So far this year, the Somali pirates have attacked about 90 ships, and
captured 35. They get a ransom of up to
$2 million per ship (depending on size and cargo.) The pirates are expected to
get over $40 million in ransoms for the year. This has caused an economic boom
in northern Somalia (mainly the self-declared statelet of Puntland). Foreign
warships have established a corridor through the 1,500 kilometer long Gulf of
Aden, and filled it with warships and patrol aircraft. Some 90 percent of
merchant ships are sticking to the corridor, and none of these ships has been
taken by pirates. All the recent ship hijackings have been outside the corridor.
This could lead to controlling piracy in the Gulf of Aden. If the "pirate
free" corridor can be maintained, insurance companies will reduce the
$10,000 in additional fees they are charging for ships transiting the Gulf, at
least for ships that stay in the corridor, and increase the rates sharply for
those who do not use the corridor.
Somalia, attacks against aid workers (usually kidnappings, but also murder)
have increased this year. About three dozen of them have been killed or
kidnapped this year, which is more than double the number for last year.
Foreign aid is major source of income for warlords and bandits, and these
fellows are being more aggressive going after it. While the UN has European
warships to escort the aid ships (mainly carrying food for the third of Somalis
who are in danger of starving), once the aid supplies are ashore, the aid
groups must try and bribe the local gunmen to get the food to the starving Somalis.
That is becoming increasingly expensive, and donors don't like seeing so much
of their money going to bandits, rather than starving women and children.
continues in Mogadishu, where Islamic radical militias keep shooting at AU
(African Union) peacekeepers and Ethiopian troops. For most Somalis, it's embarrassing
to have foreign troops around, even if they are peacekeepers. The radical
groups are also split, and have been fighting each other as well.
radical militias continue to organize and advance on Mogadishu. But these
groups, that began as vigilantes (the Islamic Courts) nearly a decade ago, are
not strong enough to take on the Ethiopian infantry brigade in Mogadishu. There
are a few thousand of these Islamic radical marauders roaming around southern
Somalia, living off plunder. They are careful to extort money, food and other
goods from merchants and aid groups, and not ordinary people. This makes them
popular with the majority of Somalis. Many of these religious gunmen now belong
to the al Shabab group, which considers al Qaeda an ally. Al Shabab also has an
image problem, in that they use force, wherever they go, to impose Sharia
(Islamic) law. This means no music, videos, schools for girls, shaves for men,
and so on. Recently this led to the murder (by stoning) of a 13 year old girl.
She was raped, but the al Shabab men decided it was her fault, and the penalty
for fornication is death by stoning. This has hurt al Shabab fund raising overseas,
where they portray themselves as freedom fighters to expatriate Somalis (who
are asked to donate cash for the cause).
2008: Somali pirates seized a 300,000
ton oil tanker, some 700 kilometers off the east coast of Somalia. Until this
attack, most of the pirate activity had moved to the north coast (the Gulf of
Aden). But over twenty foreign warships and patrol aircraft have made it more
difficult to grab ships there. The pirates have access to stolen fishing boats
that they can take long distances. Anywhere in the world, as a matter of fact.
Seizing the large oil tanker (carrying over $100 million worth of crude oil
from the Persian Gulf), could bring a huge ransom. The pirates have been very
clever in not harming any of the sailors on the hijacked ships. This makes it
difficult for foreign countries to justify the use of force to take back the
ships (not to mention the risk of the rescuers killing some of the hostages).
This media/political logic also makes it difficult to authorize attacks on the
half dozen Somali port towns and villages that serve as bases for the pirates. That
may change, as more pirates realize that they can grab an ocean going fishing
boat, and go hunting for commercial vessels anywhere. There are thousands of
these fishing boats out there, and policing them would be difficult (but not
2008: A Chinese fishing boat, and its
crew of 24, was seized by pirates off the coast of southern Somalia. This is
prime fishing area, and there is no Somali coast guard to enforce catch limits
(to prevent species from being wiped out). Many Somali pirates say these
poachers are the real pirates (which they are, after a fashion), and that armed
Somalis off the coast are "coast guard" not pirates. They are
pirates, and foreign fishing boats have to fish with caution.
2008: Somali gunmen raided a refugee camp in northern Kenya, and kidnapped two
Italian nuns (as well as stealing two trucks and much other loot.) These raids
are increasingly common. Somalis have been raiding, into what is now Kenya, for
centuries. The number of Somalis fleeing to Kenya has more than tripled (to
nearly 70,000) over last year. Many are fleeing starvation, as a drought has
been sitting on the region for over a year, and bandits steal much of the food
aid in Somalia. But many Somalis are fleeing Islamic radicals and their brutal imposition
of Islamic law on any area they control. There are over 200,000 Somali refugees
living in Kenya, and Somali bandits come across the border to raid the camps,
or just stay and rest for a while. Kenya has mobilized a military/police task
force to go looking for the nuns, if local tribal elders cannot arrange for the
freedom of the women.