Somalia: The Pirates of Puntland Proliferate

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September 4,2008: The drought, and disruptions caused by ongoing clan warfare, have led to half the population of southern Somalia (south of Somaliland and Puntland) being dependent on foreign food aid to survive. While most Somalis realize the importance of this food supply, there are hundreds of armed groups in the country, and dozens of them see no problem with preying on the food aid operations (demanding bribes at roadblocks, stealing food trucks and plundering foreign aid worker compounds, or kidnapping aid workers for ransom.)

Meanwhile, the piracy situation off the northern coast has gotten more serious. The Gulf of Aden is one the busiest shipping lanes in the world (with nearly ten percent of all traffic). Each month, 1500-1600 ships pass the northern coast of Somalia. So far this year, 3-4 of those ships have been seized by pirates each month. That's one ship out of every 400-500. But with the pirates getting more and more ransom money for each ship, the number of pirate groups operating in the Gulf of Aden is increasing. It's believed that at least three fishing trawlers (able to stay out for weeks at a time, and carry speed boats for attacks) are acting as mother ships for the pirates. Most merchant ships are wary of pirate operations, and put on extra lookouts, and often transit the 1,500 kilometer long Gulf of Aden at high speed (even though this costs them thousands of dollars in additional fuel). The pirates seek the slower moving, apparently unwary, ships, and go after them before they can speed up enough to get away. For the pirates, business is booming, and ransoms are going up. Pirates are now demanding $2-3 million per ship, and are liable to get it for the much larger tankers and bulk carriers they are now seizing.

The international naval Task Force 150 has set up a patrolled corridor through the Gulf of Aden, and advised slower ships to travel in convoys (which will get extra attention from the warships.) Ships are being warned to transit the Gulf of Aden carefully. It's the slow moving ships, without sufficient lookouts (the speedboats are difficult to spot with the radar used by merchant ships) that are most vulnerable. Meanwhile, the government in Puntland appears to be intimidated, and/or bought off, by the warlords running the pirate operations along their coast.

The Transitional National Government (TNG), and its Ethiopian allies are assembling a force to recapture the southern (near the Kenyan border and 500 kilometers south of Mogadishu) port of Kismayo. The Islamic radicals have held the port since August 23rd, and if allowed to keep control, would gain millions of dollars a year in docking fees for ships, as well as the ability to import weapons from Eritrea and Iran.

September 2, 2008: Foreign aid workers closed a medical clinic in Mogadishu because of the increasing number of attacks on their facility. Some Islamic radical groups are calling for all foreigners to be expelled from the country.

Off the north coast, a 50 foot French sailing vessel, apparently a recreational boat, was seized by pirates. Two of the three people on board are French citizens, so the French government is organizing a military rescue operation.

September 1, 2008: The number of Somalis fleeing to Kenya is increasing, with over 200 a day crossing the border. These refugees are sent to a camp that already holds over 210,000 Somalis. The Kenyans are wary of allowing too many Somali refugees in, because the Somalis men tend to get weapons and use the camps as a base for criminal activity in Kenya and Somali. For that reason, Kenyan security forces keep a close watch on the refugees.

August 29, 2008: A second Malaysian tanker (in the last ten days) was seized off the north coast by pirates. The ship has a crew of 41. There are seven ships, and at least 130 crew,  being held by the Puntland pirates,

August 28, 2008: In Puntland, an Omani ship, held by pirates for six months, was released. No word on why ransom negotiations took so long (or what the ransom was.) Further south, the UN official (a Somali) who headed the UN relief operation in Somalia, was freed after two months in captivity. The UN wants to provide its staff with more bodyguards, but foreign aid donors refuse to provide the needed funds. Currently, only about $3 million a year is spent on security for UN staff in Somalia. The UN believes that much more is needed. Foreign donors are increasingly sending their aid money elsewhere, seeing Somalia as a waste of effort.

 

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