Sunday, April 12, 2009

More on the Somali Pirates

Another side of the story. Reuters Q & A:
* When warlords toppled former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia collapsed into anarchy. That led to a wave of illegal fishing, plus dumping of toxic and industrial waste, in Somali waters by foreign fleets from Europe and Asia.

* Towards the end of the decade, local fishermen and militia formed groups with names like the "Somali Coastguards" and the "National Volunteer Coastguards", to drive away or apprehend the vessels from South Korea, Italy, Spain, Thailand and elsewhere.

* Seeing how easy it was to capture ships, those groups metamorphosed this decade into old-fashioned pirate gangs, becoming ever more sophisticated in methods and bold in range.
* In the early days, pirates with a few guns used fishing boats to approach vessels, and then simply tried to scramble on board or throw up ropes.

* As they gained money from ransoms, plus experience, they bought speedboats, tracking devices and more powerful weapons. Typically these days, a "mother ship" first spots a target, and a couple of speedboats are then launched to approach the vessel on either side and board with hooks and ladders.

* Pirates sometimes fire shots over the bow to scare sailors. Often, boats will try defensive action like zigzagging in the sea or even spraying the pirates with water from high pressure hoses. Most vessels, however, are unarmed, in keeping with international maritime practice, so sailors normally surrender quickly once the pirates are on deck.

* Hostages say they are generally well treated, with the pirates viewing them as common men caught up in a wider game: the pursuit of million-dollar ransoms from owners. Some have described the pirates slaughtering and roasting goats on board to feed them, and passing round satellite phones to let them call loved ones back home.
* Although traditional elders disapprove and condemn them as "immoral", the number of pirates is growing, with hundreds now working in a network of gangs.

* Many poor and unemployed young Somalis see piracy as a dazzling alternative to their hard lives, given the quick money to be made. Somalis say they are lining up to go to sea.

* The gangs are based in villages and small towns along Somalia's long coast, in lairs like Eyl, Hobyo and Haradheere.
* All analysts agree that the best way to suppress piracy off Somalia is to achieve stability onshore, where civil conflict has raged for the last 18 years.

* Fourteen attempts to restore central government have failed since 1991, and a 15th one is in its infancy. The United Nations and others are hopeful that the administration of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, set up earlier this year, is the best chance in recent times of bringing peace to Somalia.

* Ahmed is a moderate Islamist with widespread support inside and outside Somalia, but he faces an insurgency by pro-al Qaeda militant Islamists and his government really controls little but a few parts of the capital Mogadishu.
It will take more than money to fix this mess. The solution will not be military... it must be nation building.

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