Piracy is a booming business in northern Somalia, and no one has a workable plan to deal with it. For the first three months of this year, there were 97 attacks on ships by Somali pirates. In the first three months of 2010, there were only 35 attacks. The pirates are going farther out to sea to seek more lucrative targets. This year, for example, 38 percent of the attacks have been on oil tankers (which yield the biggest ransoms). Many of these ships are now carrying armed guards or hiring armed ships as escorts. In response, the pirates are now operating as far east as the west Indian coast, stealing ocean going fishing ships and small freighters to use as mother ships (for the speedboats that carry out the actual attacks). Most ships treat the pirates as a small threat. That's because over 30,000 ships pass through the pirate infested waters each year. At current rates, that means each merchant ship passing through the area has a 1.3 percent chance of being attacked (and less than half as much risk of being captured). But the additional security measures are costing shipping companies over $7 billion a year, and less than five percent of this is for ransoms. The money is attracting more and more pirates, and the costs to shipping companies is expected to double in the next few years. The only known solution for this sort of thing is to invade, and take control of the coast. But so far, the sea-going nations are not willing to pay the price, in lives and money, for that kind of solution.
Efforts to train and arm a coast guard in Puntland and Somaliland have run into a lot of resistance from the UN, and some member nations. The problem is the corruption. The pirate gangs already have many Puntland officials on the payroll, and would bribe any anti-piracy force as well. There's also a real fear that a Puntland Coast Guard might turn into pirates. That sort of thing has happened before. Puntland has eagerly accepted millions of dollars in foreign aid, meant to be used to deal with piracy. But the pirates are still there, well armed and flush with cash. Given a choice between a bloody fight, and some more payoffs, Puntland politicians seem to be going for the cash.
Starvation deaths are becoming more common in drought-ridden central and southern Somalia. Al Shabaab controls much of this area, and has banned most foreign aid efforts (as not "coming from God). The lack of food aid is leading to growing starvation. Aid groups are willing to pay al Shabaab, but the Islamic radicals keep asking for more money and goods. Al Shabaab has tried to ban the aid groups entirely, but that created unrest even among some of their armed followers, whose families were often dependent on foreign food aid, and extra cash. In effect, the aid groups are major suppliers of food and cash to al Shabaab, and justify it because it saves lives.
April 24, 2011: The TNG (Transitional National Government) delayed UN mandated parliamentary elections until next year. These elections were supposed to be held by August, but the TNG says that al Shabaab and other disruptive groups have to be shut down first. The TNG is seen as very corrupt, and more interested in stealing foreign aid than in bringing good government to Somalia.
April 22, 2011: Kenyan police arrested three men at the Somali border, after finding bomb making material in their vehicle. On Somalia's Ethiopian border, several hundred al Shabaab gun suddenly rolled into the town of Dhusamareb, which had been taken from al Shabaab two years ago. The locals insist they will take back the town soon.
April 21, 2011: South Korean commandoes boarded a container ship that had been taken by pirates, and found the pirates had fled. That's because the crew had gone to a safe room and shut down the engines. In such situations, the pirates assume that the crew has called for help from a warship, which will probably arrive shortly and kill or arrest any pirates they find on board.
Al Shabaab seized nine foreign medical specialists running a clinic 20 kilometers south of Mogadishu. An al Shabaab court sentenced the doctors and nurses to 10-15 days in jail. This was apparently another ploy to extort more cash or other goods from foreigners.
April 20, 2011: An armed helicopter, apparently from a warship beyond the horizon, was seen firing on and destroying a pirate mother ship off the coast of Puntland. The international anti-piracy patrol has become more aggressive in seeking out and destroying these mother ships. Pirates are usually given an opportunity to surrender, and they usually do, because they know they will be deposited on the Somali coast (without weapons, but at least alive).
April 19, 2011: India revealed that it had sent a frigate to the Somali coast, to get close to a ship holding seven Indian sailors who had been ransomed, but were still being held to try and force India to release 120 Somali pirates that had been captured off the Indian coast.
April 16, 2011: Fighting in Mogadishu has, over the last two days, caused nearly a hundred casualties. Many were the result of peacekeepers and al Shabaab firing artillery or mortars at each other.
In the Puntland town of Galkayo, gunmen went into two pro-al Shabaab mosques and opened fire. Six people died and dozens were wounded. This appears to have been retaliation for the use of a car bomb, earlier in the day, to kill a moderate (Sufi) Islamic leader and government official. The Puntland government sent more police to the town, to try and halt the growing violence between Islamic radicals and moderates.
April 15, 2011: Pirates released a tanker, after the ransom was paid. But seven of the eight Indians on the 15 man crew were not released. The pirates are demanding that India release 120 pirates held in India, if they want these seven Indian sailors freed. This has outraged the shipping companies, who expect the pirates to keep their promises to free ships and sailors once the ransom has been paid.