[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Pirates coverage
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Mon Apr 13 18:51:02 BST 2009
(Surprising... it's getting more balanced. This suffers from a failure
to connect the dots to the US-sponsored Ethiopian invasion of Somalia,
which ditched the Islamic courts - a nascent government - and hence
internal Somali selfdiscipline over piracy was destroyed.)
Noble heroes or pirate scourge?
April 13, 2009 Edition 1
They've been described as "noble heroes" by sympathetic Somalis, and
denounced as criminals by critics. But the word most used to describe
the men holding an American captain off the Horn of Africa is "pirate" -
conjuring images of the sword-wielding swashbucklers, as romanticised by
The 21st century reality, however, is a far cry from that. There are no
treasure-laden islands or Blackbeard in this part of the world, no
wooden schooners flying skull and crossbones flags.
Instead, a vigilante movement that years ago tried to defend Somali
shores has morphed into a full-blown pirate scourge - after fishermen on
defence stumbled upon an astoundingly lucrative bounty waiting to be had
on their doorstep: about 25 000 ships, mostly unarmed, passing through
the Gulf of Aden each year. Picture ragged Somali fishermen armed with
rocket launchers, GPS systems and satellite phones. Picture tiny skiffs
cruising the coast of a war-infested nation crawling with gunmen.
Picture bandits with sunglasses in worn shirts firing machine-guns at
cruise ships, scampering aboard captured trawlers with crude ladders.
And most of all, picture ransoms, huge ransoms.
"I think when most people think of pirates, they think of Johnny Depp
and the Pirates of the Caribbean," said security consultant Crispian
Cuss of the London-based Olive Group.
However, these guys are "just fishermen paid to act as pirates by
warlords and armed gangs who have taken over a lawless state", he said.
The story of an American captain, seized from the US-flagged Maersk
Alabama, which visits Durban from time to time, and held by Somali
pirates since last week on a drifting lifeboat and has now been
released, is only one of the latest examples of a problem that has
plagued the region for years.
The modern piracy scourge in the Horn of Africa arose from the ashes of
Somalia's government, which was overthrown in 1991.
Since then, Somalia has suffered nearly 20 years of anarchy, chaotically
ruled by rival clans backed by bakkies mounted with anti-aircraft guns.
Its nominal government controls barely a few blocks.
With no coastguard to defend its shores, Somalis began complaining that
vessels from Asia and Europe were dumping toxic waste in their waters
and illegally scooping up red snapper, barracuda and tuna. The rampant
illegal fishing began destroying the livelihoods of local fishermen.
According to a memo prepared by the staff of the US House armed cervices
committee last month, Somali clans began resorting "to armed gangs in an
attempt to stop the foreign vessels. Over time, these gangs had evolved
into hijacking commercial vessels for ransom as an alternative source of
Attacks in the Gulf of Aden and along Somalia's coast had risen
dramatically, from 41 in 2007 to 111 in 2008, according to the
International Maritime Bureau. Since January, pirates had staged at
least 66 assaults and currently hold more than a dozen ships and more
than 200 foreign crew members.
According to the memo, pirates operating off Somalia earned $30 million
(R273m) in ransom through the seizure of 42 vessels in 2008. Other
estimates put the figure at $80m. The memo cited one captured pirate as
saying pirates only took 30 percent of ransoms - on average $1m to $2m
Twenty percent goes to group bosses, 30 percent is spent on bribing
local officials, and 20 percent goes for capital investment like guns,
ammunition, fuel, food and cigarettes. Cuss said pirates were becoming
more sophisticated and in the past two months had, for the first time,
begun launching night attacks, possibly indicating that they had
obtained night-vision goggles.
US officials say the illegal trade is believed to be backed by an
international network of Somali expatriates who offer funds, equipment
and information in exchange for a cut of the ransom money. The memo said
Somali buccaneers operated in five well-organised groups, drawing
members from large clans.
Cuss said the industry was controlled by "warlords and criminal gangs
who recruit local fishermen and take a lion's share of the profits".
Andrew Mwangura, of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers' Assistance
Programme, described the pirates as "desperate people taking desperate
measures to earn a living". Today, they number around 1 500, up from
around 100 seven years ago, Mwangura said.
"They're earning a lot of money, and everyone wants to join," he said.
"They're getting new recruits every day."
On the ground in Somalia, some pirates are seen as "flamboyant
middle-aged men," said Mahad Shiekh Madar, a car salesman living in the
north-eastern port town of Bossaso, on the tip of Africa's horn.
"They always travel in beautiful four-wheel-drive luxury cars and look
like people who are working for a big business company."
Abdulahi Salad, a 43-year-old former pirate in the central coastal
village of Gaan, said pirates were "different from the ordinary gunmen
in Somalia. They are not thin, and they have bright faces and are always
Indeed, they are often regaled for bringing wads of cash into
impoverished communities. A local elder in Gaan, Haji Muqtar Ahmed, said
"being a pirate is not shame… it is believed to be a noble profession".
Ahmed said people there used to make a living fishing, "but now the only
livelihood they have is the income from the piracy". - Sapa-AP
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