Just days after announcing that it would back deputy leader Khairat El-Shater as a presidential candidate in Egypt's upcoming election, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party made a pit stop at Georgetown University on Wednesday as part of a "charm offensive." FJP representatives repeatedly emphasized the Islamist party's commitment to fulfilling "the demands of the young people who revolted in Tahrir Square" through promoting democracy, justice, freedom, and human dignity, and insisted that they intend to be "as inclusive as possible."
"With the new Egypt, it doesn't matter anymore what the party wants," said businessman and FJP adviser Hussein El-Kazzaz. "Our compass is not a movement that's internally inward-looking, our compass is now with the revolution.... Our distinct belief is that the country cannot be be run by one faction."
That's why, he explained, the Muslim Brotherhood flip-flopped on its decision to field a presidential candidate:
"We didn't want to nominate someone ... because we didn't want to be monopolizing positions of power at that time..... It's a very different reality now than it was 10 months ago."
Even though the FJP holds over 47 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament, Member of Parliament Abdul Mawgoud Dardery from Luxor acknowledges that the parliament itself hasn't exactly been smooth sailing:
"It's very tough [to negotiate].... All of a sudden now we are expected to decide ... the fate of our country through a very, very democratic process from which traditions and figureheads are and history and so on are being created as we go."
He added that the members have tried to do "traditional things," like holding meetings and using mediators, but that it's not working "100 percent."
El-Kazzaz also argued that the Freedom and Justice Party seeks to take a "middle ground" when it comes to the existential struggle between secular liberalism and traditionalism:
"We have a tradition that needs to be respected ... but we cannot ignore human civilization ... Europe has great things to offer, the United States has great things to offer, let's look at them and choose what we like, leave what we don't like."
If only it were that easy. Unfortunately for the FJP's philosophies of inclusion and finding a middle ground, it appears that Islamists are set to dominate Egypt's constitutional committee, a crisis that's already alienating the country's minority groups.
KHALED ELFIQI/AFP/Getty Images
Given the decent success rate of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, it's actually surprising that high-seas robbery isn't more popular in other parts of the world. (Indonesia is a notable exception.) Today, the AFP reports on what seems to be a textbook pirate attack off the coast of Peru:
A gang of criminals known as "the pirates of the sea" have raided a Japanese tuna trawler off the central Peruvian coast, the office of the port of Callao harbor master has said.
The criminals boarded the 'Kenyu Maru II' before dawn and surprised the 15-person crew, the office said in a statement.
The gang of some 20 criminals tied the crew's hands and feet, then took off with their money, cell phones and the ship's communication equipment.
This is reportedly the second attack by pirates in rowboats on a foreign ship near Callao this year. Of course, stealing money and equipment is quite a bit less ambitious than holding it for ransom, a crime with a bigger payoff but also higher potential for tragic results.
I'm also curious about the AFP's decision to put "pirates" in quotation marks in both the headline and lede of the story. Have Somalis copyrighted the term?
The good news is, Somali pirates have been ousted from one of their main strongholds. The bad news is, they were ousted by al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants:
Dozens of fighters from theHizbul Islam group rolled into Haradhere on Sunday. Pirates piled their big screen TVs into the luxury cars they had bought with ransom payments and drove off, avoiding a clash. At least four hijacked ships anchored near Haradhere moved toward Hobyo, another pirate den, said Haradhere resident Osman Gure.
The head of operations for Hizbul Islam, Sheik Mohamed Abdi Aros, told The Associated Press his fighters have not come across any hostages yet but if that they did the militants would release them along with any hijacked ships. Pirates hold more than 300 hostages taken from ships attacked off East Africa the last several months.
"Hizbul Islam came here to installin this region and fight piracy, which we consider un-Islamic," Aros said by phone. "We hope to curb the dirty business."
John McCreary, or rather one of his readers, comments:
Feedback from one well informed and brilliant Reader noted that the price for ending piracy might be the conversion of Somalia into a haven for international terrorism, in lieu of piracy.
On the other hand, some analysts also suggest that it wouldn't be too surprising if Hizbul Islam managed to come to some sort of working arrangement with the pirates down the road, à la the Afghan Taliban and the opium trade. Piracy is big business on the Somali coast, and after all, most of its targets are Western businesses.
Apparently Dutch Navy Captain Hans Lodder didn't think it worthwile to check in with EU headquarters when he was gaining on a German freighter seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia:
The pirates surrendered the moment they saw the marines," Lodder said in a telephone interview Tuesday from the Dutch frigate Tromp. No one was injured.
Monday's successful rescue showed that, when swift decisions are needed, it can be quicker to work around the European Union's command. It was the first time a Dutch ship involved in the EU mission had used force to recapture a hijacked ship. ...
Lodder said he decided to seek permission from his own command for an "opposed boarding" - one where pirates may resist - rather than act under procedures laid down by Brussels.
The EU didn't seem particularly bothered by Lodder's unilateral action:
"For speed of reaction, if you're on the spot ... (and) dispatched at haste to react to something immediately, the best thing to do is to go under national command," said Cmdr. John Harbour, U.K.-based spokesman for the European Union Naval Force Somalia. "If we were about to conduct an operation with a bit more time on our hands then we may well have gone through the standard EU process with a view to consulting," he added. "That consultation just takes a bit longer."
This makes sense. Hostage rescue situations require speed and clarity -- not traits EU leadership is exactly known for -- but I'm sure some in Brussels will not be thrilled with the implication that European cooperation is something countries only bother with when it's convenient.
Even as housing prices have dropped sharply in the United States, prices in Nairobi have seen two- and three-fold increases the last half decade.
"There is suspicion that some of the money that is being collected in piracy is being laundered by purchase of property in several countries, this one being one of them," said government spokesman Alfred Mutua. "Especially at this time when we are facing global challenges of security such as terrorism and others, it is very important for us to know who is where and who owns what." [...]
Pirates in Somalia say they invest their ransom money outside their war-torn country, including in Kenya. One pirate who gave his name as Osman Afrah said he bought three trucks that transport goods across East Africa. A second pirate, who only gave his name as Abdulle, said he's investing in Kenya in preparation for leaving the pirate trade.
"Pirates have money not only in Nairobi but also other places like Dubai, Djibouti and others," said Abdulle. "I have invested through my brother, who is representing me, in Nairobi. He's got a big shop that sells clothes and general merchandise, so my future lies there, not in the piracy industry."
My colleague Elizabeth Dickinson has argued that pirates' financing is the achilles heel, and by investing in highly visible sectors like real estate, they seem to be sticking that heel pretty far out. Also, the fact that the AP's Tom Odula was able to get not one, but two pirates to tell him about their investment strategies, suggests that these guys might be getting a little overconfident.
Hat tip: Marginal Revolution
The New York Times reports over the past two years a piece of land in Bossaso increased in price 66 percent, a pair of men's shoes is up 150 percent. The reason? Pirates.
It appears the massive amount of booty being swashbuckled by Somali pirates is having very real effects on the consumer market. In a sign that not much has changed in piracy over the past few centuries, the Somali pirates are spending their plunder on prostitutes, booze and drugs.
Last month alone, Somali pirates raked in over $3 million; and the E.U. reports that 11 ships are being held by pirates off the Somali coast, paydays waiting to happen. This is translating to a giant disparity on the shore, as pirates drive around in luxury SUVs and don't even bother to collect their change after buying something. People who can't afford consumer goods often use the excuse, "we are not pirates."
They're not exactly romantics, though. ''Pirates do not waste time to woo women, but instead pay them a lot,'' said Sahro Mohamed, owner of a beauty salon.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
Woe to the Maersk Alabama, the U.S.-flagged freighter captured by pirates in April! Today, the U.S. Navy reported, pirates attacked and nearly boarded the same boat again. The New York Times has some pirate commentary on the incident:
Pirates in Xarardheere, one of their strongholds in Somalia, said Wednesday that some of their colleagues had been killed Tuesday night. "We have been told over the phone today that four of our colleagues were killed and two were injured," said a Somali pirate boss known as Red Teeth. "We will keep attacking on foreign vessels until illegal fishing and toxic dump is stopped," he added.
A few things of note.
First, the pirate activity off the Somali and Kenyan coasts and in the Gulf of Aden is generally chalked up to insecurity in the teetering African state. Pirates steal and murder at sea because of the dearth of opportunities and complete lack of governance at home. I hadn't heard the "illegal fishing and toxic dump" political argument, which sounds like it comes from Greenpeace, not Red Teeth, before.
Second, what strikes me most is the detail that the Maersk Alabama was 600 miles off of the Somali coast at the time of the attack -- the distance the Navy recommends. As ships have fortified and moved off the coast, the number of attacks has not decreased as one would expect (cf. the ICC maps of incidents from 2008 and 2009). The pirates have moved off shore with the boats -- and attacks have become more resource-intensive, dangerous, and difficult for them.
Two ships full of Somali pirates spotted a cargo ship in the Indian Ocean, 250 nautical miles off the Somali coast. Ready to pilfer, plunder and otherwise pirate a bountiful booty, they set toward the cargo ship under the dark of night, AK-47s ablaze. That is, until they got close enough to see that their cargo ship full of riches was in fact a French Naval vessel, full of armed soldiers.
What then proceeded is something of a Monty Python skit. The sailors, some of whom had directed commando operations to free French hostages taken by the pirates, chased one of the boats for over an hour. When boarded the ship they found that the boat of would-be thieves jettisoned their water, food and weapons, pretending to just be a bunch of guys hanging out on a dinghy at night on the Indian Ocean.
The other boat escaped and has yet to be found.
Olivier Amalvict/AFP/Getty Images
For the last year, one question has been at the core of the piracy debate: Who or what made the Somali pirates into the real, armed, threat that they are? Chaos on land? Opportunity at sea? Poverty all around? Or the latest theory, from an Al Jazeera report: Western defense contractors trained them.
Before piracy spun out of control, Al Jazeera reports, contractors such as the Hart Group trained a Somali Coast Guard force in the semi-autonomous Pundtland region -- where piracy thrives. Those skills, one Somali tells the Al Jazeera reporter, were later helpful in hijacking ships and training others in his newly learned sea-faring ways.
Sounds like a big "oops" for the contracting world... though any experience helping the "other side" hasn't deterred them much from working to stop the pirates. Remember when Blackwater said they would help fight pirates? Better yet, about how winning a lucrative "ransom and release contract" for handsome $500,000 each.
Yesterday I mentioned the "hijacked" cargo ship Arctic Sea had been carrying weapons from Russia to the Middle East. Now, the BBC reports that the editor of a Russian maritime journal who proposed the theory has been forced to flee:
Mr Voitenko - who was among the first to cast doubt on official explanations about the ship's disappearance - told the BBC it was nonsense to suggest pirates had been involved.
Instead he suggested the ship may have been carrying a secret shipment of weapons as part of a private business deal by state officials.
Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from "serious people" whom he suggested may have been members of Russia's intelligence agency, the FSB.
The caller told Mr Voitenko that those involved in the mysterious case of the Arctic Sea were very angry with him because he had spoken publicly, and were planning on taking action against him, he said.
"As long as I am out of Russia I feel safe," Mr Voitenko told the BBC. "At least they won't be able to get me back to Russia and convict [me]."
Guess he hit a nerve.
While I would take any new reports about the hijacking of the Arctic Sea with a heaping barrelful of salt, some of the latest theories are at least interesting. In an interview with Time this week, the European Union's rapporteur on piracy said Israeli intelligence likely intercepted the ship, which was carrying a secret shipment weapons to the Middle East:
[H]e says only a shipment of missiles could account for Russia's bizarre behavior throughout the monthlong saga. "There is the idea that there were missiles aboard, and one can't explain this situation in any other way," he says. "As a sailor with years of experience, I can tell you that the official versions are not realistic."
Kouts says an Israeli interception of the cargo is the most likely explanation. But this theory, which some Russian analysts put forward in the days after the Arctic Sea was rescued and which Kouts agreed with in his interview with TIME, has been vehemently denied by Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, who says Kouts should stop "running his mouth."
The theory is supported by the fact that Israeli President Shimon Peres made a surpsie visit to Moscow the day after the ship was rescued.
Not so fast say repoters from Israel's YNet, who find the admiral's theory implausable. According to their anonymous sources, the Arctic Sea made a stop in Kaliningrad -- a Russian military outpost popular with arms dealers -- before picking up its stated cargo of timber in Finland:
Sources say the Arctic Sea docked in Kaliningrad in June to undergo various repairs. The same sources say a deal was previously struck between Russian and Middle Eastern businessmen, agreeing on the sale of some of the S-300 missiles located at the port.
Some sources claim the Russian military's weapons industry was implicated in the deal and transferred a number of new missiles, including the X-500, to the port to be included in the sale. However the Kremlin was uninvolved, and apparently the deal was carried out in secret between businessmen from the private sector.
After the deal was executed, an intelligence agency whose identity so far remains unexposed learned of the ship's departure with the weapons in tow towards Algeria, a country located on a regularly used route for the transfer of weapons to Iran and Syria. The intelligence agency then transferred an anonymous tip to the Russian authorities, according to the investigation.
According to Russian sources the "hijackers", who in actuality were Russian intelligence officers, remained on the ship and reported to their superiors that they had found the missiles on board. On August 12 Russia announced it had sent naval officers to rescue the vessel and its crew.
The sources say the period of time between the hijacking and the Russian rescue mission was due to the Kremlin's desire to capture the ship away from the eyes of the media, in order to avoid an embarrassing incident that may have harmed its relations with Iran and Algeria.
Again, I'm not endorsing any of these theories, but the story just gets more fascinating.
Ricky LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
President Medvedev sent the Russian Navy to find the Arctic Sea after it apparently disappeared while passing through the English Channel en route to Algeria from Finland. However, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow now says that Russian and international agencies had monitored the ship throughout its strange three-week voyage.“Of course, the dry cargo carrier with a displacement of more than 7,000 tonnes was never missing. Its movement was being followed and its co-ordinates were being reported from several sources, including our foreign partners,” the ministry said.
This might have been something they could have shared with the other half dozen navies searching for the vessel.
It's still not exactly clear what, besides its stated cargo of timber, the ship was carrying or why it was hijacked. But the story gets stranger:
The saga also took a bizarre new twist when the ministry disclosed that the ship’s captain had tried to pass off the Arctic Sea as a North Korean vessel when it was intercepted by the Russian Navy. This is the first time that investigators have implicated the crew in the mystery.
The ministry said that the captain “unexpectedly claimed” to be in charge of a ship called the Chongdin 2 that was carrying timber from Cuba to Sierra Leone. Russian diplomats in Pyongyang checked with North Korean officials and were told that the Chongdin 2 was docked at a port in Angola at the time.
“In view of this information, the command of the Russian Navy decided to examine the ship and the examination confirmed the surmise that it was the Arctic Sea,” the Foreign Ministry said. It gave no indication of how the captain knew of the other vessel’s existence or why the Navy was unable to identify the Arctic Sea from its markings.
Who gets caught and then claims to be from North Korea???
European coast guards are currently investigating the hijacking and disappearance of a ship in what could be the first case of piracy in modern European history. The Independent reports:
The Arctic Sea, a Maltese registered, Latvian-owned ship with a 15-strong Russian crew, vanished with its £1m cargo at the end of July on its way from Finland to Algeria.
British coastguards were the last people known to communicate with the ship on 29 July as it passed along the Channel but it wasn't realised at the time that anything was wrong.
It is now thought that when the UK's Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) was in radio contact with the ship that the person speaking to them was either a hijacker or a member of the crew with a gun pointed at his head.
The circumstances surrounding its likely hijacking are as puzzling as its current whereabouts. Swedish authorities were told by the Finnish shipping line operating the vessel that on 24 July the Arctic Sea had been boarded by eight to 10 heavily-armed men while it sailed through the Baltic Sea. The crew, three of whom were injured, were tied up and the black-clad and masked men, who purported to be narcotics police, searched the ship.
After 12 hours the intruders left and, supposedly, allowed the vessel to continue on its journey having damaged the communications equipment. But after reaching the Portuguese coast, having sailed along the Channel to get to the Atlantic, the Arctic Sea disappeared from the radar and hasn't been seen since. Its destination had been the Algerian port of Bejaia which it was scheduled to reach on 4 August with its valuable cargo of timber.
No one is exactly sure when was the last time a hijacked ship managed to slip through the English Channel. The Swedish, Finnish and Russian coast guard's are all investigating the Arctic Sea's disappearace.
Modern piracy is typically thought of as a crime associated with failed states like Somalia that don't have the resources to patrol their own coasts. It now appears that half a dozen wealthy, stable European countries -- most of whom actively participate in anti-pirate operations in the Gulf of Aden -- allowed a major act of maritime piracy to happen right under their noses.
Wondered why those pirates have dropped out of the news lately? Could be little more than the bad weather, says the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) patrolling the Somali coast. And now, good weather is on the way. The international forces offshore are warning of "an anticipated increase in piracy incidents when the southwest monsoon ends in the coming weeks."
Really? Bad weather is what's winning even with "30 ships and aircraft from 16 nations" fighting the pirates?? Believe it. Fighting pirates takes the kind of whollistic assault that only a monsoon can bring and the military will struggle to -- no matter how many ships.
The root of the trouble is still on land, and there's no good news to report there, either. So pirates are in our future for a while yet. But at least with the launching of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet Facebook page, you'll be able to watch it unfold in living color...
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Eric L. Beauregard/Released
The Economix blog at the New York Times describes a new book on the economics of pirates -- The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates by Peter Leeson. Who knew such a perfect confluence of the interesting and the awesome existed?
It focuses on the heyday of piracy in the late 17th and early 18th century -- back when the Barbary pirates spurred the young United States to its first military engagement, off the coast of Tripoli. The NYT summarizes:
During this age, there seem to have been between 2,000 and 3,000 pirates, which is large relative to the Royal Navy (which had 13,000 seamen) but small relative to the number of movies subsequently made about piracy. The pirates were, unsurprisingly, youngish men (generally in their mid-20s) from England or its colonies. The majority of mischief that has been done throughout history has been done by young people with XY chromosomes. Their ships were often quite large, containing crews that could reach 200 souls, and the profession was lucrative. While merchant seamen earned 25 pounds a month (about $6,000 in current currency), a pirate could earn 4,000 from a single conquest. Mr. Leeson reports that some pirates were earning 100 pounds a month.
Admittedly, piracy was dangerous, but so was all seafaring. Maybe my children are showing good sense in their attraction to the piratical lifestyle. Those high wages meant that, unlike the British navy, pirates rarely had to rely on conscription. Although captured pirates often claimed to be serving against their will, in reality, pirate ships rarely had trouble finding voluntary recruits.
With the world's navies asking how to stop piracy in the Gulf of Aden in recent months, it's about time someone took notice of the most recent pirate-fighting success story: the Malacca Strait. Robert Gates did just that today, citing the Pacific Rim as an example to be followed.
The success story goes like this: in the early part of this decade, the Malacca Strait was like today's Gulf of Aden. Pirate attacks were pushing up insurance rates, re-routing ships, and annoying the world's shipping and naval fleets. So great was the threat that Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia decided, in 2004, to invest signifant naval power to curtail the pirates. It seems to have worked; pirate attacks are down this year for the fourth year running -- to just 28 along Malaysia's coast (compared to 121 just a few years ago).
The good news is that the Pacific Rim is a lot safer. The bad news is that none of this is likely to work in Somalia -- let me count the ways. First, none of the countries in the Pacific are failed the way Somalia is -- meaning that the countries could also combat the core of the problem on land, without fearing a "safe haven" ashore. Not so in Somalia, where pirate havens are essentially untouched.
Even more important, while lots of countries want piracy in the Gulf of Aden to stop, no one or two of them are at such peril that they want to invest the resources to get the job done. In the Pacific, the three countries' economic survival as port hubs depended on their safety. No such pressure in Somalia.
So good job Malacca, but sorry Somalia. It's a good lesson for someone -- but probably not you.
Back in April we asked, are the pirates getting tips? According to the latest reports, the answer is yes...from London.
The Guardian reports today that the Somali pirates have recruited informers with knowledge of the world's shipping schedules to pass that information along. Such knowledge would, if the reports are true, allow the pirates to know exactly what their hijack targets are carrying, who is on board, and where the vessel is headed. Sounds like everything one would need to turn this pirate business into a profit making steal.
Then again, as many have pointed out before, the Somali pirates wouldn't really need to be as complicated as all that to get the same bits of vital information. How about a simple Lloyd's List subscription -- the service that catalogues most of this information for the industry?
Either way, this should debunk a bit of the myth of the unorganized, juvenile pirates. Yes, the kidnappers themselves might be kids. But the syndicates pulling the strings are far more devious.
If the media hype was not enough for you, this is definitely a sign that Somali pirates have gotten a little bit too sexy:
Samuel L. Jackson and his Uppity Films have joined forces with Andras Hamori's H20 Motion Pictures to secure life rights of Andrew Mwangura, a negotiator between pirates and the owners of vessels hijacked off the coast of Africa.
Mwangura, the pro-bono negotiator who often brokers the release of hostaged ships' crews, was as shocked as you are:
Mwangura told the Guardian that he had been taken aback by Hamori's interest. "He said he wanted to make a story about my life. I was very surprised. He had been trying to reach me for two months but did not have the right phone number."
But sorry movie producers, there's a caveat:
Asked how he would react if the film-makers felt the need to "Hollywoodise" the story, [Mwangura] said: "I always stand for the truth. I don't want Pirates of the Caribbean. I am a living man, and you can't say lies about a living man ... I am what I am am – someone who does things for forgotten people and the community."
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
The pledged $213 million for Somalia from Donors at a Brussels conference yesterday is a little short on details. Actually, it's devoid of details. The $213 million are meant to improve the country's flailing security apparatus, and boost a beleaguered African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, from its current 4,300 personnel to a larger 8,000.
But all this raises some questions in my mind:
1) How much of the money will actually come? Donors conferences are notorious for over-pledging and under-delivering. Already, $213 million is... peanuts in the scheme of things. For some perspective, the Iraq war was estimated to cost about that much every DAY back in 2006.
2) Who gets the money? Presumably, the pledges will go through the new government, headed by President Sheikh Sharif. Presumably, tracing money through the bare-bones government created just months ago will be something of a challenge.
3) The money is set to be used to build up the existing Somali security force. But does a Somali Security service even exist? Many soldiers abandoned their posts after Ethiopian troops had trained them (but later failed to pay them) last year. So... how many soldiers are left? And will security -- rather than street-power by gun -- be their priority?
4) The money is also meant to boost an African Union peacekeeping force by another 4,000 or so troops. Sounds great, but where do they plan on finding those personnel? Countries in the region have been understandably loathe about sending their soldiers into a situation that carries a death wish.
5) And finally, do the donors really care about anything other than pirates? Off the record of the formal conference conversations, it was piracy on the lips of the diplomats. If that's the case, the Somali government will find it hard to do much else with the money. Even something arguably useful like, say, paying their civil servants.
If we're serious about combatting pirates on land, this package looks a bit ridiculous. Unless, of course, there's something I'm missing. Dear Somalia, please help me out and send details.
The single largest supplier of maritime labor -- the Philippines -- announced yesterday that it will forbid its seafarers from passing through the Gulf of Aden, where pirates already hold over a hundred Filipinos hostage. The government's decision is the first such national ban on the waterway since the piracy epidemic broke out mid last year.
What it will mean for maritime labor and shipping routes is yet to be seen. Many companies may evade the rules, simply by offering enticing benefits and pay to seafarers who are willing to take the risky Somali-proximate path. It's not likely this will cause a large number of ships to divert around the Cape of Africa unless insurance premiums and ransoms go up hard and fast.
So is the Philippines over-reacting? In statistical terms -- yes. Given the number of ships passing through the region, the number of Filipino crew employed on vessels worldwide, and the timespan in which pirates have been active, the Filipino toll is not too high.
But in real public diplomacy terms, the decision is no surprise. The release of a five-months-held Filipino crew today illustrates the emotional toll that the piracy has had on the Phillipines' sea-faring psyche.
And it's just further evidence that this is actually one big, messy, hostage crisis.
JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images
Check out this video of smiling Somali
criminal mastermind malnourished 16-year old Abdul Kadhir Muse arriving in the U.S. to face trial. I counted about 20 guards from the NYPD and FBI escorting him which, I must say, comes across as a bit excessive.
This makes me worried that the inevitable U.S. media circus around Muse's trial -- the first U.S. piracy prosecution in over a century -- is going to try to paint him as some kind of arch-terrorist of the seas. He's unlikely to fit the bill. Muse's country has been wracked by civil war and anarchy since before he was born and he's quite possibly smiling because he's happy to be out of it and getting enough to eat for once.
Muse should certainly be prosecuted for participating in a criminal act that endangered the lives of U.S. sailors, but it would be unfortunate if too much attention were paid to the trial of one teenage gang member while the hellish situation that produced him continues unabated.
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images
It's hard for journalists not to get carried away with something as juicy as modern-day pirate attacks. But I think Chinese news agency Xinhua has jumped the...er...dolphin with this story:
The Chinese merchant ships escorted by a China's fleet sailed on the Gulf of Aden when they met some suspected pirate ships. Thousands of dolphins suddenly leaped out of water between pirates and merchants when the pirate ships headed for the China's.
The suspected pirates ships stopped and then turned away. The pirates could only lament their littleness before the vast number of dolphins. The spectacular scene continued for a while. [Emphasis mine]
Is the People's Liberation Army training a squadron of dolphins to fight pirates on the high seas? Have we allowed the Chinese to open up a dolphin gap? Well, probably not.
Though as The Lede's Robert Mackey points out, the idea's been floated before.
Everyone has an idea about how to go after the pirate avengers on the coast of Somalia these days, but the most unusual by far comes from Texas representative and former presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Fearing that the incidents will expand the militarization of the region and lead to increases in U.S. military spending, Paul, unsurprisingly, wants to privatize the fight.
It's the ships themselves who choose to go into those dangerous waters; why not let them take on the cost of providing security? Let them carry guns and fight back. The U.S. government for its part, Paul suggests, would "arm" the private ships with a different kind of ammunition in the form of Letters of Marque and Reprisal.
The long-dead U.S. foreign policy tool, allows the government to write letters granting private citizens the authority to go after fugitives or others who do them offense. If applicable, the citizens could then collect government-issued bounty for their good work. In short, the letters would put the fight on piracy in the hands of the people. Or sailors.
Paul's idea is not new. In addition to the founding fathers' use against piracy centuries ago, the congressman suggested the Letters of Marque and Reprisal be used as a means to counter terrorism after 9-11 -- allowing private citizens to "hunt down" terrorists on their own.
Inviting people to play Pirates of the Caribbean is gonna get messy. Although then again, maybe it's not any less organized than what is happening now?
260 crewman are now held on 16 ships, the International Maritime Organization reports. For some comparison -- rebels in Colombia are thought to hold about 700 captives. But unlike Colombia, Somalia's rate of capture seems to be on the rise.
If this is a hostage crisis, the logic of the situation changes. For now, the hostages are treated well; they're not harmed so long as ransom is paid. In fact, Somali captors have been rigorous about affirming the hostages' safety time and time again so as to assure they receive payment.
But what if the payment motive runs away, as it often does when kidnapping for ransom becomes a little bit too succesful? I saw that happen on the other coast of Africa, in Nigeria, reporting last year. Rebels there began taking oil workers hostage in protest of percieved inequity in the country's distribution of petrol wealth. But aside from a political point, the hostage-taking produced a steady stream of revenue (oil companies often -- if not always -- paid).
All too quicky, the discipline broke down. More and more criminal gangs lept in for a cut of the prize. With more profiteers seeking booty, the kidnap targets broadened -- not just oil workers, but local politicians, families of prominent persons, and pretty much anyone who looked like they were worth a cent. Kidnapping there is no longer a political problem; it's a criminal one.
The key, in Somalia, would be to figure out how to stop all this now -- while groups are still disciplined, and organized syndicates call the shots. As soon as that order disintegrates, the numerous players will be impossible to track down and disarm. The world will have to work fast.
Unfortunately, the tactics will have to differ from those proven to work on land. President Alvaro Uribe has made headway in cutting kidnappings in Colombia by putting an armed government presence in every corner of his country. This is just not possible at sea.
Combatting Somali kidnappers will take serious strategic thinking -- but perhaps framing it as a hostage crisis would be a good start.
Ever wish you could watch a reality TV show about something as cool as, say, catching pirates?
Wish granted. Spike TV is set to join the U.S. Navy on the high seas in coming months, with two camera crew tagging along to the U.S. fleet on its patrol of the 1.1 million square miles of pirate-infested ocean. Expect footage for the show by September.
What does the Navy get out of the deal -- aside from prime time exposure? Recruiting, of course!
If chasing pirates doesn't get you to enlist, I'm not sure what would.
Jon Rasmussen/U.S. Navy via Getty Images
Sen. Russell Feingold sent an interesting letter to Barack Obama about Somalia yesterday, cc-ing Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and Dennis Blair. The senator, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, urged the U.S. president to engage Somalia, but carefully: work with the Somali government; improve support for the country's internal security apparatus. No quick fixes here:
[There is an] essential need to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to stabilize Somalia and support effective governance. With the strategic review now underway, I reiterate my belief that expanded U.S. support for the new unity government must be a central component of that strategy. Furthermore, we must seize the opening that lies before us by publicly declaring our commitment to high-level, sustained engagement that could help Somalia overcome the many challenges to peace and stability."
Feingold proposes stronger U.S. engagement with the Somali government -- not only to stamp out piracy but to "establish security and functional, inclusive governance within the country." Obama, he suggests, should start by calling Somali President Sheikh Sharif.
Most interesting of all, though, is Feingold's reference to the last time that piracy was notably halted in Somalia -- under the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. That regime, later ousted by Ethiopian troops (with U.S. support...) brought the only calm to the seas that the country has seen in recent years.
The ultimate solution to the problem of piracy, then, is the establishment of a functional government that can enforce the rule of law. During the rule of the Council of Islamic Courts in 2006, there was a notable decline in piracy that can be attributed, in large part, to the rise of a central authority in southern Somalia.
Without replicating the repressive rule of the Courts, we must keep in mind that establishing a central governing structure in Somalia is critical to resolving, not just stopping, the problem of piracy."
Now that's an idea, unlike airstrikes, that I feel militantly supportive of.
The International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce, keeps up-to-the minute maps of global piracy, with linked data on the attacks. It's definitely worth checking out.
Above, the purple tags denote "suspicious vessels," the yellow "attempted attacks," and the red "actual attacks."
Parsing the data, I counted that of 45 attempted attacks in the Gulf of Aden, 7 succeeded; in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, of 31 attempts, 11 succeeded. This implies a pirate strike's more likely in the Gulf, and more likely to succeed in open waters.
Peter Pham takes a closer look at the technicalities of pirate attacks, and stopping them, today on FP's website.
(Hat tip: Global Dashboard)
In my five pirate predictions yesterday, I wondered if the pirates would become more audacious and brazen, or if they would humble at their recent defeat at the hands of the U.S. Navy. This morning, I seem to have my answer:
Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed five bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the waterway at the center of the world's fight against piracy.
A greek ship and two Egyptian fishing vessels are now added to the handful of ships and 260 hostages the the Somali pirates claim on the coast. True to form, the hijackers adapted their tactics in defiance of the international naval patrols, this time striking at night.
Also yesterday, I worried about an escalation on the part of the world's navies -- moving from naval patrolling into all out battle. Now it appears that escalation is coming from both sides.
If this attack is indeed in retaliation against the Americans, the world might be entering into a whole new kind of asymmetric warfare. Stay tuned on FP today.
The Guardian reports on a skirmish between French troops and a band of Somali pirates with a hijacked yacht -- one of 18 vessels currently seized, along with more than 250 hostages. The French ultimately recaptured the ship; sadly, one hostage died during the rescue.
The article says the yacht's sailors were repeatedly warned not to pass through the area.
French officials have privately expressed exasperation at the determination of the Tanit's crew...to persist with their expedition to east Africa despite the parlous security situation in the region.
The American captain of the Maersk Alabama remains a hostage in another flotilla, though the United States has sent in rapporteurs and helicopters.
It's a sorry, sorry state of affairs. And it suggests two things to me.
First, pirate exhaustion looms. (Though we've tested the limits on this blog, and found them boundlessly wide.) At one point, the pirates seemed a welcome distraction. Not so much any more -- people are dying, Somalia is a failed state. Second, as others have suggested, we should stop calling them pirates and start calling them something like "maritime terrorists," to end any remaining romanticization.
The United States is scrambling this morning to save a hostaged captain from Somali pirates -- calling in back up that includes FBI hostage negotiators, more warships, and just about every high-profile military and diplomatic figure who will reassure the American press. The drama is being scrupulously reported elsewhere (most recent update: the pirates want booty), so I'll save you the repetition.
I'm interested in a different question: Just how exactly have pirates managed to out-scramble the world's top navy? If neither the U.S. Navy, nor the EU, NATO, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian vessels were able to spot this pirate attacker coming on the vast seas... how do the Somali pirates find the ships they hijack? In theory, the sea is equally vast and equally sparsely populated on both sides of the looking glass.
One interesting theory comes from NightWatch:
Several commentators highlighted the changed tactics by which some Somali pirate groups manage to seize ships far from the coast. What they do not provide is the hypothesis that this proves the existence of a well organized criminal syndicate with modern communications that link pirates to agents in port authorities from
Kenyato the Suez Canal. The business is too big and rich to fail simply because modern frigates are present.
It makes good sense. Why? Pirates have money and they can pay for tips. Port authorities, particularly in Kenya, are likely paid irregularly and poorly (particularly in comparison to pirate rates). The pirates have also shown that they are willing and able to infiltrate government authorities -- as they often do in their home in Puntland, Somalia.
No good news there. Cracking down on internal corruption among port authorities would be about as easy as, say, stopping a piracy epidemic in the Gulf of Aden.
Photo: U.S. Navy
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