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This week’s report continues the trend of around two failed attacks a week and the ongoing dominance of armed security teams. The land campaign against pirates heats up with the Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) entering Hafun changing pirate dynamics. Hostages are moved as AMISOM removes more space from al-Shabaab and the U.S. 4th Circuit Court defines the law as not needing to actually to actually board or take a ship.
I would also like to introduce a new editor for the Piracy Report. He wishes to stay anonymous due to his internal industry connections, but I think subscribers will enjoy his well-seasoned hand. A journalist with over 20 years’ experience in print and online media, our new piracy editor has also spent several years in the maritime security industry, and is well placed to give Somalia Report readers the best analysis and coverage of piracy stories as they break.
We will also issue the report on Tuesdays rather than Fridays to better accommodate schedules. As always if you have tips, critiques, questions or observations, please contact us at PiracyReport@SomaliaReport.com.
Robert Young Pelton
Puntland Enters Hafun
This week on Saturday night the Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) entered the area of Hafun on the coast of Somalia. The peninsula of Ras Hafun and its smaller areas of Hurdiyo had been a haven for pirate activities and one of the last places where hijacked ships like the Suezmax tanker Royal Grace are currently held along Puntland shores. Piracy is so entrenched that pirate Isse Yulux and others have links to the current Mayor of Hafun through marriage of his daughter to a pirate named “Aragasto” and clan. The residents of classical Opone (as the Greeks called the harbor and fresh water source) are not used to their affairs being scrutinized by a central government.
Not surprisingly, the PMPF convoy was pelted with rocks and abused by women and children as they entered the town. After intensive negotiations between the Puntland officials and locals, an accommodation was reached. One particular group of men were exceedingly irate and began firing their weapons into the air. The men then found themselves vastly out-numbered by the police and, after a minor altercation, seven of the men were arrested in a vehicle attempting to leave town.
It appears that the pirates had instigated not only the anti-PMPF protests by women but also the appearance of an armed militia. Weapons including AK-47s and a PKM (a Russian-made light machine gun) were confiscated. Six of the suspects were taken to the jail in Bosaso. Amongst them is a suspect named Mohamed "Dhafoor", 36, believed to be the second in command to pirate Isse Yulux. Here is the official jail roster from Bosaso:
1. Mohamed Mohamud Mohamed Hassan (Dhafoor). Age: 36 years. Born: In Hafun. Clan/Majeerten/Osman – Mohamud. Mother's Name: Sahra Mohamed
2. Abdirizak Ibrahim Ali. Age: 19 years. Born: Hafun. Clan/Majeerten Osman Mohamud
3. Abshir Said Mohamed. Age: 30 years. Born: Hafun. Clan/Majeerten Osman Mohamud. Mother's Name: Hawa Jama
4. Ayaanle Said Jama. Age: 47 years. Born: In Hafun. Clan/Majeerten Osman Mohamud. Mother's Name: Safia Jama
5. Abdisalan Ahmed Hassan. Age: 29 year. Born: Hafun. Clan/Majeerten/Osman, Mohamud. Mother's Name: Muhubo Osman
6. Khaliif Farah Said. Age: 35 years. Born: Hafun. Clan/Majeerten/ Osman Mohamud. Mother's Name: Nadiif Jama
Dhafoor and his boss Yulux are believed to be the pirates who captured and held the Johansen family and two crew members. They were hijacked during a yachting holiday on February 24th, 2011, until they were ransomed for between $2 and $4 million US dollars.
Dhafoor is also being held of charges of ambushing and murdering five and injuring 11 Puntland government security forces members in Hul Anod in March 2011.
Although the government insists there were no causalities during the raid, Dhafoor sustained a minor leg wound in the operation, and is pictured wearing a bandage in our photo. Puntland Minister Khalif Issa Mudan, who is in Hafun, said everything is peaceful and responding to accusations of violence told Somalia Report, “...that is rumors, no one injured, no one died and the troops are in the city peacefully."
Third “Pirate Den” entered by PMPF
The PMPF had previously entered the smuggling center of Qaw with little fuss and managed to provide first aid to the desperate human cargo left to float in the sea after the capsizing of a smuggler’s skiff. The police force then entered Eyl, the birthplace of Puntland President Farole, and received a cordial welcome. Instead of rocks, the women cheered and the Mayor welcomed their arrival. The recent surge in piracy first sprang up in Eyl in 2008 and has since moved southward to Hafun and Galmadug, essentially coastal areas where the government has no presence. Bargal has been successful in pushing pirates out without government help and there is animosity, with some proponents claiming the region as a breakaway republic called Ras Asyer. Yulux is also related by marriage to an official in Bargal where he keeps a home.
The region of Ras Hafun has long been a base for pirates due to its strategic location as a spit jutting into the Indian Ocean, fresh water and a minor natural harbor.
Despite this favored location continental Africa’s most westerly point has never really prospered. The peninsula was devastated by a tsunami in December 31, 2004 and has never fully recovered.
An old colonial salt plant build by the Italians lies abandoned. Houses destroyed by the rushing tidal wave lie abandoned. Sporadic aid projects do little to reverse the economic descent of the town. The sole source of legal income is subsistence fishing and, failing that, piracy.
The long delayed entry by the government of Puntland into the region of Ras Hafun may also have been related to the looming presence of the tanker MT Royal Grace, held off Hurdiyo just north of the peninsula.
The Suezmax tanker was on its maiden voyage from Sharjah to Nigeria when, on March 4th, Isse Yulux’s group seized control over the Panama-flagged but UAE-owned ship. As the leviathan sailed towards Hafun, about four dozen armed pirates and a dozen vehicles were spotted awaiting its arrival. Their goal was to swap out the sea crew and put “holders” on board as they negotiated the ransom.
The ship is owned by the Royal Oyster Group. Yulux has hired a negotiator, most likely Looyan who was waiting in Galkayo with $500K, his share from the successful negotiations from the Enrico Iivoli . Looyan has already been up to his old tricks and tried to get attention by claiming a crew member had died (without any evidence to support the claim).
The UAE is the foreign donor alleged to be funding Puntland's anti piracy program and the presence of one of their oil tankers off Hafun would be have been certain to put the PMPF program to the test.
The capture of alleged pirate Dharfoor should attract a flurry of visitors to Puntland. He and Yulux are implicated in four fairly high profile criminal acts and, if true, he may be deported to face trial...if he survives the local accusation of ambushing a group of Puntland security killing five and injuring eleven. Those police were on their way to rescue the seven kidnapped Danes held aboard the MV Dover at the time of their deaths.
The Danish family, consisting of Jan Quist Johansen, his wife, their three children was sailing around the world in a 43 foot pleasure yacht named SV Ing. They were released in September after six months of captivity. The MV Dover was also held by an associated group. Although they were treated humanly the captivity of the Joahansen children brought additional focus to the heartlessness of Somali pirates.This group also captured and ransomed the Enrico Ievoli. It was released in April for between $5 to $9 million dollars.
Somalia Report has learned that Dhafoor, who is a member of the Osman Mohamoud clan, a sub-clan of Majerteen, is also suspected of being an investor in the group that attacked and killed the four Americans aboard the SV Quest.
This could lead to interest from the US government, who have already prosecuted Mohamed Saaili Shibin guilty of piracy following his actions as a negotiator in the SV Quest hijacking, in which four Americans were shot and killed by pirates during a rescue mission by US Navy SEALs.
This evening (Monday) in Bosaso, police arrested pirate commander Abdi-Koos, who is said to have been behind a number of hijacks near the main port. Abdi-koos is from the Layl-kase clan (Darood) and is also said to have orchestrated the hijacking of the MV Leila.
MSF Hostages Moved to Kismayo
In a disturbing development in the otherwise improving but fluid security situation in the south, sources tell Somalia Report that the gunmen who are holding the two Spanish female hostages from MSF, Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut, moved the women into al Shabaab-held Kismayo on Wednesday as a result of the recent AMISOM offensive into Afgoye. The two women were transported from their previous location of Abdurahman Jama’s farm in Afgooye, then overnight to Marka and then to Kismayo.
This linkage may prove to be the downfall of pirate groups if they come into the sights of U.S. anti terrorism forces in the region.
The aid workers were kidnapped from Dadaab refugee camp in Kenyan in October of last year and were previously held in Elasha Biyaha, on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
Pirates in Harardhere contacted Somalia Report to tell us that the crew of MV Orna are not doing well and are suffering from ailments related to diet and poor water quality. (Editor's note: Pirates use often warn of 'dire situiations' and 'poor health' in an attempt to pressure the owners to pay ransom.)
Although part of the vessel was damaged by fire in an accident last year, the vessel can still move. The crew of 19 is comprised of 18 Syrians and one Sri Lankan who have now been held captive for more than 17 months.
The vessel is currently area between Harardhere and Handule. Two weeks ago, an EU aircraft, said to be helicopter gunships, targeted equipment belonging to the hijackers of the MV Albedo and MV Orna, in a small camp near Handule.
The group which is holding the vessel is mixed, and led by Abdi Dheere, a pirate leader from the Salebanclan, while the investors are Buundo (pirate-from Cayr) and Xuseen Jiis (pirate-from Saleban). They have used the vessel as a mother ship three times.
India Returns Pirates to Puntland
Marking the first time that countries have repatriated pirates who finished their sentence, 18 Somali pirates were returned from India to Puntland, according to Puntland’s Minister for Security, Khalif Issa Mudan.
“Yes, the Indian navies seized them, they finished their jail terms and they are back,” he told Somalia Report by phone on Thursday evening.
The pirates were flown to Bosaso airport on early Thursday by chartered plane.
“We can’t promise that they will not be pirates again, but we hope that they will change their mind and do something good for themselves,” Minister Khalif Issa Mudan told Somalia Report.
The former pirates are now free in Bosaso.
Weekly Maritime Summary
There are currently 20 ships (9 large commercial vessels and 11 fishing dhows) and 302 hostages being held (277 on ships and 25 on land) by Somali pirates.
There were two unsuccessful pirate attacks on ocean going merchant vessel this week.
On the same day (May 23rd), pirates attacked and fired upon US-owned and flagged Maersk Texas while she was underway in position 25:29.6N-057:16.8E, approximately 28 nautical miles west southwest of Bandar-e-jask, Iran. The attack is notable due to its location in the Gulf of Oman and its proximity to both the Iranian coast and the port of Fujairah, UAE. According to media reports, the attack consisted of an unusually large number of skiffs in a swarm tactic.
The report states that the Duty Officer onboard the Texas noticed 10 skiffs at a distance of 2nm from the ship’s starboard side. The forward skiff broke from the group and approached the Texas at a speed estimated at between 20-25 knots. The Texas’s Master and security team were informed, the alarm was raised and fire hoses and the ship security alert system (SSAS) were activated. The UKMTO and Iranian Navy were also alerted to the situation.
As the skiff closed to within 500 meters, the security team fired warning shots. The pirates ignored these and, as they closed to 300 meters, the security team again fired warning shots and noted that the pirates returned fire. On the port side of the Texas, it was noticed that 11 skiffs were advancing towards the vessel. As the security team fired warning shots, these craft stopped their approach and moved away. The pirates on the starboard side continued their pursuit for 12 further minutes before breaking off and moving away towards a dhow in the vicinity. No damage was reported to the Maersk Texas or its crew.
The attack has not been recognized by EU NAVFOR, which monitors piracy action as part of Operation Atalanta. A report carried by Bloomberg Businessweek quoted Timo Lange, an EU NAVFOR spokesperson, as saying that after reviewing the incident, they believed there was, “no case of piracy and it’s a false alarm”. This was echoed by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), whose spokesperson, Lt. Cdr. Mark Hankey, told the Associated Press, "The full facts of the event have yet to be fully ascertained. Piracy has to be judged according to a number of factors. It is not clear from the information available to date whether this was a piracy event."
A helicopter from the Australian Navy ship, the HMAS Melbourne, was dispatched to the area whilst the Iranian Navy also reportedly responded to the Texas' call for assistance.
In April 2009 the Maersk Alabama was attacked by pirates while underway to Mombasa. The Master of the vessel was taken captive before he was freed by US Navy SEALs. Three pirates were shot dead during the rescue mission. The ordeal is also a film starring Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips. In February, director Paul Greengrass was auditioning merchant mariners in Boston for parts in the Sony film, scheduled for release on March 22nd, 2013. Maersk Alabama was attacked a second time whilst heading to Mombasa in October 2009, but this time armed private security guards aboard the vessel returned fire forcing the gunmen to abort the attack and move away.
Piracy Law Clarified
On Wednesday in Richmond, Virginia, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a bid by five Somalis to overturn their convictions for attacking a US Navy vessel they mistook for a merchant ship. The decision established the fact that an individual does not have to seize or rob a ship in order to commit piracy.
The pirates on trial had attacked the USS Nicholas on the night of April 1, 2010, which was lit to resemble a merchant ship. Five pirates surrendered and were brought to the United States to stand trial. Their conviction marked the first time a conviction on piracy has been rendered by a judge in the United States since 1819. Previously Somali pirates have pled guilty in other cases.
The defense team for the pirates also argued that piracy must involve the taking of a vessel, not the attempt.
An earlier US court decision to dismiss piracy charges against five pirates who were part of a gang of seven pirates who unsuccessfully attacked the USS Ashland on April 10th, 2010 and failed was held up as a precedent. In that case, US District Judge Raymond Jackson, removed the piracy charge, saying that the federal prosecutors’ definition of piracy was too wide ranging and actually contrary to US Supreme Court case law.
One of the pirates pled guilty and offered to testify against the other five. During the attack, one of the pirates was killed by return fire from the Navy vessel. In addition to piracy, the other charges (including the attack on the M/V CEC Future) were attacking a vessel with the intent to plunder it, engaging in an act of violence against persons on the vessel, and using a firearm in the attack.
The three judge panel, all Democratic appointees and proponents of evolving laws, rendered a lengthy decision. The pirates can discuss the ruling with the full panel of the 4th Circuit or take their case to the Supreme Court.
(Editor's Note: The list/photos/details of hijacked ships and crews will resume next week.)