This week’s quick statistics:
Number of merchant ships held by Somali pirates: 8
Number of hostages held by Somali pirates on land: 28
Number of hostages held by Somali pirates on vessels: 222
Amount paid in ransoms to Somali pirates in 2012: $29.2 million
In this issue:
• Iranian hostages still stranded in Kenya
• Hostage round up
• MSF hostages moved to Kismayo
• Michael Scott Moore moved again, captors still fear rescue attempt
• Relatives of remaining MV Albedo hostages begin ransom efforts
• Despite absence of Puntland Marine Police Force, Puntland continues to pursue pirates
• Transitional Federal Government offers olive branch to pirates
• Dutch shipping companies breaking the law on armed guards
• Seychelles pushes for UN Security Council seat
Another week with nothing to report by way of attacks against merchant shipping on the water. The South West monsoon continues to make itself felt in the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin, leaving waters treacherous for small boat traffic.
The Office of Naval Intelligence predicts slightly lighter seas for the coming week, so it will be interesting to see whether pirates are able to take advantage of more favorable conditions to mount attacks after another very dry period.
Hostages and ships held by pirates
No other country on the planet contains as many kidnapped mariners as Somalia. There are countries that have higher rates of kidnapping. For example, Mexico is experiencing a rash of kidnapping and there are yet to be fully documented reports of mass kidnappings by groups like the Lords' Revolutionary Army in Central Africa, but Somalia leads in terrorism-related kidnappings at 2527 in 2011. Many of those were innocent mariners captured aboard ships. Most of those kidnappings could have been prevented by proper security and procedures and many, if not all, could have been resolved by intervention, ransom payment or negotiation.
Mexico accurately tracks kidnapping and many (up to three quarters) go unreported for fear of retaliation or police involvement. In Somalia, the accurate reporting of kidnapping is more a function of bureaucracy and imposed censorship by the media and corporations who fear fallout from publicizing the dilemma.
Since its inception, Somalia Report has been at pains to establish the actual number of hostages held by pirates in Somalia. Official data is supplied by agencies like the International Maritime Bureau, the UN’s International Maritime Organization, NATO Shipping Centre, the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR), UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and guesses by various media agencies who use versions of these statistics.
Why is it that even with their resources, none of these agencies seems able to either agree on an exact figure or, as is more common, simply focus on the seafarers captured with merchant vessels as nameless victims?
Given the number of commercial, pleasure and fishing boats as well as small dhows attacked by pirates each year, Somalia Report took the decision early on to have its stringers and journalists in the country do their best to account for each and every hostage, from dhow crew to fishing boats and land-based kidnap victims using a Search and Rescue type database.
It is critical to know the location, condition, criminal group and motivations behind each sailor’s detention if a cohesive solution is to be found.
Additionally, there is deliberate confusion as to land-based hostages. Some are kidnapped by pirate groups, purchased by al-Shabaab (to allow ransom to be paid since payment to a terrorist organization is illegal). Some kidnaps are based on plain criminal intent (as in the case of journalists or aid workers), some are based on hostage negotiation for captured pirates (as in the case of Indian and South Korean merchant crews who are used as bargaining chips) and some out of necessity. Many small dhow crews are press ganged into operating vessels, further confusing their status.
To add further confusion, many security companies, corporations and governments attempt to censor the communication of the status of kidnap victims using the questionable premise that public knowledge of their fate will "compromise their security". As if local news and their already miserable condition can be erased.
Why the international bodies choose not to either include crews of small vessels is still a relevant question that families and the public should ask. In many cases, Somalia Report has investigated and found that inaction, confusion, financial fear and fear of "bad PR" is often behind attempt to cover up the kidnap victims.
The lack of accurate information and underreporting could also be due to military and NGO bodies not talking to each other.
For example, the military won’t talk to private maritime security. Maritime security does not talk to locals. Insurance companies are trying to reduce the financial pay out and some corporations simply stay mum because they have abandoned both their ship and crew.
Private Maritime Security Contractors are on the front line, recording and collection data as well as identifying potential threats at sea and repelling them. They relay that information back through official channels and get just what back in return? Nothing.
Families contact the media (including Somalia Report) desperate for any news of their loved ones. In a number of cases, they band together to ransom their fathers and relatives because their government absolves themselves of responsibility for their citizens’ security. Many times they point to the flag on the rear of the ship as the one to be held accountable for the ship’s security.
Somalia Report fully understands that often the final moments of a negotiation are sensitive and controlling information is a natural process for the ransom crowd. But among those who have insurance there are dozens who have no way out of their predicament and silence is the ally of inaction.
Official hostage figures from agencies:
EU NAVFOR hostage total: 177 (Merchant crew only)
Vessels held: 7
IMB hostage total: 174
Vessels held: 11
UK MTO hostage total: 191
Merchant crew: 128
Fishing vessel and dhow crew: 39 (approx)
Other crew still held: 17
UK MTO vessel total: 14
Merchant vessels held: 6
Fishing vessels and dhows held: 8
Information via UKMTO Weekly Report, August 4th, not disseminated to public or available online.
It should be noted that this is the only easily available data on hostages in Somalia. Other official agencies either opt to only release it sporadically or do not make it openly available.
Former Pakistani hostages stranded
Two Pakistani sailors, rescued from pirates by forces aboard the Royal Danish Naval ship, HDMS Absalon, have been stranded at Mombasa port police station for six months.
The sailors, Mohamed Musa Daudi Zada and Dosh Mohamed Ahmed, were crew onboard the Iranian fishing vessel, AL SAJAD, which was hijacked by Somali pirates in August 2011. They told Somalia Report that they sailed from a fishing village in Rameen in Iran. Whilst on a fishing trip in the Indian Ocean, they were hijacked by a group of pirates who then used their vessel as a mother ship for five months until the Danes rescued them in February this year.
The owner of the vessel, Haji Sultanpur, has confirmed that the two were in his employ and had family in Iran and Pakistan. Following the rescue of the vessel by HDMS Absalon, the crew was taken to Mombasa in March this year. 14 crewmembers were repatriated to Iran and Pakistan by the Iranian embassy and Pakistani High Commission in Nairobi, but the two Iranians were left behind due to confusion over their identities. Since then, they have been living at the port police station.
During the rescue of the fishing boat, two hostages were fatally wounded by gunfire. It was initially thought that they had been shot by their pirate captors. However a Danish military court recently ruled that both men had likely died as a result of gunfire from soldiers onboard the Absalon. The court further stated that it was unlikely charges would be pressed given the hazardous nature of rescue attempts at sea.
The Danish warship rescued 16 hostages and arrested 17 suspected pirates during the operation in February this year. The two Iranians remain in Mombasa port police station whilst efforts to repatriate them are ongoing. The seafarers are being looked after by the Mombasa port chaplain, Rev. Michael Sparrow of the Mission to Seafarers, friends of seafarers and local well wishers. Musa says that the UN High Commissioners for Refugees is aware of their case and that Kinet Opiyo and James Karanja from UNHCR have been in contact with them.
MSF hostages moved back to Kismayo
The mixed group of pirates and militants holding the Spanish aid workers from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Montseratt Serra and Blanca Thiebaut, have moved them back to the port city, Kismayo, pirate sources told Somalia Report. The city is currently al-Shabaab’s hub in the country and is bracing for an allied advance in the coming weeks.
It is believed that the hostages were moved after TFG and AMISOM forces took al-Shabaab controlled areas near where they were being held. Pirate sources added that negotiations to secure the release of the hostages were ongoing and that fear of continued clashes between al-Shabaab and TFG forces. Pirates had hoped to finalize negotiations before the TFG and its allies closed in on their position, but due to the lengthy negotiation process, were forced to move back to Kismayo for security reasons.
Relatives of the MSF hostages arrived in Mogadishu in recently to take part in negotiations facilitated by local businessmen and pirates who were representing the captors.
Following the kidnapping of three Kenyan aid workers, TFG and Puntland security forces have increased patrols in the area, which was another factor in moving the MSF hostages.
Michael Scott Moore on the move
Little has been heard of American journalist and pirate hostage, Michael Scott Moore, since pirates released video footage of him. Somalia Report has learned that the gang holding him continue to move him from place to place due to continued fear of a rescue attempt by US Navy SEALs. The pirates are concerned that US forces will mount a raid similar to the one which saw the rescue of Jessica Buchanan and Poul Thisted, the Danish Demining Group hostages rescued in January this year.
Moore was moved to Wisil, near Hobyo in Somalia’s Mudug region this week. Pirate sources told Somalia Report that his captors, led by pirate leader Ali Duulaaye, were on high alert.
Pirate sources told Somalia Report that negotiations to free Moore had stalled and that this had increased pirates’ anxiety. Negotiations between pirates and the company Moore worked for had been ongoing but apparently have hit a bump in the road. Pirate leader, Ali Duulaaye, are not only concerned about a possible rescue attempt by US forces but also possible attack by pirates who lost friends during the rescue of Thisted and Buchanan and may be seeking another hostage prize.
MV Albedo’s Pakistani hostages freed
The hijackers behind the capture of Malaysian tanker, the MV Albedo, received a cash injection this week, following the successful ransoming of its Pakistani crewmembers. Somalia Report exclusively revealed their release of the hostages last week for $1.2 million.
After negotiations to release the crew failed four times, pirates moved the hostages to the Camaara area. They then contacted relatives of the hostages who agreed to raise the required ransom. Negotiations to finalize the amount took place and pirates agreed to settle for $1.2 million for the seven Pakistani crew in order to cover expenses.
Pirate sources stated that the negotiations were facilitated by a private company, but pirates would not name them or give further details.
“A private company was involved and officials from Himan and Heeb administration were also involved. But after the crew was released, Himan and Heeb send them to Galka’ayo to Galmudug’s administration to use its airport,” a pirate based in Galmudug region told Somalia Report.
As with previous ransoms, the gang, led by Guushaaye, took the ransom to Ceel-Huur village where it was counted and divided up. The money gives Guushaaye a nice sum to re-invest in further attacks.
“They claim that they will use this money for investment in new operations and holding the MV Albedo, since they will get another ransom for the rest of the crew and the vessel,” Tuur, a pirate based in Harardhere, told Somalia Report.
What next for the remaining MV Albedo crew?
The remaining crew of the Albedo are still being held in Camaara village, and their captors have suggested that if relatives want to individually raise ransom money, the pirates will release the hostages on a piece meal basis. The ship, meanwhile, will remain in pirate hands until the owners pay the ransom demanded for its release.
The remaining hostages, however, continue to be threatened by the captors in a move designed to pressure relatives into raising ransom money for their release.
“The remaining 15 crew are still in Camaara and the gang will release them if they get the ransom. They don’t care who pays it, relatives or the ship owners. They just want money,” a pirate based in Mudug region told Somalia Report.
This is the first time pirates have released hostages following direct negotiations with their relatives rather than via the owners of the ship they crewed. The remaining hostages now have renewed hope of release, but only if relatives or their governments agree to pay the pirates.
DEVELOPMENTS ON LAND
Puntland security operations continue
With the Puntland Marine Police Force now non-operational, pirates have been gradually moving back to their old haunts in Puntland, presumably feeling that they were relatively safe. To his credit, President Farole is doing his best to show pirates that is not the case, with a spate of security operations throughout the region.
This week’s operations led to the arrests of 53 terror and piracy suspects, according to local reports and the Puntland Ministry of Security. A statement from the ministry said that they had rounded up not just al-Shabaab members but interestingly, cohorts of pirate leader, Isse Yulux. Over the last few weeks, Yulux has been building up his base of operations in Puntland and amassing a number of pirates. It would seem that the Puntland authorities are more than willing to continue to harry him as the PMPF did.
Whether these small raids will be enough to up the pressure felt by Yulux and his colleagues is questionable, but it is good to see Puntland continuing the work begun by the PMPF; their efforts made a marked difference to piracy in the region, so any further efforts on land can only be seen as positive.
TFG anti-piracy plans move ahead
Somalia’s Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, announced plans on Tuesday to create a national naval force in order to secure the country’s territorial waters. As well as fighting piracy, the force would be used to ensure an end to illegal fishing, something the country has suffered from significantly over the years.
However, the plans are just that at present; Prime Minister Ali has appeared at several anti-piracy conferences to request international assistance in order for the plans to succeed. According to press reports, Ali said that Somalia wishes to create a highly trained marine force, which would utilize speedboats and warships. Just where those ships would come from, however, are not discussed, and it’s unlikely that any nation would hand over military assets to the country for obvious reasons, including the UN arms embargo. So at present, the plans are just bold plans. Somalia Report will monitor developments.
Sri Lankans raising money for MV Albedo crew
As related earlier in the report, now that pirates have shown themselves willing to negotiate with families of their hostages, the relatives of six Sri Lankan crew being held hostage by pirates have begun trying to raise enough money to ransom them.
There is hope that with the pirates apparently willing to accept $1.2 million for the seven freed Pakistani hostages, they will accept a similar amount for the six Sri Lankans. Speaking to the media, Fatima Farhana, a schoolteacher and the daughter of the ship's second engineer, Segu Mohammed Bisthamy, said: "We don't want them to keep waiting and die there, we must do something."
The relatives hope to raise $1 million and have approached a formal naval officer to act as a mediator in talks. Ahmed Chinoy, leader of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee in Pakistan, who negotiated the release of the Pakistani hostages, has pledged to help, as has the freed Pakistani Captain of the ship, Jawaid Khan.
Amnesty for pirates pondered
Transitional Federal Government President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, made the news in London this week. In a story picked up by Times newspaper, the President apparently offered pirates a pardon provided the cease their illegal activities.
Campaigning in Balad, in Middle Shabelle region around 36km NE of Mogadishu, the president told a Times reporter, “Those who leave behind what they have done will be forgiven.” Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali stated that pirates would not ‘get away with murder’ but did say the government was prepared to compromise. “The government will make clear that the doors are open, if they want to come in,” President Sharif added.
This sudden offer is interesting in light of recent moves by the TFG to hire current pirates to act as anti-piracy leaders and the brick wall which former pirate, Afweyne, seems to have hit with his attempts to control piracy in the south of Somalia, as Somalia Report revealed in last week’s piracy report.
Has the TFG given up on the idea of turning poachers into gamekeepers or is this simply an opportunistic move to suggest to the wider world that Somalia’s leaders are extremely keen to rid the country of piracy, regardless of what a UN Monitoring Group report might suggest.
St Kitts & Nevis join Washington declaration
St Kitts & Nevis (SKANReg) became the latest flag state to sign up to the Washington declaration this week. The declaration is simply a statement which recognizes that violence against crew members by piracy and armed robbery goes largely unreported. States which sign up are expected to submit better reports of incidents to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in order to improve the information held within their piracy database.
The declaration was inspired by the 2011 Human Cost of Piracy study released by Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP). SKANReg ships have not been immune to the effects of piracy, with two vessels hijacked in the Indian Ocean and one off Cameroon in the last few years. All three were subsequently released, including Blue Star, hijacked in January 2009 off the Somali coast with a cargo of fertilizer. The ship was released in March 2009 for a reported $1 million ransom.
Since its inception, the Washington declaration has proven useful for both OBP and the IMB. This year’s joint OBP/IMB report on the Human Cost of Piracy used a lot of personal information from seafarers about the way they were treated whilst being held hostage and served to highlight their plight in a much more personal way for the report.
Despite strict legal controls against their use, a Dutch new site this week suggested that some of its flagged vessels were happily breaking the law and hiring private maritime security contractors (PMSC) for their ships. As Somalia Report has previously stated, Dutch-flagged ships are only supposed to transit with officially sanctioned (and paid for) Dutch military vessel protection detachments. However, it would seem that many cannot wait for that and would rather run the risk of prosecution by hiring private companies.
It is something of a Catch-22 for Dutch shipping companies. On the one hand, its government has again reduced the cost of hiring military guards, but it would seem that the criteria for securing them is either putting companies off or taking too long to work through. Typically, many PMSCs are last minute hires and Somalia Report knows from its contacts in the UK that this was a major issue between UK maritime security companies and the government accreditation and vetting process. Last minute hires and transits are not uncommon in a shipping industry still very much feeling the effects of recession.
Dutch ship owners’ association, KVNR, had pushed for legislation allowing them to use armed guards but were rebuffed by the government. Martin Dorsman, from KVNR, told the press, “No ship sails the coast of Somalia without protection. As long as the military cannot provide this, we will do so ourselves.”
It will be interesting to see whether this leads to any legal action by the Netherlands government.
Seychelles pushes for UN Security Council seat
Ambitious news from the Seychelles this week, where plans emerged for the country to petition the United Nations for a seat on its Security Council.
Despite the small population (just 90,000 people), President Michel feels that the country’s position in the maritime world see it well placed for a UN Security Council seat. The steps taken by the Seychelles to prevent and jail pirates can’t be questioned, nor can the country’s commitment to a piracy-free Indian Ocean.
Whether the United Nations will see things in the same light is open to question. However, we also question the value of such a role to the Seychelles.
Doing the Ali shuffle
Federal prosecutors have been pushing for the return to custody of Ali Mohamed Ali, released into confinement by US District judge Ellen Huvelle last week. As a result, a federal appeals court has agreed to expedite the case.
Clearly refusing to admit when they’re wrong, despite significant legal agreement from learned professors and legal experts, the Department of Justice (DoI) filed emergency papers in the appeals court, arguing that Huvelle’s release order was “in disregard of the significant facts pointing to the flight risks presented by Ali.” It should be noted that the DoJ has something of a track record for this sort of claim. In February of this year, a retired British businessman was extradited to the US amid claims that he had sold batteries to Iran which could have been used in weapons. The 65-year-old, Christopher Tappin, was declared a flight risk and held in chains in jail in El Paso, Texas until April this year when he was finally granted bail.
Friday saw a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals, District of Columbia, unanimously reverse judge Huvelle%u2019s ruling and instruct her to return Ali to custody, pending trial.
The case against Ali would seem flimsy to say the least. However, federal prosecutors clearly want to avoid the embarrassment of losing and would appear happy to push the legal envelope despite loud voices of protest from experts.