Somalia: Ransom Rallies Reckless Ruffians


September29, 2008:  Piracy has become big business in northern Somalia. Local Somali warlords have figured out that foreign warships are only a problem if they catch you actually attacking a merchant ship. That is unlikely. So over a thousand Somali gunmen have organized themselves into about a dozen different pirate groups. Most of them are going after the heavy traffic going in and out of the Red Sea, through the Gulf of Aden. It appears that some of the pirates, equipped with a satellite phone,  join Somali fishing boats, and call in if they spot a merchant ship travelling slow enough for the speedboats to catch, and without a lot of lookouts. The pirates then speed to the scene, try to catch up with and board the target ship. In the last week, two ships have been taken. One was a Ukrainian ship carrying a cargo of over 2,000 tons of weapons (including 33 T-72 tanks) to Kenya. The pirates promptly demanded $35 million for the ship, then lowered that to $20 million. As foreign warships closed in, the pirates threatened to sink the Ukrainian ship if anyone tried to take their prize away.

September 28, 2008: After three weeks, pirates released an Egyptian ship. The size of the ransom was not mentioned. On the Ukrainian cargo ship Faina, seized on the 25th with its cargo of weapons, one of the 21 crew died (from stress and high blood pressure).The Faina is being held at the port of Hobyo, which is halfway down the east coast of Somalia. Hobyo has long served as a base for pirates.

September 27, 2008: Russia has ordered a warship in the Baltic to go to the Gulf of Aden and deal with the pirates there.

September 26, 2008: A Japanese ship was released by the pirates, after being held for three months. A $2 million ransom was paid.

September 25, 2008: The international community has refused to send troops into Somalia, even to deal with the growing piracy problem off the north coast.  France is alone in calling for international action against the pirates. That is, something more than just naval and air patrols in the pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden. The Somali town of Eyl, on the northeastern coast, has turned into a headquarters for the pirates, secure in the belief that the foreigners will not come ashore, except perhaps as a commando raid. Even captured pirates are not punished. Today, a Danish warship released ten pirates they had captured, along with two speedboats, weapons, on the 17th. Since the Danes did not catch the pirates in the act of piracy, they had no evidence to prosecute them. So the Danes destroyed the speed boats, kept the weapons and put the pirates ashore.

In southern Ethiopia, the first cargo ship (carrying 17,000 sacks of sugar) docked at the Islamic Union held port of Kismayu. The Islamic Courts need to get commerce going in Kismayu to make the occupation of the town pay for itself.

September 24, 2008: A Somali gang in Ogaden (an eastern Ethiopian province populated by Somalis) kidnapped two French foreign aid workers, and took them into a hideout inside Somalia. Off the north coast, warning shots were fired from a U.S. navy supply ship, to scare away to pirate boats approaching.

September 23, 2008: AU peacekeepers in Mogadishu are fighting back against Islamic Union gunmen. This has caused thousands more civilians to flee the fighting. The Islamic Union attacks on the peacekeepers has backfired, because the AU troops had largely kept to themselves before they were recently attacked.




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