Somalia: The War At Sea Escalates


February 9, 2011:  Shipping companies and shipping associations are calling on governments to be more forceful in dealing with Somali pirates. This includes calls for detachments of troops to be stationed on ships moving through the Indian Ocean. This hard line attitude has developed over the last year as it became known that the pirates were using more violence against captured sailors. Some of these seamen are being killed or wounded during the pirate attacks on their ships, while others are being beaten, starved or murdered while in captivity. Even worse, captured seamen on some ships, are being used as human shields. This happens when ships (usually fishing vessels) are used as mother ships, and attacked by navy or coast guard ships or helicopters.

The UN is more concerned with the suffering of Somalis in the south (beneath Somaliland and Puntland). There, 30 percent of those eight million people are starving because of a long drought and Islamic radicals prohibiting foreign food aid, or stealing most of what is allowed in. About 15 percent of those southern Somalis are also refugees, having been driven from their homes by fighting, usually between clans, or because of Islamic radical groups enforcing harsh lifestyle rules.

India is alarmed at the increased Somali pirate activity off its southwest coast (near the Lakshadweep islands, about 300 kilometers off the coast). The pirates are getting out this far mostly by using captured sea-going fishing ships as mother ships. These "freezer trawlers" are up to 100 meters (310 feet) long and have freezer facilities on board to store hundreds of tons of frozen fish. These ships normally stay at sea months at a time and have crews of 15-30. The pirates don't get as large a ransom for fishing ships as they do for larger cargo and tanker ships. This is particularly true of the coastal freezer trawlers, which are often old and worth less than half a million dollars each. The owner cannot pay the millions in ransom the pirates often demand for these ships. These fishing ships are all over the Indian Ocean, between Africa and India, and the pirates realized that they could hide two speedboats on these vessels and the fishing crew could be used to operate the ship, in addition to twenty or so pirates. But now the Indians, and the anti-piracy patrol in general, are paying closer attention to all those fishing ships. If you know what to look for, and look closely, you can detect which ones are run by pirates. The names of captured fishing ships are known, and they are now being sought at sea. There is a sense of urgency with this, because it's been discovered that the pirates treat the fishermen much more savagely (starving and beating them, often to death). At least one group of pirates is using a small (95 meter long)  tanker as a mother ship.

The violence continues in Mogadishu, with several hundred casualties a week. The cause is often local disputes. There is still some fighting between Islamic radical factions. Outside the city, there are still several clan feuds going on.

February 8, 2011; An Italian tanker was seized 800 kilometers off the Indian coast, and 1,300 kilometers from Somalia. The pirates were operating from a mother ship (captured fishing ship). These attacks, closer to India than Somalia, are alarming, as these are major oil tanker shipping lanes, and 40 percent of the world's oil tanker traffic passes through the Indian Ocean.

February 6, 2011: An Indian warship captured the second (the Prantalay-11) of three fishing ships taken by pirates ten months ago, and since turned into mother ships. The Indians followed the two speedboats back to the Prantalay-11, and attacked the ship when the pirates opened fire. The pirates quickly surrendered, and 28 were taken. In addition, 24 fishermen, used to operate the Prantalay-11, were rescued. Last January 28th, the Indians rescued the Prantalay-14, and sank it, after a similar battle in which fifteen pirates were captured, after ten were shot dead.

February 4, 2011: In the last year, Somali pirates have attacked 286 ships, captured 67 of them (along with 1,130 crew). Over a dozen of these vessels were high seas fishing boats, many of them turned into mother ships. The UN is calling for something to be done, as long as it does not involve an invasion of Somalia. That's the key problem. As long as the pirates have safe bases ashore, and are still getting ransoms, they have every incentive to keep at it. There are not enough warships to keep the pirates from seizing ships.

February 3, 2011: The TNG (Transitional National Government) parliament (435 of 500 members) met and 421 of them voted to extend the parliament for three years. The TNG parliament has passed no laws in the past six years, and serves mainly to enrich the members of parliament. Each is paid $300 a month by the UN, and can make more if they can steal foreign aid. The members of the TNG government receive some protection from 8,000 AU (African Union) peacekeepers, and an increasing number of Western trained TNG soldiers and police. But the TNG has proved unable to get the many clans of Somalia to unite in backing a national government. The U.S., and other Western nations that pay for most of this, want a new TNG parliament elected, when its current term ends in August. But the current parliament insists that there is too much violence in the country to run a fair selection process, and that the current legislators should remain. Arguing over this will continue until August, and probably after as well.





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