Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Somali Pirates Continue Harassing Shipping

Not only have they continued their attacks, but they have again attacked the Maersk Alabama, a ship that was briefly siezed by pirates earlier this year and whose captain was held hostage for several days before US Navy SEALs rescued him and killed three of four of his captors.

The Maersk Alabama repulsed the attack by firing back at the pirates.
The United States Navy Central Command said four suspected pirates in a skiff came within 300 yards of the Maersk Alabama at 6.30 a.m. Wednesday about 600 miles off the northeast coast of Somalia as it headed for the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

But a security team on board the Maersk Alabama responded with small-arms fire, long-range acoustical devices painful to the human ear and evasive maneuvers to thwart the attack, the navy said in a statement.

“Due to Maersk Alabama following maritime industry’s best practices such as embarking security teams, the ship was able to prevent being successfully attacked by pirates,” said Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, the commander of the Central Command. “This is a great example of how merchant mariners can take pro-active action to prevent being attacked.”

No injuries or damage were reported, the Navy said.
That comes after a captain of a hijacked chemical tanker reportedly died of gunshot wounds inflicted when pirates seized his ship off the Seychelles Monday.

Piracy continues to be a huge problem, and ransoms are a big reason. Yesterday, the Spanish apparently paid $3.5 million to secure the release of a Spanish crew.
The pirates had threatened to kill the Spanish crew unless Spain agreed to release two pirates captured by its navy a day after the Alakrana was seized. A Spanish court on Monday indicted the two pirates for kidnapping and armed assault, charges that could allow Spain to deport them. News of the sailors' release emerged as the European Union said it would consider expanding its anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia as pirates venture further south to attack commercial vessels.

The EU's mission off the Horn of Africa will not diverge from its objectives, though officials may agree on changes, the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, told reporters after a meeting of the bloc's defence ministers in Brussels.

''If the pirates move south, we'll have to see if some adaptation can be done,'' Mr Solana said. The EU force, consisting of eight warships and four surveillance planes supplied by eight countries, has been operating off Somalia since December to protect commercial trade.

Typically, pirates press for ransoms totalling millions of dollars in return for freeing crews.
By continuing to pay ransoms, it makes attacking shipping all the more attractive to the Somali pirates and the risks are mitigated by the huge paydays.

Moreover, there continues to be evidence that the pirates are in cahoots with the Islamists who are busy trying to control Somalia and who may have affiliations with al Qaeda. Indeed, there are reports that al Qaeda has been urging the Somalis to continue their high seas terror campaign.

While there are links between the Islamists and the pirates, some believe that the clan allegiances are more important, even as they recognize the threat posed by such links.
Militant Somali Islamist groups such as Hizbul Islam and Al Shabab – who control most of southern Somalia and most of the capital city of Mogadishu – may share a hard-core Islamist ideology with the Al Qaeda militants loyal to Osama bin Laden. But the larger portion of Somali society – and certainly those who make up Somalia's business sector and even its many armed militias – make their crucial decisions based on clan rather than on religion. In a society where nearly everyone is a Muslim, blood relationships are a firmer basis than ideology for deciding whom to trust, whom to hate, whom to do business with, and whom to fight.

"While it is true that Al Qaeda has penetrated into parts of Somalia, it is another thing altogether to prove a link between piracy and Al Qaeda," says Ms. Roque. "For the pirates, it is in their interests to have money and it is in their interests to have prisoners captured by the French to be released. This is an economic decision."
Then, there's the issue of prisoner swaps - capturing crews and passengers and hoping to exchange them for pirates captured by various navies operating in the waters off Somalia.

The world navies refuse to take steps to put the piracy to an end, and that includes zero tolerance for any piracy. It means a cessation of ransoms and instead demanding the unconditional release of the captured ships and their crews/passengers.

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