Friday, August 14, 2009

Egyptian fishermen kills 2 pirates in escape

Pirate victims fought back and were able to escape. Egyptian fishermen who'd been nabbed by the pirates four months ago used machetes and tools to attack their captors, killing two of them. And, turning the tables, the Egyptians apparently have a few of the pirates hostage. See how the Somali pirates like that.

I bet there's someone from Hollywood calling up the Egyptians getting the rights to their story. I wonder if they'll try to get Van Damme to play an Egyptian fisherman...

More of the details from the AP

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Interview with a pirate

Wired's Scott Carney had a chance to catch up with a Somali pirate. Same old line in there about Somali boat warriors are "protectors" not "pirates" since they're chasing off foreign vessels.

  • Nice nugget in there about how pirates release news of a capture to the media to exert pressure on the shipping company to negotiate a ransom.
  • Another nice insight: it costs about $30k to outfit a pirate team and boat for a mission, but they only are successful once every 3 - 4 tries.

Also included, a video from pirates aboard a ship. I guess that would be pirated video.

Read the piece.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pirates receive $1.8m ransom - nice work if you can get it

The German-owned MV Victoria, an Antigua and Barbuda-flagged cargo vessel, was released after pirates got $1.8m. Nice haul for the pirates.

Reuters has a list of ships still held. Irony award goes to the pirate capture of the ship called "Buccaneer" on April 11.

Read more from Reuters.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pirate attacks venturing farther afield

Here's to the power of infographics, thanks to UNOSAT. Graphics showing trends in pirate attacks highlight a number of takeaways but give scant attention to one of the most interesting trends:
  • Pirate attacks are increasingly happening farther from the Somali coast. Some 40% of the most recent pirate attacks have happened 300+ miles from the Somali coast.

A few other items of interest:
  • Pirate attack success rates this year (23%) is lower than last year (40%). Give a hand to the heightened security measures
  • Overall pirate attack rates, however, have increased significantly (UNOSAT says 650% from this time last year, but that doesn't make sense)
Read the report.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Claims of pirates smuggling al-Qaeda into Somalia are fishy

Somali pirates are smuggling al-Qaeda operatives into Somalia to aid the Islamic fundamentalist group al-Shabab, according to an announcement by that nation's first deputy prime minister, Professor Adan Ibrahim.

Although an al-Qaeda-pirate connection would be worrisome, this claim sounds pretty fishy. A few reasons:
  • al-Shabab controls much of Somalia and is pushing to topple the government. That gives the government a really good incentive to wave its hands and claim that al-Qaeda is flooding the country. That information would certainly get the West's attention, and perhaps its money/help to keep the government in power
  • an Islamic government ruthlessly shut down piracy in Somalia when it was last in power in Somalia. No reason to think that Shabab would necessarily be different
  • bringing al-Qaeda into Somalia would be bad for the pirate business because al-Qaeda would attract the West's attention and firepower
I don't doubt that Somalia is an attractive place for al-Qaeda to set up shop, and al-Shabab provides them with an entree. But I'd bet the pirates aren't so eager to see that happen.

Thus my earlier posts that the pirates, in fact, could be natural allies in resisting Islamic fundamentalism and al-Qaeda in Somalia. Not that this would be the most savory alliance in the world, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend. At least, for now.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

K'Naan speaks out on piracy

Rapper K'Naan speaks out on piracy in his homeland in Somalia. Lots of opinion and very thin on evidence, but K'Naan is well spoken on this subject.

Piracy - just a way to make a living

A new book looking into the economics of piracy (or, as the NYT tortuously called it, "aaargh-onomics" - do they have editors there still?) has been getting some attention.

Called The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Piracy, the book by Peter Leeson examines the supply and demand side of pieces of eight. The book focuses on the pre-AK47 days of piracy, primarily the mid-1600s to mid-1700s when the pirates life was a good one.

Unfortunately, there isn't in the way of insight in Mr. Leeson's book. A few highlights:
  • Most pirates were young men. Wow! Some deep insights from Mr. Leeson here. In other news, pirates enjoyed the occasional drink of rum
  • A pirate could make 100 pounds a month (about $24k in today's money), which was about 4x the amount merchant seamen made
  • Pirates elected their leaders. I suppose the NYT would call that an "aaaarg-ocracy"
  • Pirates took PR seriously so would occasionally torture resisters and have them walk the plank so that the word got out that the pirates would brook no opposition

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pirates blamed for halting broadband in Africa. What next?

The pirates in Somalia can't seem to catch a break these days. First of all the world starts sending some serious naval hardware into the region to stop their piratical shenanigans. Then al-Shebab starts stoking the flames of civil war with attacks on Mogadishu (remember, al Shebab is an extremist Muslim faction that suppressed the pirates when it was in power a few years ago).

Now, the pirates are being blamed for slowing down the delivery of broadband internet to Africa. According to a report in the FT, the managers of Seacomm - a $600m project to connect Africa to the global broadband network - reported they had to suspend their efforts for fear of pirate attacks.

If you read the details, the delay was a wise bit of caution. Those ships are massive - they carry about 4,000 miles of fiberoptic cable - and slow, a prime target.

But come on. Aren't we going a little far here. What else can you blame on the pirates? Here are a few ideas:

  • Sorry I was late to work because I had to fortify my car in case of pirate attack
  • I don't have my homework because the Somali pirates took it
  • The US economic stimulus plan is delayed because Somali pirates claim to have several shovel-ready projects we need to vet
  • Oh, yeah, I'd love to go to the prom with you but Somali pirates are holding my parents hostage so I should probably stick around for the ransom negotiations
  • Oh, honey, I didn't forget our wedding anniversary; it's just that Somali pirates grabbed me on the way to the jewelry store and there wasn't time to pick anything up before my daring escape
  • I think the tooth fairy is being held by the Somali pirates. They probably want all her tooth money for ransom. I'm sure she'll make it tonight though.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Great infographics on Somali pirates

Wired as come up with a great set of graphics to explain the pirate situation around Somalia. The graphics are a little hard to manipulate at first, but it's worth the effort.

The graphics cover:
  • A map outlining the number of pirate attacks off Somalia and around Gulf of Aden since 2003. Also includes this fact: low level pirate can make $10k on a successful pirate attack, or about 17 times the annual per capita income in Somalia
  • An overview of attacks. Good fact: in 2008, only 0.2% of ships sailing in Somali waters were successfully hijacked
  • A look at the negotations. Highest payout? $3.2m for MV Faina
  • The last one is about a resolution. Good fact on this one: a $3m kidnapping and ransom insurance policy costs about $30k. Maybe the pirates are working for the insurance companies????
See the full infographic series.

Pirates, meet the Robo-chopper

Austria's Schiebel Group is rolling out its "Camcopter S-100" as an anti-pirate early warning device. About 10 ft. long and weighing 200 lbs., the mini-chopper has a camera on board as well as GPS sensors.

The software is pretty nifty, allowing you to practice a mission in a 3d environment through an aviation style instrument panel. It can fly up to 120 knots and stay aloft for up to 6 hours.

You can see some videos of this bird in action.

All in all, a fancy way to fight pirates (though it was developed for military and civilian observation purposes). Or, of course, you can keep your eyes peeled on deck, have an evasion plan, and pull up a ladder. A little cheaper, but not as much fun.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Interpol involvement bolsters prosecution of pirates

With the monsoon season limiting the number of pirate attacks off Somalia, the fight against piracy has entered a new phase.

Interpol, the international police organization, is starting to collect finger prints of suspected pirates, photographs, even DNA samples in an effort to collect hard evidence for pirate prosecutions.

Whenever I think of Interpol I think of the Pink Panther, but the systematic gathering of evidence is necessary if you're going to really prosecute these guys. Whether it's much of a deterrent in a country where the rule of law is nugatory is another matter.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Somali pirates interviewed on camera

A nice piece from Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow reports from Garowe, Somalia, who interviews pirates face to face. The pirates don't seem to be too worried about being caught on film.

One of them bolsters the Robin Hood image of Somali pirates by claiming that 20% of a ransom take goes to the poor and those who provide services to the pirates. He also says that ransoms are based on the nationality of the crews, rather than the ship itself. US and Europeans get more than Asians.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Qaeda moving into Yemen and Somalia - pirate escalation

A disturbing piece today in the NYT about al Qaeda operatives moving into Yemen and Somalia - Some in Qaeda leaving Pakistan for Somalia and Yemen.

Take a quick look at a map. If this shift is part of a deliberate plan, Qaeda may be working on a pincer movement focusing on the Gulf of Aden, the primary shipping transit point for much of the world's fuel.

Somali pirates should be worried about this move too. Qaeda muscling into their territory could mean increased international attention and pressure that could put a big dent in their pirating efforts. A much bigger concern: Somali pirates might just take the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" route and figure out some way to work with the Qaeda operative.

We know that al Qaeda operatives have something that the Somali pirates want: money. And the pirates have some know-how about tracking and attacking vessels that I'm betting al Qaeda would be happy to pay for.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Surgical aid strike" to Puntland to stop pirates

I caught up with Roger Middleton the other day for some insights into the Somali pirate issue. An African studies major currently at the Chatham House think tank, he had some very interesting insights into how to resolve the pirate problem.

Puntland – the province in northern Somalia that is the greatest source of pirates in the region – has a functioning local government. Now, Puntland isn’t exactly a model for stability but it’s in better shape than the national government that has trouble controlling its own capital in Mogadishu.

Roger’s perspective is that working with the local Puntland government directly to train and arm a local police force has a much higher chance of success than throwing money at the government in Mogadishu.

“It does have a reasonable degree of control over its territory,” Roger said. “Prospects of improving things in Puntland are more rosy.”

But this “surgical aid strike” option has its own risks, as Roger readily admitted:
  1. The main government might not take too kindly to foreign aid and training going directly to a province. They might make a stink that foreigners were meddling in their internal affairs.
  2. Association with foreign powers is political suicide in Somalia. History has shown that Somalis don’t take kindly to perceived foreign intervention.
  3. Half measures can be as dangerous as doing nothing at all. Establishing and arming a police force isn’t enough; they need to be adequately trained. As we saw in Mogadishu, a poorly trained police force abused its status and ultimately seriously undermined the government

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Arms race with Somalia pirates

According to Reuters, shipping companies are considering adding armed guards to their ships to fight off pirates.

Big mistake. As I mentioned in an earlier post - Arming crews not a good idea - adding armed guards to ships is just asking for trouble. One item I hadn't thought of is that security firms with dubious records are approaching shippers sensing a business opportunity. Some of these firms have been kicked out of Iraq and Afghanistan for their trigger-happy ways.

Danish group Shipcraft said putting armed guards on its vessels travelling through the Gulf of Aden was a deterrent and also a means of protecting its crews despite the risks involved.

"They (pirates) do not like to be there when the guards are there," said Shipcraft's chief executive Per Nykjaer Jensen to Reuters.

While maritime organizations have urged shippers not to start arming their ships and encouraging greater use of international navies to patrol the waters, the sheer scale has made that an unworkable solution.

Ending piracy in Somalia requires a holistic and realistic approach using lessons learned from counterinsurgency successes in Iraq and political will.