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megimoo
11-29-2008, 08:26 PM
She Sells to Sea-Thugs by the Seashore
What’s the story with those pirates off the Horn of Africa? Who’s behind it? Where do they come from, and where do they go? How do they do it, and how do they get away with it? Why isn’t something being done about it? What IS being done about it? This article will attempt to answer those questions.

First, some facts: So far this year there have been 95 attempted ship seizures by pirates in the waters around the Horn of Africa, 39 of them successful. Besides the ships, there are presently around 268 merchant seamen being held for ransom in Somalia. The pirates have been paid around 30 million dollars this year in extortion fees. They recently demanded 25 million dollars for the oil tanker Sirius Star.
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The Horn of Africa is located at the north-eastern tip of the African continent. It is surrounded on the north by the Gulf of Aden, and along its eastern shore by the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.
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The Horn of Africa is entirely occupied by Somalia, and that is where the pirates are based—and when I say pirates, I’m not referring to a bunch of genteel Jack Sparrows, but a group of nasty, drugged up, sea-thugs. To give credit where it’s due; they’re clever, nasty, drugged up, sea-thugs.
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Somalia is an interesting country. One of the first things you should know about it is, it doesn’t actually exist as a country, per se. There is no overall Somali government. Somalia is NOT part of the surrounding countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti—and that’s about all one can say regarding Somalia’s national identity.
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Somalia is more correctly understood as a region, as opposed to a country. It is a region of longtime internal strife between: clans, factions, gangs, governments, theocracies, and just plain neighbors.
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In short, Somalia is a political, economic, and cultural nightmare—and a pirate’s dream.
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Somali culture (what’s left of it) is notable for two peculiarities. One of them is FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) in the form of infibulation and clitorectomies. I’ll leave it to the reader to look up the subject, lest I be accused of prurient sensationalism. Consider the subject one more reason to strike Somalia from your list of potential vacation destinations.
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The other peculiarity is called, among other names, qaat, ghat, miraa, jaad, chat, and, most typically—khat. What coca leaves are to regions of South America, khat is to portions of north-west Africa and south-east Arabia. Like coca, khat leaves are brewed in a tea, or more commonly, chewed. Its use is widespread throughout Somalia, and its effects are similar to coca—appetite suppression, mild euphoria, feelings of being “ten feet tall and bullet proof.” Just the thing for a pirate on the go. (Coca should not be confused with cocao, which gives us chocolate, not cocaine).
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One last thing to keep in mind about Somalia: the average life expectancy is 46 years.
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Now that I’ve set the stage, I’ll discuss how a typical pirate operation proceeds.
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The Somali pirates have a widespread network of informants who let them know when ships leave certain harbors. They also utilize the internet, radar (both long and short-range), and radio broadcasts to follow their prey.
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When they are ready to attack they send out a “mother-ship.” This boat (usually a fishing trawler, or dhow) tows several small, swift “attack craft.” These attack craft are often rigid inflatable boats.
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When the pirates are ready to strike, they release the attack craft from the mother-ship. The attack craft then surround the ship that they hope to hijack, and start firing warning shots. I should mention that the pirates interpret the term “warning shot” rather loosely—warning shots sometimes consist of a direct hit by rocket propelled grenades, and automatic weapons fire.
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Once the target-ship stops, the khat-bolstered pirates board her by throwing grapnel equipped rope ladders onto the deck of the ship, or use the ship’s lowered gangway. The hijacked ship’s crew are then rounded up, and the ship’s owners are contacted by radio or internet and asked for money—or else.
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Jeevan D’Souza, one of the crew of the hijacked ship ”Iran Denayat” had this to say about his ship’s capture, “They chased our vessel and then flung a ten meter-long ladder and boarded the ship. As soon as they got on board, they started firing and they were armed with swords and advanced arms and ammunitions.’’
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Regarding the hygiene and eating habits of the pirates, D’Souza opined that if you saw them “You would vomit.” “They never bathed, and ate like pigs,” he said. No Jack Sparrows, indeed.
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Once captured, the ships and their crews are then moved to various locations just offshore of Somalia. The most famous, or infamous, location is Eyl, but other locations are used as well, including Hobyo, Bossaso, and Calula. Mogadishu is an important resupply port for the mother-ships.
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If you have access to Google Earth, you can view an excellent overlay map of the Somali pirate bases at Google Earth Community.
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There are presently around two thousand actual Somali pirates. Add the people who are indirectly involved in the piracy scam, and the numbers skyrocket. Piracy has created a financial windfall for the pirates, and any Somali’s located in their pirate havens – especially those living in Harardhere.
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Harardhere (Xarardheere) is the pirate capital of Somalia, which makes it the pirate capital of the world—somewhat akin to what Port Royal was to old-time Caribbean pirates.
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The leader of the pirates, or at least one of the main leaders, is Mohamed Abdi. Abdi’s nickname is “Afweyne”—Somali for “big mouth.” Whether the other pirates affectionately call him “big mouth” to his face, is something I’m not privy to.
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Something I do know is that Somali’s love their free-spending buccaneers.
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According to an AP report, Sugule Dahir, who runs a shop in the coastal town of Eyl, claims “Business is booming because of the piracy.” She adds, “Internet cafes and telephone shops have opened, and people are just happier than before.” Isn’t that special.
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Ms. Dahir likes selling to sea-thugs by the seashore. She even has a layaway plan for them. “They always take things without paying, and we put them into the book of debts,” she said. “Later,” she added, “when they get the ransom money, they pay us a lot.” We’re talking about a lot of money, and that makes everybody happy—except, of course, the ship owners, and the ship’s crews.
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I’ll say this for the pirates, at least they’re up-front and straight-forward about their methods for redistributing wealth – unlike some politicians I could name.
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So what’s being done to thwart the piracy—anything? Well, yes and no—by which I mean a lot, and very little. Let me explain.
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First, let me explain what I mean when I say that very little has been done.
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Each year some 20,000 ships pass by the Horn of Africa. So far, less than one half of 1% of these ships have been attacked—about one in 600.
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megimoo
11-29-2008, 08:28 PM
She Sells to Sea-Thugs by the Seashore
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Many ship owners consider the risk of one of their ships being hijacked minimal. And if a ship should be hijacked, they consider it part of the cost of doing business (akin to increased fuel costs, or increased transit fees for using the Suez Canal). After all, the ransoms demanded have generally been a small fraction of the ship’s value, and all crews have been returned unharmed after the ransom payment.
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What about defending the ships from pirates—arming the ship’s crew? Bad idea. Issuing arms to the crew of a merchant ship has historically been viewed as a recipe for mutiny, mayhem, and murder. It’s an idea that just won’t float—pun noted.
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The various government navies patrolling the area have been hampered by international “rules of engagement.” Basically, they can only engage the pirates while they (the pirates) are actively attacking a ship, and before the pirates have boarded.
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Once the pirates have boarded a ship it’s “hands off”—you can’t touch them. Seeing as how a typical hijacking takes about twenty minutes to go from warning shots to boarding, it doesn’t leave much of a “window of opportunity” for naval intervention.
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The U.S. Navy’s attitude towards Somali piracy has been uncharacteristically laid-back. Having “bigger things on its plate”—such as Iraq and Afghanistan—no doubt contributes to the U.S. Military’s rather sedate reaction to the pirates. There is also the possibility that the U.S. sees the pirates as offsetting the power of the Al Qaeda affiliated group al Shabaab – the military facet of the Somali Islamic Courts. The fight against al Shabaab is a small but significant sideshow in the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism).
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On the face of it, nothing much seems to have been done to stop the Somali pirates – so far. With the “que sera sera” attitude of many ship owners, and the hands-tied posture of naval ships, the piracy scam could go on for years, right?
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Well, no. Not all ship owners think that hijackings are an acceptable business cost. The cruise ship “Seabourn Spirit” fended off a Somali pirate attack back in 2005 by the use of a LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device). More and more ship owners are turning to private security contractors to protect their ships. The cost of the Somali piracy has become increasingly unacceptable.
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Some of these security contractors favor lethal means of defense; some favor non-lethal. The non-lethal defenses include the previously mentioned LRAD, razor wire along the scuppers, dazzle guns (which produce disorienting light flashes), and microwave guns (which cause discomfort, but no lasting damage – so I’ve heard).
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Security contractors don’t come cheap, and that’s one reason why the status quo off the Horn of Africa will not remain in place.
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The reason for the increased concern by ship owners is simple economics. It’s just getting too darn expensive to go through, or around, pirate territory.
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Insurance costs for sailing through the Horn of Africa area have increased ten-fold in the past year. Recently, Moller-Maersk, which handles 16 per cent of the world’s container traffic, and Odfjell SE, which has more than 90 tankers, have rerouted their ships around the Cape of Good Hope—bypassing the Horn of Africa altogether.
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Frontline Ltd, which moves five to ten tankers a month along the Horn, has said it may change the shipping routes of some of its customers, which include: Exxon, Mobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron.
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The southerly route around the Cape of Good Hope adds 12 to 15 days to each trip, at a cost of between $20,000 and $30,000 a day. That’s not merely inconvenient, but obviously expensive.
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More and more, the ship owners are raising hell with their respective governments, and those governments are responding. Recently, military vessels from the British and French Navy captured Somali pirates at sea, and India’s INS “Tabar” sank a Somali pirate mother-ship.
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Not that long ago, the governments of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia combined their navies and cracked down on a similar pirate operation in the Straits of Malacca. In the process they often seemed to misplace their rule-books on maritime law – writing de facto “rules of engagement” as they went. Unfortunately, there is no government in Somalia to bribe, cajole, or coerce into cracking down on Somali pirates.
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At last count, nine nations have warships patrolling the Horn of Africa area. More ships are arriving as I write. Old wartime-style convoys are presently being implemented.
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So, “the game’s afoot.”
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What will eventually doom the Somali piracy racket is good old fashioned greed. When other Somali’s see how much money comes falling from the sky into the pirate’s laps, you had better believe that everybody and their cousin wants some of that action. And the money does, literally, fall from the sky—often the ransom payments are dropped from helicopters.
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Every gang, clan, government body, theocracy, and neighborhood wants to get on the piracy gravy-train. Somalia will soon explode with a plethora of pirates. There will soon be more Somali pirates than you can shake a sword at.
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That means increased competition between various pirate factions, and that means more ship hijackings, over a greater area, for higher ransoms. Add the ever increasing greed of the pirates who are already in place, and you have a recipe for maritime disaster. The goose that laid the Golden Egg appears about to get cooked.
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The thing is, the powerful shipping companies involved are not about to let their goose get cooked – the occasional plucking may have been okay, but not cooking.
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I believe that we have seen, or shall soon see, the high-water mark of Somali piracy. In the near future, gloves will come off in certain quarters, and piracy playtime around the Horn of Africa will over.
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