Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Somali Coastline is Now Pirate Central


The Somali coast of East Africa has been the center of piracy for over 12 years. A cruise ship was the last target. It escaped but a legacy of fear and worry for this coast is forcing a call for denominating it a "combat zone".

Just recently a Sebourn cruise ship, the Seabourn Spirit with 302 passengers, of whom 18 were British, was attacked off the coast of Somalia by pirates in two 25 foot inflatable boats. They attacked at high speed with rocket propelled grenade launchers and automatic weapons. It was felt that this was an act of piracy rather than a terrorist attempt.

The result of this attack was a loungeful of safe passengers, a crew who had been specially trained to repel people trying to gain entrance to the ship and a captain and bridge crew who first tried to run the pirates down at high speed, discharged a sonic "bang"; then changed course and outdistanced them.



Sebourn is a Carnival owned subsidiary. Carnival Cruise Lines is their worldwide headquarters based in Miami, Florida. It must have been a frightening time for the tourist-passengers and used the crew to their utmost; but it was not the first or the worst of the piracy off the Somali coast of East Africa over the past decade plus. Somalia has had no recognized government in 14 years.

The Times noted that,

"Numast, the maritime union, will meet the Chamber of Shipping in London this week to demand that the waters off Somalia, where there have been 25 attacks on shipping since March, be designated a combat area.

Such a declaration would give crew members the right to refuse to sail there, force shipowners to recruit extra staff for security duties, entitle crews to danger money and guarantee seafarers insurance cover."


The International Maritime Bureau has requested international shippers to maintain their craft at least 50 miles offshore. The pirates have become more invasive with one attack 120 miles from the coast. Ship owners have been advised to install electric fencing to repel boarders.

Citation for The Times article is at Sean O’Neill , The Times

Somalia has tuna resources and a rich eco-system offshore. However it has had no government since the fall of President Siad Barre's regime. The abyss left by the anarchy which was NOT solved by the UN/US entrance to bring "relief" to the population. Instead the warlords who destroyed that relief attempt now control the Somalia coastal patrol who have discovered that coastal patrol is easily turned to vessel seizure, kidnapping for ransom and outright piracy.

"With the breakdown of civil society, Somalia has degenerated into a no-man's land subject to clan or Islamic Shari'ah law. Owing to continuing unrest in the south, a central government is unlikely to evolve soon. In its place, a decentralized federation of regional political entities has emerged, including the self-proclaimed but unrecognized Republic of Somaliland in the northwest, the self-proclaimed Puntland State in the northeast, Jubaland in the south near Kismayo, and a future Banadir regional administration around Mogadishu when warlords Hussein Aideed (son of late General Farah Aideed) and Ali Mahdi settle their differences. Years of internal conflict have damaged infrastructure in the fishery sector and rendered ineffective any previous oil spill response capability, aids to navigation, and search and rescue capacity in a region of high tanker/cargo traffic to and from the Suez Canal through the Gulf of Aden and calling at Mombasa, the East African shipping hub..."


During this year a ship carrying a World Food Programme load of supplies into the chaos of Somalia was taken by the pirates. Her crew was held hostage for over 14 weeks. A rescue vessel sent to provide supplies to the kidnapped ship was also taken.

" Andrew Linnington, of Numast, said. 'We are now seeing ships stolen to order. Pirates will board a ship, cast the crew adrift, or sometimes kill them, before installing their own crew and sailing the vessel to a port where it is re-registered and renamed.

'Ships are very prone to attack. They are slow moving and cargo ships are low in the water, making it easy for pirates to climb on board...'"


The above quotes are from The Times of London

Further the political situation is so deteriorated in relation to the needs of maritime traffic that,

"With the breakdown of civil society, Somalia has degenerated into a no-man's land subject to clan or Islamic Shari'ah law. Owing to continuing unrest in the south, a central government is unlikely to evolve soon. In its place, a decentralized federation of regional political entities has emerged, including the self-proclaimed but unrecognized Republic of Somaliland in the northwest, the self-proclaimed Puntland State in the northeast, Jubaland in the south near Kismayo, and a future Banadir regional administration around Mogadishu when warlords Hussein Aideed (son of late General Farah Aideed) and Ali Mahdi settle their differences. Years of internal conflict have damaged infrastructure in the fishery sector and rendered ineffective any previous oil spill response capability, aids to navigation, and search and rescue capacity in a region of high tanker/cargo traffic to and from the Suez Canal through the Gulf of Aden and calling at Mombasa, the East African shipping hub. ..."


The list of vessels that have been subjected to illegal actions is long and fascinating albeit frightening. These ships are noted among others:


January, 1988: 2 ships, Bulgarian and a Syrian were captured. The crews were returned on payment of $110,000.

April, 1998: 2 Frenchman were finally released to the international community for $50,000

December, 1998: Four Ukrainian tourists from a yacht were captured. The returned to their home after a month without possessions or the yacht.

April, 1999 : A commercial ferry with a crew of 21 was abducted when it had mechanical problems. A ransom of $6.5 million was demanded; reduced to $15000 for the hostages. The ship was later abandoned and found drifting off the coast of Mombasa.

March, 1999: 2 fishing vessels from Taiwan and Ukraine taken with 50 people.

Also noted was the MV Ming Bright which was shelled hitting its superstructure and some containers but the crew escaped before they could be boarded.

And this is only an abbreviated list. See a full story at Somali Pirate Attacks.

Pravda reported in 2003 the escape of the tanker Monneron after an attack on the way to Mombassa.

" two boats with pirates approached the tanker at a distance of fifty metres and demanded that the ship stop. Three people in one boat and four in the other were armed with automatic weapons and grenade-launchers.

The crew of the tanker hid in the inner premises of the craft, and its speed was increased to the maximum. The captain immediately contacted the anti-pirate centre in Kuala Lumpur by phone and informed it of the incident. For their part, the specialists of the centre informed the command of the French naval force in Djibouti. All the ships, which were in the area of the incident, were also informed of the attack of the pirates.

The assailants fired three shots at the tanker from grenade-launchers and pursued the tanker for nearly an hour but the Monneron managed to escape. None of the crewmen was hurt."


The report is archived at: Tanker Escapes Pirates

Yesterday, 7 November, 2005 NUMAST, the international maritime union called for a UN force to guard shipping off the coast of East Africa:
"NUMAST – which represents some 19,000 shipmasters, officers and other maritime professionals – says the threat to maritime trade, lives, safety and the environment is so great in some hotspots that naval protection is essential.

It wants a United Nations-coordinated force of ships, backed up by aerial surveillance, to be deployed off the coast of east Africa to deter attacks on shipping. Without such a deterrent, NUMAST says there will be a growing risk of substantial loss of life or a major environmental disaster."

See NUMAST website where you can also look up your old shipmates. The site also offers some "shipcams" with views from bridges from ships at sea.

It is also a note that, like the humanitarian invasion of Somalia; some "small wars" remain unwinnable; the hearts and minds of the people untouched and the overall situation unchanged.