have often struggled to bring them to justice due to legal technicalities.
Four of the projects in line for the funding are designed to support institutions in the Seychelles, which along with Kenya serves as a regional center to prosecute pirates, as well as in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland state and its breakaway region of Somaliland.
They will specifically deal with mentoring prosecutors and police, building and rehabilitating prisons, reviewing domestic legislation on piracy and enhancing court capacity.
A media project will help local partners design and spread anti-piracy messages across Somalia.
The trust fund was launched in January by a Contact Group on piracy off Somalia.
Its supervising board includes 10 voting members: Djibouti, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Kenya, the Marshall Islands, Norway, Somalia and the United States.
There are also three non-voting UN bodies: the International Maritime Organization, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN country team for Somalia.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council was expected to approve next week a Russian draft resolution urging a stronger UN mechanism to ensure effective legal action against pirates caught off Somalia's shores.
The text would direct UN chief Ban Ki-moon "within three months to prepare a report outlining various options of a stronger international legal system" to deal with the pirates.
Somalia has had no effective central authority since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, setting off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions

Inside The Courtroom With Somali Pirates

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Machine gun. Lawyer. Virginia. USS Nicholas. And USS Ashland.
Those were the only words that most onlookers in a federal courtroom in Norfolk, Va., could understand Friday afternoon as an unidentified man beaming in via telephone read 11 alleged Somali pirates the U.S. government's case against them.
"Was that Arabic?" asked one reporter, who was told the translator spoke Somali, the national language of Somalia. Another reporter expressed surprise that "Somali" is in fact a language.
The last time anyone was prosecuted in the Eastern District of Virginia for piracy on the open seas was sometime during the Nineteenth Century, U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said during a press conference later in the day.
The Somali men's trip to the Eastern District of Virginia was likely the first time they had ever been in contact with U.S. soil, much less the American justice system.
Two weeks earlier, six of the men were in a small boat off the Horn of Africa when they began firing on the USS Ashland, which was conducting "routine" operations in the Gulf of Aden, according to the U.S. Navy.
The six men, Mohammed Hasan, Gabul Ali, Abdi Dire, Abdi Gurewardher and Abdi Umar, wanted to hijack and rob the American ship, according to federal prosecutors.
But the USS Ashland returned fire, engulfing the small boat in flames and forcing the six Somali men to abandon their vessel, the U.S. Navy said in a press release at the time. They were taken aboard the USS Ashland and received medical treatment, the press release said.
On Friday, one of the men, wearing a dark suit, had to be pushed into the Norfolk courtroom by a U.S. Marshal. He was in a wheelchair, the bottom half of his right leg amputated due to injuries he suffered during the attack.
What was left of his right leg rested on a small pillow attached to one arm of the wheelchair. His left leg was completely wrapped in bandages.
Another Somali man hobbled into the courtroom on crutches, his hands and head wrapped in bandages, with much of his face darkened by bruises. He took a seat in the front row of what is usually the jury box.
The other four Somali men, dressed in bright orange jumpsuits, also sat in the jury box.
Their handcuffs had been removed.
For the next 15 minutes, the unidentified man on the telephone read the six-page indictment against them, his Somali translation being broadcast throughout the courtroom.
"USS Ashland" and "Virginia" were the only non-Somali words he spoke as he told the six alleged pirates how a grand jury had indicted them on five counts, including "Piracy Under the Law of Nations" and "Attack to Plunder Vessel."
Then a court official said, "All rise," as a federal magistrate judge entered the courtroom. A U.S. Marshal motioned to the six men to stand up.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Tommy Miller entered, at one point looking taken aback by the sight of the man in the wheelchair.
He then gave the six men a brief tutorial on their rights in the U.S. criminal justice system, including the right to remain silent.
"If you make a statement, that statement can be used against you at trial," said Miller, whose remarks were quickly translated into Somali by the unidentified man on the phone.
The six men's faces stood blank.

Miller told them that they will face trial.

"That will be a trial to determine if you committed any of these offenses," he said.
Also, he said, the U.S. Attorney's office had informed the court that the six men have no assets, so lawyers would be appointed for them and paid for by the U.S. government.

The translator chose to use "lawyer" himself.
In addition, Miller told the six men that, if convicted of piracy, they face life in prison. And for some of the other charges against them, use of a machine gun could warrant harsher sentences.

The translator couldn't find a Somali equivalent for "Machine gun," so he used the English version.
Finally, Miller told the six men they would be held without bond until Wednesday, when they would appear in court again for a detention hearing.
At that time, Miller said, a trial date would be set.
The six men, whose ages could not be verified by authorities, did not enter pleas.
Prosecutors want them held until trial, deeming them a threat to the public.

A similar scenario unfolded an hour earlier, when five other Somali men were brought into the Norfolk courtroom to hear that a grand jury had indicted them on six counts, including piracy.
In this hearing, though, the defendants were dressed in dark green jumpsuits, one of them had to repeatedly be told by a U.S. Marshal to sit quietly, and another picked his nose in open court.
Four days prior, according to the indictment, all five left Somalia looking for a merchant ship to "pirate." They found the USS Nicholas, allegedly using a large supply ship and two small vessels loaded with assault weapons and a rocket-propelled grenade to launch an attack on the U.S. ship.
The efforts by Maxamed Saciid, Mohammed Jamah, Jaamac Ciidle, Adbicasiis Cabaase, Abdirasaq Abshir and Mahamed Hassan, failed, and they were taken into custody, according to federal authorities.
At the press conference later in the day, MacBride, the U.S. Attorney, insisted that prosecuting alleged Somali pirates in U.S. courts is the "appropriate" thing to do, at least in these two cases.
"Piracy threatens human lives and disrupts international commerce," he said. "When pirates attack U.S. vessels by force, they must face severe consequences."
He said he hopes these cases send a message that "attacks on U.S. interests will not be tolerated."
A reported asked him whether the target audience of such a sentiment can even receive the message in war-ravaged Somalia, with its limited U.S. media presence.
He seemed to suggest it's worth trying.

21 April 2010

Are pirate ransoms legal? Confusion over US order

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Shipping companies with U.S. interests don't know if they are allowed to pay ransoms to Somali pirates anymore after President Obama declared them an "extraordinary threat," even as pirates extended their reach farther than ever toward Asia, hijacking three Thai vessels, officials said Tuesday.
A total of 77 crew members were taken Sunday in the hijackings 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) east of Somalia in the Indian Ocean — the farthest from the Somali coast pirates have ever attacked, the EU Naval Force said. Pirates now hold 14 vessels and 305 hostages, the International Maritime Bureau said.
Pirate attacks have risen over the last year despite increased patrols by U.S. and European warships, in part because the multimillion dollar ransoms keep rising.
The shipping industry has long seen ransom payments to retrieve hijacked vessels, cargos and crews as a cost of doing business. But after Obama last week issued an executive order on Somalia, shipping officials say it's no longer clear whether companies with U.S. interests can legally pay ransoms. The industry is worried because ransoms have been the only way to quickly and safely free hostages.
"It's confusion, is the way you could sum it up," said David Osler, a writer at the shipping news journal Lloyd's List. "Industry sources believe the executive order is worded poorly ... it's not immediately clear to everybody what is being said here."
Obama's order outlaws anyone from supplying financing to any Somalis involved in military activities.
Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at the British think tank Chatham House, said: "I think the shipping industry would like to be told whether or not they would potentially face prosecution."
For some, the order's ramifications are clear.
Because it's not clear where the million-dollar ransoms wind up, paying them now would be illegal, insisted Doug Burnett, a maritime expert in the law firm Squire, Sanders and Dempsey.
"You would be very hard-pressed, if you were just looking at the document, to say that paying ransom to pirates would not be a violation of the executive order," Burnett said, adding that ransom payments go to clans in Somalia and add to the country's lawlessness.
The U.S. Treasury Department, though, indicated it is not interested in prosecuting anyone trying to free hostages.
"We are targeting only those individuals and entities that freely choose to support acts of piracy or armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, including through the supply of weapons, financing, communication devices, or small boats and other equipment," Adam Szubin, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Department of Treasury, told The Associated Press.
Still, a Treasury Department spokesperson, who was not authorized to speak publicly in line with department policy, said it is possible that if a ransom payment ends up in the hands of one of 11 individuals listed by the U.S. government along with Obama's order, the Department of Justice could become involved.
The shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk Group said it is examining the impact of the order. A company spokeswoman, Marie-Louise Moller, said its primary concern has long been the safety of its crews.
"Taking away our ability to secure the safe release of our crew members and vessels could put us as an employer and ship owner in a very difficult position," Moller said. "Thankfully we have not had to test such a scenario under these restrictions and it's difficult for us to comment further on the consequences of the order without speculating."
A federal law enforcement official said separately Tuesday that five or more pirate suspects are being brought to the United States for prosecution.
The suspects will arrive in the United States by the end of the week, the official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the transfer is still under way.
U.S. officials had said last week that as many as 20 suspected pirates held on U.S. ships off the coast of Somalia might soon be headed to the U.S. for prosecution.

AP source: Pirate suspects to be prosecuted in US

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WASHINGTON — At least five pirate suspects are being brought to the United States for prosecution, a federal law enforcement official said Tuesday.
The suspects will arrive in the United States by the end of the week, the official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the transfer is still under way.
U.S. officials had said last week that about 20 suspected pirates held on U.S. ships off the coast of Somalia might soon be headed to the U.S. for prosecution.
A senior U.S. official said Tuesday that five alleged pirates en route to the U.S. were captured March 31, after the frigate USS Nicholas exchanged fire with a suspected pirate vessel west of the Seychelles, sinking their skiff and confiscating a mother ship.
It was not clear whether the rest of the suspected pirates in custody will now be released or sent somewhere for prosecution, said the official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because decisions have not been made.
Of those others in custody, six were captured after they allegedly began shooting at the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland about 380 miles off Djibouti, a small nation facing Yemen across the mouth of the Red Sea.
As many as 10 other suspected pirates were captured when the destroyer USS McFaul responded to the distress call from a merchant vessel.
Military officials said there are concerns that if the six suspects who fired on the USS Ashland are not brought to trial, it could send out a message to other pirates that those who attack a U.S. Navy ship can escape without prosecution.
The government's decision to bring the suspected pirates to the United States comes amid heated debate among U.S. and other international agencies over where piracy suspects should be sent for trial. Earlier this month Kenya began refusing to take piracy suspects, saying the trials were straining its courts.
Senior officials from several U.S. agencies met last week at the White House to discuss the issue.
One piracy suspect has already gone to court in New York City in connection with the attack against an American cargo ship early last year.
Under U.S. policy, if the Navy captures suspects accused of hijacking an American ship, they are brought to the United States for trial. Those accused of attacking another country's ship are supposed to be tried by that country or, until this month, in Kenya.
The piracy prosecutions are part of a larger U.S. policy debate over how best to deal with the insurgents and criminal activities that contribute to the persistent instability in Somalia, making it a safe haven for al-Qaida-linked terrorists.
There have been preliminary discussions about setting up a special international court to try piracy suspects, because a number of countries will not take action against suspected pirates who are turned over to them. Officials said, however, that those talks are in the very early stages.

Pirate Attacks On Ships Drop In First Quarter

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There has been a sharp drop in the number of pirate attacks on ships during the first quarter of 2010, says the International Maritime Bureau(IMB).

An IMreport released on Wednesday said pirate attack of ships worldwide had come down to 67 during the first three months of the current year from 102 reported in the corresponding period of last year.

The report attributed the drop in incidents to the close vigil maintained by naval forces in the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden as well as steps taken by mercantile marines.

"This marked reduction can be attributed to the continued presence and success of the navies in the Gulf of Aden along with the robust anti piracy measures adopted by the merchant navy fleet," it said.

Out of the 67 hijackings recorded so far in 2010, Somali pirates carried out 35 and the IMB called for extreme caution in dealing with corsairs from the war-ravaged nation who were equipped to fire automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at ships.

"Somali pirates are dangerous and are prepared to fire their automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades at vessels in order to stop them," the report pointed out.

Somalia pirate peril is widened with new hijack

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Pirates seized three Thai ships and 77 crew 1,200 miles off Somalia in their most distant hijack yet.

They aim to evade navy patrols by operating into the Indian Ocean as far as the Seychelles and Maldives.

Gangs have demanded a £1.3million ransom for Brits Paul and Rachel Chandler, kidnapped last October.

Somali Pirates Seize Liberian Bulk-carrier

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Somali pirates seized a Liberian-owned bulk-carrier with 21 Filipino crew aboard Wednesday, reports quoting the Philippines Foreign Affairs Department and the EU Naval Force said.

Cmdr. John Harbour, a spokesman for the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR), said Panamanian-flagged 'Voc Daisy' was taken about 200 miles south-east of Oman, outside the corridor where international warships guard convoys of merchant vessels.

EU NAVFOR confirmed that all the Filipino sailors are safe.

Voc Daisy, which had been heading to the Suez Canal from the United Arab Emirates, raised an alarm before four armed pirates, carrying three AK-47s and one RPG, stormed the vessel and cut its lines of communication.

The Philippines is the world's leading supplier of ship crew with over 350,000 sailors, which constitutes a fifth of the world's seafarers, manning oil tankers, luxury liners, and passenger vessels worldwide, exposing them to piracy attacks.

20 April 2010

Somali pirates seize three Thai fishing vessels

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Somali pirates have seized three Thai fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean in what the EU Naval Force said was the furthest off-shore attack to date.
The three vessels, carrying a total of 77 crew members, were hijacked on Sunday, an EU force spokesman said.
He said that the attack took place far outside the area in which the EU force operated, about 1,200 nautical miles (2,222km) from the Somali coast.
The pirates were said to be taking the fishing boats back to Somalia.
"It's the furthest east that any attack and any hijacking has taken place, certainly since Eunavfor arrived in the area in December 2008," spokesman Cmdr John Harbour said.
All the crew on board the three ships, the MV Prantalay 11, 12, and 14, are reported to be Thai.
In recent years, pirates have seized dozens of ships in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
They have recently expanded the reach of their attacks to avoid European and American patrols off the Somali coast.

18 April 2010

U.S. Admiral: military ships can't stop Somali piracy

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Commercial ships traversing the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean should be armed to defend themselves against marauding Somali pirates because international warships can't do the whole job and won't be there forever, a top U.S. Navy admiral said on Thursday.
Seaborne gangs of pirates have stepped up hijack attacks on vessels in recent months, making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms by seizing ships, including tankers, despite the presence of dozens of foreign naval vessels.
"We could put a World War Two fleet of ships out there and we still wouldn't be able to cover the whole ocean," said Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Europe and Africa, citing attacks from the Gulf of Aden and the Mozambique Channel to off the coast of India.
Overwhelmed by the scope of the maritime problem, the United States has called for a greater international-led focus on going after the pirate money trail.
Underscoring the financial impact of piracy, Fitzgerald said he was told by Kenyan officials that prime real estate in Mombasa and Nairobi were being "bought up by rich Somalis" who lead clans which control piracy syndicates. He cited a similar investment trend in Ethiopian property.
"The U.S. can't go this alone," he said.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Fitzgerald said it was "incumbent upon the vessels who are sailing the high seas to either protect themselves or accept the dangers."
Asked if he would recommend that commercial ships arm themselves, Fitzgerald said: "I think they should."   Continued...

Navy looks for ways other than armed patrols to fight Somali pirates

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The US Navy will be unable to continue long-term operations against pirates off the coast of Somalia, and it’s looking for other ways to solve the growing problem, according to a top admiral.
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As Somali pirates continue to find attacking cargo ships in the West Indian Ocean profitable, they have become more and more aggressive, forcing the international community to send naval ships from more than a dozen countries to help patrol the vast waters off Somalia.
But the patrols are expensive and deprive the global fleet of precious resources, and they can’t continue such costly operations, says Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, the top naval commander in Europe and Africa.
“I don’t think we can sustain the level of operation we’ve got down there forever,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald did not indicate the Navy would abandon the mission any time soon. Instead, his remarks suggest that the answer to piracy may lie elsewhere – especially if it becomes a more violent activity. He says the shipping industry should ensure it is doing everything to deter attacks, including hiring armed security guards, as well as taking other nonlethal actions to thwart pirates.
“The maritime industry has got to make a decision about how seriously they want to take this on,” he said, in a roundtable discussion with reporters at the Pentagon this week.

Naval patrols have been effective

About 40 naval vessels patrol those waters at any one time, including as many as 10 US Navy ships. Those patrols have been effective.
The US Navy’s presence alone has thwarted several attacks, including one Friday in which a helicopter from the destroyer Farragut scared off an attack from a pirate skiff. Last week, the USS Ashland, a Navy amphibious ship, received small-arms fire from a pirate skiff. When the ship returned fire and the skiff caught fire, the pirates jumped into the water and Navy personnel rescued them. Over the past 10 days, the Navy has apprehended 21 suspected pirates.
The industry has resisted hiring security guards in part out of fear of escalating the violence on the high seas. There are also legal issues with having weapons aboard ships that port in various countries, industry officials have said.
The Maersk Alabama, a US-flagged ship, was pirated twice, including once last year when its captain was held until the pirates were killed by US military sharpshooters. The second time it was attacked, it had armed security guards aboard who thwarted the attack. But those guards were there because the US government contracts with Maersk Line, Limited to ship military supplies to the war zone.
“Our company policy is we don’t want weapons on board our vessels, and we don’t allow them except in instances where governments or authorities mandate us to do so,” says Kevin Speers, a spokesman for Maersk Line, Limited. He noted that various carriers, including his own, have taken a number of nonlethal measures to avoid attack.

Legal issues with captured pirates

From the US Navy’s point of view, there are long-term legal questions about what to do with captured pirates. Typically, they are low-level operators from Somalia who provide little in the way of useful intelligence for addressing a problem that costs the shipping industry millions of dollars a year.
Fitzgerald says the solution is for the US to go after the source of piracy. While he didn’t rule out using military force, he said following the money might be a good place to start. Kenyan officials have told Fitzgerald that money from Somalia is being used to buy up high-end real estate there and in Ethiopia with what appears to be the proceeds from piracy.
Indeed, the US has begun to get serious about going after money earned by pirates. President Obama on Tuesday gave Treasury officials additional powers to sanction or freeze assets of individuals involved in piracy, the Associated Press reported. According to the executive ordersigned by Mr. Obama, the justification for the broader powers is US national security.
“The deterioration of the security situation and the persistence of violence in Somalia, and acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” writes Obama in his executive order.

Sanctions on Somalia Announced

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It is not only birds that return in springtime. Calmer weather on the Indian Ocean guarantees a springtime efflorescence of Somali pirate skiffs and attacks on commercial shipping off the coast of Somalia. Pirates have already grabbed a supertanker (with $170 million of crude oil) and some profoundly stupid Somali piratesattacked a Navy cruiser last week. (Buh-bye, little pirate boats!)
Whether or not the timing of yesterday’s announcement of new smart sanctions on Somalia was prompted by the recent uptick in piracy or whether the timing was coincidental is impossible to say. In any event, the White House issued Executive Order 13536, which imposed new blocking sanctions on eleven Somali militants. The militants had so many aliases that the new designations led to 211 new entries on the Specially Designated Nationals (“SDN”) list. And the Executive Order authorizes future designations by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) of anyone that threatens the security and stability of Somalia by,inter alia, delivering arms to Somalia or interfering with the Djibouti Agreement, peacekeeping missions in Somalia (such as AMISOM), or the delivery of humanitarian aid in Somalia.
The Executive Order additionally allows designations of parties engaged in piracy off the coast of Somalia on the grounds that these activities also threaten the security and stability of Somalia. This has led some reputable sources, such as Business Week, to speculate that the Executive Order prohibits the payment of ransoms to Somalia pirates.
“The wording could definitely be construed to make payments of ransoms illegal,” [a New York lawyer] who negotiated a ransom payment with Somali pirates for a U.S. owned ship hijacked in 2008 said in a telephone interview. “The wording is just vague enough to give the Treasury some flexibility in how they apply it.”
Er, no. Absolutely not. The order only covers payments to persons who have been specifically designated by OFAC on the basis of a determination that those persons have previously engaged in piracy. Paying ransom to an undesignated pirate isn’t covered or prohibited by the order. The language here not only is not vague but also it follows the well-established pattern of similar orders which only cover individuals after they have been designated by OFAC and placed on the SDN list.
What is the chance that Treasury would issue such a designation between the time that a ship was hijacked and a ransom was paid? I think it is quite small. OFAC’s goal here seems to be more to prevent Somali pirates from using their ill-gained assets once obtained rather than to risk destruction or loss of commercial vessels by interdicting the ransom payment in the first place.

Admiral: authorities should go after pirate money

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WASHINGTON — The international community needs to go after the money being extorted by pirates to try to end what has become a scourge on the seas, said the top U.S. naval officer in Africa and Europe.
Adm. Mark Fitzgerald told a Pentagon press conference Thursday that it's no surprise where the money goes. Some is used to resupply pirates with boats and weapons. But leaders in Kenya tell him rich Somalis also are buying up the real estate around the capital of Nairobi and the African nation's port of Mombasa; Ethiopians report that the same thing is happening in their capital of Addis Ababa, Fitzgerald said.
International warships have been capturing pirates for prosecution, an effort that has been faltering lately. In the end, the international community needs to look at the root cause — a poor and lawless Somalia that can't police its land or its coastal waters. That's not likely to be solved anytime soon, and meanwhile, there are other courses that can be pursued aside from looking at real estate purchases, Fitzgerald said.
"The other thing I think we'd be able to trace is the financiers ... the middlemen," he said.
More than two dozen captured pirates are being held on international warships, including 11 suspected pirates who recently attacked two American warships.
Fitzgerald said a package of evidence naval officers collected on five being held on the frigate USS Nicholas has been handed over to proper authorities. A decision still has to be made on where to send them for possible prosecution.
Noting that Kenya doesn't want the responsibility for prosecuting more and Seychelles has taken some in the past, Fitzgerald said "there are other countries that are being approached. That said, obviously we have a lot of concerns about what we do with these pirates when we capture them," he said.
"Catch and release is not a very good option."