Somalia: Prison Ships For Pirates Get To Work


February 13, 2009: In Mogadishu, there are almost daily clashes between AU peacekeepers and local gunmen (who either support Islamic radicals al Shabaab, or simply don't want any armed force in the city that might challenge them).  Off the north coast, the pirates have been having a hard time. The international anti-piracy patrol officially went to work on January 15, and since then only one ship has been taken by the pirates. Several dozen ships have been attacked or threatened, but the warships were able to intervene and drive off, or even capture, the pirates.

Last year, foreign warships off the Somali coast, arrested about 150 pirates. Most were released, because international laws controlling treatment of pirates, have been abolished over the last half century. But the rest were sent back to Europe or nearby nations for prosecution. This year, more pirates are expected to be captured, and more arrangements, especially with Kenya, have been made for prosecution. The U.S. is paying the Kenyans for this, and has two prison ships stationed up north to hold captured pirates before the prisoners are sent south.

The anti-piracy forces believe that there are only a few hundred experienced pirates at work, and capturing a lot of them will put a crimp in the capabilities of the pirates to threaten shipping. Meanwhile, the millions of dollars, in cash,  recently paid for the release of ships, is being very visibly spent in northern Somalia. Merchants are importing all manner of goods to service the newly wealthy pirates and their families. There is no shortage of young men wanting to join crews of speed boats that are towed out into the Gulf of Aden, and released to stalk passing merchant ships. There are risks, but the potential payoff is huge.

February 12, 2009:  A U.S. cruiser captured another speed boat loaded with nine armed pirates. The captured Somalis were sent to one of the U.S. prison ships, and eventually to Kenya for prosecution. Meanwhile, in Mogadishu, someone fired several mortar shells at dock workers unloading a cargo ship. Two workers were killed and six wounded. The ship was carrying supplies for AU peacekeepers. The port has been very busy these past few months, as food aid has arrived for nearly three million starving Somalis.

February 11, 2009: Off the north coast of Somalia, a U.S. Navy cruiser captured a speedboat full of seven armed pirates, who had recently been attacking a merchant ship. The American warship will transfer the pirates to one of two U.S. Navy ships (an amphibious ships used as a headquarters for the anti-piracy task force, and a navy cargo ship) equipped to hold over fifty prisoners. The U.S. has made arrangements with Kenya to prosecute and imprison pirates captured off the Somali coast.

February 9, 2009: Somali pirates released a Chinese fishing ship, and its 24 man crew, after three months of captivity, and the payment of a ransom. The pirates consider the payment a fine for illegal fishing in Somali waters (some of the richest in the region, and unprotected by coast guard for nearly two decades.) The growing piracy threat in the last few years, has driven many foreign fishing boats away.

February 8, 2009; Since Ethiopian troops left the country, thousands of Somalis have fled to Ethiopia and Kenya because of increased violence. The Islamic radical groups are undergoing a civil war, with the pro-terrorist al Shabaab group taking on the more numerous, but less radical, militias. The more moderate Transitional National Government (TNG) militias also oppose al Shabaab.

February 7, 2009: The newly elected president of the Transitional National Government (TNG) arrived in Mogadishu, and al Shabaab forces fired mortar shells at the presidential palace.




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