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Friday, December 5, 2008

Somali Pirates Thrive After U.S. Helped Oust Their Islamic Foes…By Gregory Viscusi
Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) — International patrols at sea have done little to stop pirates from menacing ships off the coast of Somalia. Even less is being done to thwart them on land — and for that the brigands may want to thank an unintended consequence of the U.S.’s war on terror.In 2006, militant supporters of the Islamic Courts Union, an alliance of Sharia tribunals, won control of Somalia and imposed religious law.
“Under the Courts, there was literally no piracy,” says Hans Tino Hansen, chief executive of Risk Intelligence, a maritime security consultant in Denmark.
Then the U.S. helped drive out the Muslim rulers to prevent the East African country from becoming a terrorist haven, leaving behind a lawless chaos in which piracy has flourished.
“It’s a bad mistake to look at Somali events through the prism of international politics,” says Richard Cornwell, an Institute for Security Studies researcher in Pretoria. “The U.S. turned an internal Somali conflict into part of the global war on terror.”
Now, Cornwell says, the West is making the same mistake with piracy by focusing more on battling it at sea than on pushing feuding Somali factions toward a settlement. And with Islamist militiamen again poised to seize the capital, Mogadishu, there’s little chance they will be able to control the outlaws this time.
$100 Million Extorted
“They are no longer some ragged bunch of pirates,” says Cornwell. “They are increasingly well armed and organized.” The pirates also are flush with cash, having extorted an estimated $100 million since the 1990s, according to Will Geddes, managing director of ICP Group, a London security company.
Moreover, today’s Islamists are unlikely to deliver a government capable of eradicating piracy because they are more divided than in 2006, says Rashid Abdi, an International Crisis Group analyst in Nairobi. Some may even form alliances with the pirates in the self-governing breakaway northern region of Puntland, the base for many brigands, he says.
Somalia hasn’t had a central government since the 1991 fall of the Siad Barre regime, which led to an earlier ill-fated U.S. intervention, recounted in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”
The Islamic Courts Union took control of Somalia in June 2006 by defeating its ruling alliance of warlords. The new rulers raided pirate dens on land and sea, effectively shutting them down, Hansen said.
Restraint Urged
The Islamist takeover alarmed neighboring Ethiopia, a U.S. ally. Initially, U.S. officials urged Ethiopia to show restraint and tried to cajole the Islamists into a power-sharing deal with other Somalis, says Ken Menkhaus, a former adviser to the United Nations in Somalia.
After those efforts failed, Ethiopia invaded in December 2006 and went on to rout the Islamists. The U.S. asserted in mid-December that the Islamists were linked to al-Qaeda, the group behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And once the invasion was under way, the Americans helped the Ethiopians “with advisers and intelligence,” as well as “aerial attacks,” Menkhaus says.
In January 2007, a U.S. gunship attacked Islamists in the south after the Ethiopians forced them out of Mogadishu, the Americans said at the time. The U.S. military also has confirmed launching missiles against Islamic leaders in Somalia on Jan. 8, March 3 and May 1.
“The U.S. denies it publicly, but it’s a commonly held view that the American government provided tacit if not overt support to the Ethiopians,” says Roger Middleton, an Africa researcher at Chatham House, a London consultant.
‘Common Vision’
“The Americans and the Ethiopians have different agendas in Somalia,” Middleton adds, but “it was clear from the U.S. missile strikes” that the two countries “shared a common vision that an Islamic movement was not what they wanted to govern Somalia.”
Before being shut down, the pirates demanded tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for each boat they seized, mostly preying on ships plying trade routes along Somalia’s east coast.
Now they use more powerful boats and also strike ships in the Gulf of Aden on their way to the Suez Canal, usually demanding between $500,000 and $2 million per ship, according to a report by Chatham House. Pirates holding an oil-filled Saudi tanker want $25 million.
The tanker is one of 120 attacked so far this year off Somalia’s east coast and in the Gulf of Aden on the way to Egypt’s Suez Canal, a route used by 20,000 ships a year carrying a tenth of the world’s trade.
Seized Ships
That’s up from 37 attacks for all of 2007, the French government says. About 40 vessels have been successfully seized this year. They include a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks that will soon be released for an undisclosed ransom, the Associated Press reported Dec. 2, citing a pirate spokesman.
Russell Brooks, a U.S. State Department spokesman, rejects the idea that American actions might be to blame for increased piracy, noting that the U.S. had urged the Ethiopians not to go into Somalia.
Moreover, the “epicenter of the piracy problem” is Puntland, which the Islamists never controlled, he says. “So to suggest that the Islamic Courts were able to control the piracy problem is a misreading of the situation.”
The Chatham House’s Middleton says the Islamists had their own coast guard, raided ports in Puntland and controlled Hobyo, Harardheere and other central Somalia port towns where most pirates were then based, before the brigands moved north.
Edge of Mogadishu
This year, an Islamic militia known as Al-Shabab, or “the Youth,” began moving against the warlords and now controls much of the center and south of the country and is on the edge of Mogadishu.
“We strongly oppose piracy,” said Sheikh Abdi Rihin Isse Adow, a militia spokesman, by telephone from a location he declined to disclose. He didn’t specify what action would be taken to stop them.
Somalia’s internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government, which controls just a few Mogadishu neighborhoods, has approved foreign action against the pirates.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union, Malaysia, India, and Russia have sent ships to patrol waters off Somalia. A United Nations Security Council resolution passed in June and renewed Dec. 2 gives navies the right to pursue pirates into Somali waters.
Patrol Ships
The pirates operate across 2 million square kilometers (772,200 square miles) of sea, more than three times the size of France. In all, about 15 ships patrol the area, says Christophe Prazuck, a French military spokesman. It would take 300 warships to control every ship movement there, he adds.
The Western powers say they don’t have the right to operate at will on land or to blockade Somalia. “Blocking ports is not contemplated,” said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s Secretary General, in Brussels Nov. 24.
“A naval force can keep piracy levels down, but it can’t solve the problem,” says Risk Intelligence’s Hansen. “A permanent solution can only come from land.”….
Blackwater Plans Effort Against PiracyBy AUGUST COLE
Private security firm Blackwater Worldwide began holding meetings in London on Tuesday with potential clients for a new business venture — protection from pirates.
The Moyock, N.C., firm, which has grown rapidly through State Department security work in Iraq, has been courting shippers and insurance firms about protecting ships in pirate-infested waters. It’s meeting with more than a dozen firms this week and hopes to drum up its first contract.
There have been almost 100 attempts this year to seize ships off East Africa, fewer than half of which were successful, according to the U.S. Navy. On Nov. 30, two skiffs harassed an Oceania Cruises Inc. ship passing through the Gulf of Aden. Eight shots were fired at the cruise liner, which evaded the boats, according to the Miami-based company.
A chemical tanker in the Gulf of Aden was seized by pirates last week, and earlier in November pirates grabbed a Saudi tanker loaded with $100 million of oil, which is still being held.
Navies from the U.S., India, Russia and Europe, including the British navy, have stepped up their patrols off the coasts of Somalia and Kenya and in the Gulf of Aden, but don’t have the resources to protect all of the vessels that ply those waters. On Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution supporting a European Union naval mission to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia.
The U.S. Navy is warning that ships need to be ready to fend for themselves in an area four times the size of Texas. “We’ve made a lot of recommendations that range from keeping ladders up on the ships’ sides to putting professional security teams on board,” said a Navy official.
The pirates, often armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, have lured ships with false distress calls and even attempted assaults with fast-moving boats, according to reports from the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre on recent attacks.
Blackwater already has a ship it says could be deployed abroad to scare off or even challenge pirates: the 183-foot McArthur, which the company bought in 2006. It can carry two helicopters as well as rigid-hull inflatable boats favored by naval commandoes, and 30 guards in addition to a crew of 15. Blackwater’s database of contractors includes former Navy SEALs and Coast Guard personnel.
“Its primary goal would be one of deterrence, that’s the idea here,” said Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell. The company would prefer to keep its guards aboard its own ship because of legal uncertainties. “We would be allowed to fire if fired upon; the right of self-defense is one that exists in international waters,” she said.
Blackwater’s push to land its first antipiracy contract is part of a strategy to build its business outside its State Department security work in Iraq, which brings in between $300 million and $400 million a year. There are growing concerns in the security industry that costs and legal risks in Iraq could skyrocket because, under a new agreement, foreign contractors there are set to lose their immunity from local law next year.
Shippers are wary of hiring combat-ready contractors to defend their oil tankers or cargo vessels because of liability issues and because pirates may be tempted to shoot first if they see armed guards. Kristi Clemens, president of security firm Aegis LLC, says it could even end up raising insurance rates.
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