Somalia: Warlords Block Food Aid By Land and Sea

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March 22, 2006: Without much fanfare, American warships have stepped up patrols off the Somali coast. This is in response to the increase in pirate attacks in the area (from two in 2004 to at least 35 in 2005.) The piracy has prevented shipments of food aid, which two million Somalis, in danger of starvation because of prolonged drought, desperately need. It's cheaper and, without the pirates, safer, to ship the food relief by ship. But the coast is long, the warships are few and the pirates determined.

March 19, 2006: A food aid convoy was attacked by warlord gunmen, or bandits, it's often hard to tell the difference. Two of the sixteen trucks were seized by the gunmen, the rest of the trucks got away, although most were shot up.

March 18, 2006: The Somali warlord, whose men had been arrested by the U.S. Navy the day before, said the Americans fired first and that his men were actually patrolling the coast looking for illegal fishing. Somali warlords know how to play the media, and realize that a lot of anti-American media outlets will pick up on the "American's fired first and we Somalis were just trying to patrol our coast and keep illegal fishing boats away" angle. The reality is that the pirates do patrol the coast, looking for fishing boats they can capture for ransom, or poor fishermen they can simply rob, including killing the fishermen and stealing their boats. Somali fishermen can pay a "tax" to fish without being attacked by pirates. Well, at least the pirates they are paying protection to. Sometimes other pirates some by and attack the fishing boats. This has led to battles on land, as warlords try to settle disputes over who can extort money from fishing boats where.

March 18, 2006: About 65 kilometers off the Somali coast, two U.S. Navy warships (the destroyer Gonzalez and the cruiser Cape St. George) were fired upon by a boatload of Somali pirates. The Somalis were about to be boarded, and had been told to put down their weapons. The American ship returned fire with .50 caliber machineguns and 25mm autocannon. One Somali was killed, five wounded and twelve arrested. The pirates actually fired on two or three RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) that were approaching with boarding parties. Apparently they didn't realize that there were large US ships nearby - it was quite early in the morning.

 

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