Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 23, 2008

NATO's Toothless Anti-Piracy Show

NATO sent a small flotilla to the coast of Somalia. Additionally there are ships from Russia, Britain, India and the U.S. in the area. Supposedly they are looking for pirates along the 1,880 miles of Somali coastline.

But nobody knows what these ships can really allowed to do. What distinguishes a pirate boat from fishermen?  What could be done when some fishermen are observed capturing a cargo ship. Are Somalis boarding an international ship which is illegally fishing in Somali waters pirates or  informal coast guards?

"We don't know," say's NATO:

U.S. Admiral Mark Fitzgerald said while he was aware of where the pirates were operating, there was little he could do militarily to stop them and that guidelines on how to take them on -- including whether to shoot -- were still in the works.

"You know, I don't think we've gotten the rules of engagement yet from NATO," Fitzgerald told reporters on Monday during a briefing on U.S. naval operations in Europe and Africa.

Those rules of engagement will likely be very restricted.

The German frigates who are part of the NATO flotilla are, for example, not allowed to engage pirates at all. The German constitution sees pirates as a police problem, i.e. a state coast guard issue, not a federal military task.

Other countries have similar restrictions:

[The Danish] captured 10 people, but after holding them for six days aboard a Danish ship, the suspects were set free and put ashore in Somalia because the legal conditions surrounding their detention were unclear.

Denmark's Defence Ministry said Danish law did not allow for prosecution of the men before a Danish court. The ministry said it had explored the possibility of handing them over to other countries but that was also not feasible.

There is now a UN resolution which allows some measures against pirates in Somali waters, but this is unlikely to change national caveats.

Unless the world accepts and negotiates with a Somali government that the Somalis themselves recognize as legitimate, there is little anyone can do about the problem.

Despite all the media notice piracy around Somalia gets, it is by far not the most dangerous area. The International Maritime Bureau lists the coasts of Nigeria, Indonesia and Tanzania as comparatively more dangerous waters. 

For now crewmen on board of cargo ships ready to hose down lots of water on anyone trying to board their ship seem to be the best defense against piracy. The IMO's advice to captains:

Water hoses compel the attackers to fight against the jet of water that may also swamp their boats and damage their engines and electrical systems. Water pressures of 80lb per square inch and above have repulsed boarding parties. Special fittings for training hoses may be considered to provide protection for the operators. A number of spare fire hoses could be rigged and tied down to be pressurized at short notice if a potential attack is detected.

That is certainly cheaper and likely more effective than the current toothless cannon-boat policies.

Posted by b on October 23, 2008 at 5:15 UTC | Permalink


Blackwater sends warship to Gulf of Aden

Wait! BLACKWATER has warships?

BLACKWATER Worldwide — the US private military contractor embroiled in controversy over its actions in Iraq — has sent a private sector warship equipped with helicopters to the Gulf of Aden, and is offering its services to shipowners concerned with Somali piracy.

The vessel, McArthur, is described as a multipurpose unit designed to support military and law-enforcement training, peace-keeping and stability operations.

The ship and its helicopters have the ability to patrol a commercial vessel’s route, thereby avoiding the need to hire security contractors to ride on board.

Blackwater’s move came just hours before the Indian government confirmed that it intends to deploy a warship in the Gulf of Aden to guard its merchant ships from Somali pirates. The Indian ship will join assets from Russia, Malaysia and a multinational western-dominated coalition in the troubled waters.

Blackwater justifies its presence in the area commercially by pointing to the increased bills for shipowners operating in the region, including massive insurance hikes, double-pay danger money for seafarers, and ransom payments where ships are captured.

Blackwater Worldwide executive vice-president Bill Matthews said: “We have been contacted by shipowners who say they need our help in making sure goods get to their destination. The McArthur can help us accomplish that.”

Blackwater has ties to the US State Department, providing security for diplomatic personnel in conflict zones. In September last year, its staff were involved in a shoot-out in Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead, in contentious circumstances.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Oct 23 2008 6:12 utc | 1

the hype over piracy in the shipping channels there offered up a great pretext for a semi-permanent NATO presence directly between china & its african investments. we've discussed this in a little in other threads over the years (e.g., this AFRICOM thread), including the efforts to draw india's navy into u.s.-led programs & it seems to finally be taking shape.

bhadrakumar wrote on this on tuesday @ asia times online - NATO reaches into the Indian Ocean

military mandates & imperialist arrogance may indeed attempt to 'solve' the kidnappings off the coast of somalia w/ military force, but there are larger moves at play here

Posted by: b real | Oct 23 2008 14:50 utc | 2

French nab 9 Somali pirates in Gulf of Aden

Tensions heated up on the high seas, as the French Navy captured nine pirates near the Gulf of Aden and a Somali pirate warned Thursday that the crew of a hijacked Ukrainian arms ship would be killed if NATO forces attacked.

The French Navy intercepted the pirates in two small boats about 115 miles (185 kilometers) from the nearest coast, finding assault rifles, grenade-launchers, grappling hooks and ladders onboard.

The nine were handed over Thursday to Somali officials, and French officials received assurances the prisoners would be treated according to international conventions.

Somali officials???
"We wanted to send a very clear message to the pirates that the days of their flourishing and unpunished business are over," Gen. Christian Baptiste, a French Defense Ministry spokesman, told The Associated Press by telephone.

In order not to tip off any other pirates, he declined to say exactly when or where the hostages were captured.

That sounds like a "information operation" to me.

Sending "a clear message" but no facts are available ...

Posted by: b | Oct 23 2008 18:32 utc | 3

security forces in puntland have conducted at least two raids recently to free kidnapped ships, one of which was successful. there have been other arrests inside puntland & trials for piracy -- the penalty for piracy. the problem is that, as we've pointed out before, many experts link some of the 'pirate' gangs to puntland officials - in payoff if not leadership, which is closely tied to the warlord TFG in greater somalia.

the story on the french navy is plausible. they've previously killed & renditioned suspected 'pirates' to france for trial, which has raised all kinds of legal issues. (a report at the time revealed that they were fellows of TFG president yusuf's darod clan.)

shabelle media's coverage on this story states

The state minister of Puntland Abdi Qadir Yusuf told Shabelle that the French troops have dropped a line to them to transfer the pirates to them.

“We received [nine] (criminal) pirates from French navy forces today and we will put them on trial soon” Mr. Yusuf said.

The nine Somalis will be questioned at Puntland police headquarters.

French commandos chase and detain Somali 'pirates'

French authorities are said to consider the piracy a criminal one rather than one linked to terrorism.

The suspected pirates are believed to be fishermen and were detained in the Gulf of Aden as reports from Puntland say.

nothing yet @ garowe online

Posted by: b real | Oct 23 2008 19:11 utc | 4

"the penalty for piracy is execution"

Posted by: b real | Oct 23 2008 19:12 utc | 5

ap: Security firms join Somali piracy fight

Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms — some with a reputation for being quick on the trigger in Iraq — are joining the battle against pirates plaguing one of the world's most important shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia.

The growing interest among merchant fleets to hire their own firepower is encouraged by the U.S. Navy and represents a new and potential lucrative market for security firms scaling back operations in Iraq.

But some maritime organizations told The Associated Press that armed guards may increase the danger to ships' crews or that overzealous contractors might accidentally fire on fishermen.

The record in Iraq of security companies like Blackwater, which is being investigated for its role in the fatal shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007, raises concerns about unregulated activity and possible legal wrangles.

"Security companies haven't always had the lightest of touches in Iraq, and I think Somalia is a pretty delicate situation," said Roger Middleton, who wrote a recent report on piracy in Somalia for Chatham House, a think tank in London.

NATO, with a flotilla of warships due to arrive in Somali waters this weekend, is trying to work out legal and regulatory issues surrounding the use of armed contractors before adopting a position on private security companies.

But the U.S. Navy, part of the coalition already patrolling off the coast of Somalia, says the coalition cannot effectively patrol the 2.5 million square miles of dangerous waters and welcomes the companies.

"This is a great trend," said Lt. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet. "We would encourage shipping companies to take proactive measures to help ensure their own safety."
British firms dominate security work in the Gulf of Aden, but American companies are increasingly getting into the action, according an Associated Press examination of new anti-piracy efforts through interviews in East Africa, Europe and Washington.

In addition to Blackwater, Mississippi-based Hollowpoint, which has not been active in Iraq, says it will provide guards and recover seized ships.
Cyrus Mody, the manager of the International Maritime Bureau, says private security personnel can offer useful advice to ship captains, but he worries not all companies have clear rules of engagement or have sought legal advice about the consequences of opening fire.

So far hijackings are rarely fatal: One Chinese sailor was executed by pirates when ransom negotiations were going badly, and the two other known deaths resulted from a ricochet and a heart attack.

Mody says armed guards onboard ships may encourage pirates to use their weapons or spark an arms race between predators and prey. Currently, pirates often fire indiscriminately during an attack but don't aim to kill or injure crew. The pirates usually use assault rifles but have rocket-propelled grenades; some reports also say they have mini-cannon.

"If someone onboard a ship pulls a gun, will the other side pull a grenade?" Mody asked.

Posted by: b real | Oct 27 2008 5:25 utc | 6

andrew mwangura is out on bail for the bogus charges from kenyan authorities in their attempt to silence him on endsource of the weapons shipment on the mv faina, but he's still talking w/ the int'l media - though either he's not as blunt as earlier, due to his pending trial, in linking the organized criminal factions of the ship hijackings to the TFG & puntland admins, or the reporters/editors at reuters left some parts out of what they relayed

NATO ships start anti-piracy role off Somalia coast

On Sunday, a regional maritime official told Reuters international naval patrols may deter piracy off Somalia, but the kingpins remain untroubled enjoying the fruits of this year’s rash of hijacking in cities.

Andrew Mwangura, whose East African Seafarers’ Association monitors piracy, said while the patrols should calm the situation, the problem needed to be dealt with at its roots.

"There really isn’t a military solution. The boys on the boats are just the foot-soldiers," said Mwangura.

Big men in hotels

"The commanders and generals, the financiers and the organisers behind it are in Dubai, Nairobi, Mombasa and even Canada and London, communicating via laptops."

While some advocate a hard strike on the pirates, there are complicating factors: risks to hostages, different locations of the various gangs, problems identifying who pirates are before they have taken a boat and international legal complications once suspects are captured.

"They cannot just attack a ship, it’s not that simple," Mwangura said.

Mwangura believes some Somali businessmen abroad and corrupt accomplices are the driving force for piracy. "Many are making good money from instability in Somalia," he said.

Posted by: b real | Oct 28 2008 5:33 utc | 7

Posted by: b real | Oct 28 2008 6:21 utc | 8

afp: Foreign navies powerless to uproot Somali piracy: experts

NAIROBI (AFP) — A spate of high-profile hijackings by Somali pirates has spurred western navies into action but experts argue that a handful of warships can do little to stamp out the lucrative piracy business.
NATO announced Monday that one of its ships had successfully carried out its first mission, escorting a vessel bringing supplies to African Union peacekeepers in Somalia.

The European Union (EU) has also pledged another three or four vessels by December in a bid to stem a phenomenon that is threatening world trade.

But experts say a beefed up naval presence can achieve little more than escort services for food aid deliveries.

"When it comes to suppressing piracy , an extra 10 or 11 ships is still not a huge amount of naval presence for a very large area," said Roger Middleton, consultant researcher for London-based think-tank Chatham House.
Western navies with modern equipment are already stretched by conflicts elsewhere in the world and experts argue the number of foreign warships tasked with patrolling Somalia's waters is unlikely to increase significantly in 2009.

Many observers argue sending ships is a band-aid approach which fails to look at the root causes of the phenomenon.

Most pirate groups operate from the coast of Puntland, a lawless breakaway state in northern Somalia. Observers say ineffective security forces there and poverty have allowed piracy to flourish.
"Sending warships can only have a limited effect... one of the best ways of combating piracy would be to stop the decline of Puntland," said Stig Jarle Hansen, a Somalia expert with the Denmark-based Risk Intelligence group.

Hansen argues that not only is there no evidence of ties between pirates and Somalia's Islamist Shebab organisation, which has been fighting the country's government, but the Islamists were more effective than most in combating piracy.

A 2006 Ethiopian invasion to oust the Islamic Courts Union that had taken control of much of the country and support a fragile transitional government had a major impact on the surge in piracy.

"Before the invasion, the Shebab were probably the best pirate fighters the country has known," said Hansen, also a senior researcher with the Norwegian Institute for Urban and regional Research.

However there are signs that major foreign players could seek to address some of the root causes and are mulling a "naval peacekeeping force" that also tackles illegal fishing and waste dumping in Somali waters, two issues that are often used as justifications by pirates.

another helpful move would be to stop this lady & her bosses
US seeks extension for Somali government

US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs Jendayi Frazer has called upon the leaders of Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya to extend the mandate for the installed TFG ("Transitional Federal Government") whose tenure is due to ran out within six months.

(and maybe curtail the scary gesticulating dude in this picture)

Posted by: b real | Oct 28 2008 7:19 utc | 9

Posted by: b real | Oct 29 2008 6:20 utc | 10

Slightly OT - b real - can you point me to a site where I can get some insight into the running Tutsi - Hutu conflict in east Congo?

Seems like an aweful mess ...

Congo soldiers fleeing Goma along with refugees

Congolese soldiers in retreat from advancing rebels commandeered vehicles and fired wildly as they moved through the eastern provincial capital Goma on Wednesday and joined thousands of refugees struggling to stay ahead of the violence.
U.N. spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai confirmed the rebels were not in the city and said peacekeepers were at the airport and at in other strategic points.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has threatened to take Goma despite calls from the U.N. Security Council for him to respect a cease-fire brokered by the U.N. in January.

The U.N. says its biggest peacekeeping mission — a 17,000-strong force — is now stretched to the limit with the upsurge of fighting and needs more troops quickly from wherever it can get them.
Nkunda says the Congolese government has not protected his minority Tutsi tribe from a Rwandan Hutu militia that escaped to Congo after helping carry out the 1994 Rwanda genocide in which half a million Tutsis were slaughtered.

The peacekeeping force's failure to halt the rebellion has enraged Congolese who attacked U.N. compounds in Goma with rocks this week. People regularly stone peacekeepers' vehicles.

Posted by: b | Oct 29 2008 17:52 utc | 11

@b - off the top of my head, i'd recommend david barouski, who occasionally comments here, and does an admirable job of keeping current on news stories on all the proxy resource war activities going on in the congo, plus he's written in-depth on the subject. his blog is world news journal (formerly african news analysis) and the archives can be sorted by label (congo-k, rwanda, mining, ...). or he has some materials on znet (frustratingly poor interface - not under his control)

horrible situation in the DRC & some really horrible neighbors

Posted by: b real | Oct 29 2008 19:05 utc | 12

he has some materials on znet (frustratingly poor interface ...

I do not understand the znet folks - lots of good writing and a terrible website that discourages reading anything of it at all.

Posted by: b | Oct 29 2008 19:34 utc | 13

Posted by: b real | Oct 30 2008 5:21 utc | 14

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