Join Date: Mar 2007
Home Port: Durban
Piracy 1 – Five Somalis to go on trial for abduction of South African yachting couple
The Netherlands public prosecution department has confirmed that the Netherlands is to try five Somalis suspected of having been involved in the highjacking of the South African yacht Choizil and the subsequent abduction of two South Africans, Bruno Pellizzari and his partner Deborah Calitz.
A third member of the crew, the yacht owner Peter Eldridge refused to leave his grounded yacht when the pirate fled at the approach of two warships and has since returned to South Africa.
The five pirate suspects are part of a group of 20 that were captured in two separate operations off the Somali coast during November, which involved the Dutch Navy ship HMLNS Amsterdam. Fifteen of the men were released for lack of evidence but the others have been charged with the seizure of the yacht.
The five suspects are being held on board the Dutch warship on remand after court officials flew out to the ship on Saturday. They said the suspects would be taken to the Netherlands for trial and could face prison sentences of between nine and 12 years if convicted.
There is still no news of the whereabouts of the two abducted South Africans, nor has a ransom been demanded so far.
Piracy 2 – Private anti-piracy forces move in.
Private security forces are beginning to play an increasing role in defending shipping from piracy in the Somali region and in a promising move, Puntland leaders in eastern Somalia have agreed to take a tougher approach aimed at preventing pirates from operating within their territory.
The Puntland development took place at the weekend when 35 out of 36 legislators in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland agreed to a new law that could help curb the actions of pirates along the Puntland coast. The new law passed on Saturday gives Puntland the necessary legislation to confiscate all pirates’ belongings. It also provides for the arrest of suspects without the option of bail.
Meanwhile it is becoming clear that increasing numbers of ‘private’ security operatives are becoming involved in the fight against piracy, as frustration increases amongst ship owners and operators over the seeming inability of international navies to bring an end to piracy in the Western Indian Ocean.
Several US security companies including Espada Logistics and Blackwater are suspected of having been engaged in providing security for shipping, while Israelis are known to have been employed by certain shipping companies including MSC on ships operating within the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin area.
According to a ‘revelation’ by Wikileaks last week, Blackwater was controversially granted permission by the authorities in Djibouti to operate an armed vessel or vessels from the Red Sea port and to use ‘lethal force where necessary against pirates’. This was in February 2009 and it is clear that in terms of how Wikileaks obtained the information that the United States government was aware of the development from the onset. The vessel involved was the US-flagged McArthur, a 55m ex research vessel with landing space for two helicopters and armed with .50 caliber machine guns. The McArthur was capable of escorting three ships at a time and would be crewed by 33 US citizens. Additionally, Blackwater made it clear that when chasing pirates it intended taking no prisoners nor did it intend placing any ashore.
In the event the US government under President Obama reacted negatively and Blackwater’s plans were reported to have been dropped.
Said to be the world’s largest private security company, Blackwater has been involved in a number of scandals involving the abuse of power in Iraq and Afghanistan and has been described as providing ‘mercenaries’ by human rights organisations. US law forbids its citizens from acting as mercenaries, but like most things it’s mostly in the interpretation. See previous PORTS & SHIPS article on Blackwater dated 29 October 2008 HERE
South Africa was seldom been far removed from the world of mercenaries either and at least two South African companies have shown interest also in providing escort and surveillance services in pirate waters – one with the encouragement of the Egyptian government although as far as is known that particular plan never took off. Nevertheless several South African-based or linked vessels are currently engaged in escort duties – one of them being a former South African Navy vessel. More than one vessel has been reflagged and sailed from Durban harbour to provide escort services for ships forced to sail through the Somali ‘pirate zone’ which becomes larger by the day.
In a related issue come reports, also as a result of Wikileaks – of an Islamic country in the Middle East that is funding the creation of a well-armed and privately trained militia force to be based in the north of Somalia to fight piracy. The report says that former US ambassador-at-large Pierre Prosper and former CIA deputy station chief in Mogadishu, Michael Shanklin are key figures. The initial batch of recruits have already undergone training, while a company named as Saracen is said to be taking part. The report says the first shipment of weapons has been delivered.
The South African head of a Uganda-based company named Saracen International, former special forces member Bill Pelser has denied that his company is involved.
In addition, says the document, the militia will have air support, which no other combatants in Somali enjoy. There are questions as to whether either the United States or the UN were officially aware of this development. You can read this Washington Post related report HERE Meanwhile, Puntland’s political leader President Abdirahman Farole said his government “will not seek approval” from anyone when it comes to security matters. “For nearly two years we have requested the international community to help us establish anti-piracy troops and to construct monitoring stations along Puntland’s coast to fight pirates…but we received no answer,” the president said.
Responding to questions about the involvement of Saracen International, the president said that what is important is that Puntland improves its security. “Without sufficient security, there can be no investment because investment depends on security and stability.”
The head of the anti-piracy program at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Alan Cole was quoted at the weekend as saying that it was a good thing that Puntland was training an anti-piracy force. He said he would like to know the identity of the donor, the laws governing the force, how recruits are screened and the chain of command.
“Those who are providing equipment have a responsibility to make sure those who are going to use it understand the limits of their authority and are properly trained,” he said.
Previous efforts at training a Puntland coast guard proved unsuccessful and in at least one incident pirates attacking a ship were seen to be wearing uniforms issued to coast guard recruits.
Piracy 3 – another ship highjacked
On 5 December, the 44,377-dwt Bangladeshi bulker JAHAN MONI was highjacked by pirates in the Somali Basin, approximately 1300 nautical miles East of Eyl (Somalia), and only 300 nautical miles from the Indian coast of Kerala, reports EU NAVFOR. The Bangladesh-flagged bulk carrier has a crew of 26, all of whom are reported to be Bangladeshi. The ship was sailing with a cargo loaded in Singapore and was bound for Europe. According to some reports the ship came under attack twice before the pirates gained entry on the third attempt.
Including the JAHAN MONI, pirates are currently holding 23 vessels, with 547 hostages.
EU NAVFOR, the European Union naval force taking part in Operation Atalanta has as its main task to escort merchant vessels carrying humanitarian aid of the World Food Programme (WFP) and vessels in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM. The naval force is also charged with protecting vulnerable vessels in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean and to deter and disrupt piracy generally. In addition, EU NAVFOR monitors fishing activity off the coast of Somalia.
On 30 November, one of the EU NAVFOR German ship, FGS RHOEN conducted her last day of operations as an EU NAVFOR unit, after 102 days of counter-piracy activities in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin.
As a naval support ship FGS RHOEN completed a variety of tasks under deployment and performed 28 replenishments at sea. Rear-Admiral Philippe Coindreau, EU NAVFOR Force Commander, expressed his deep satisfaction and thanks to the crew of the warship.
“I am convinced that your enthusiasm and your engagement in this operation have had a great impact on the counter-piracy mission,” he said.
A few days later, on 3 December, the Italian warship ITS ZEFFIRO and her 225 crewmembers joined Operation ATALANTA. The Italian frigate, under the command of Commander Marco Montoneri, is a Maestrale Class Frigate with a displacement of 3,000 tons and a length of 123 metres. She is equipped with two helicopters.
The Italian Navy frigate ITS Zeffiro which has just joined EU NAVFOR off the Somali coast.
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