Thursday, February 21, 2008

A peculiar twist on Somali piracy

While sailing aboard the container ship Emma Maersk a couple of weeks ago, on a journey from Malaysia to Spain, word came through that a tug owned by a subsidiary of the Copenhagen-based Moller-Maersk firm had been hijacked off the Somali coast. By sheer coincidence, the Emma was sailing into the Red Sea when the hijacking occurred, on Friday, February 1, though we only received the news a day later. Clearly the attack on the tug Svitzer Korsakov was carried out with a certain amount of skill, for there were no Maydays sent nor was there any other radio traffic from the six member crew.

The Svitzer Korsakov is a brand-new tug that was traveling from her Russian shipyard in St. Petersburg to the Pacific, where she was to be used servicing the oil and gas fields off Sakhalin Island. The trip should have been routine for the mixed crew of British and Russian mariners, though anyone sailing near Somalia knows of the threats posed by pirates, especially on a small vessel like a tugboat.

Svitzer Korsakov tug

As of today, the ship and her crew remain in the custody of their captors, with negotiations supposedly ongoing between the hijackers and the vessel’s owner. What is interesting here, though, is a recent communication received by a news outlet in the Puntland region of Somalia, Radio Garowe, from the hijackers. An unnamed man who claimed to speak for the group said that they were not pirates but, rather, environmental activists.

He said their group’s name “Is the Ocean Salvation Corps,” and they are a group of Somali nationalists who took it upon themselves to protect the country’s shores. “We are the gentlemen who work in the ocean…since the [Somali] civil war began the ocean has been our Mother," the man said, going on to assert that the Svitzer Korsakov, is "Part of the environmental destruction" being committed by various foreign ships off of Somali shores. "The ships we now control have the equipment which destroyed the Indian Ocean," the man said, adding: "More than 70,000 tons of fish species is on abroad."

From my own research it is undeniable that there are many dubious acts being committed by foreign nations in the waters off Somalia – such as illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste. However, the passage near Somalia of a tugboat bound for Russia’s east coast cannot be construed as part of any multinational raping of Somalia’s maritime assets. And tugboats have neither the ability to catch nor the space to store “more than 70,000 tons of fish”. This is but a pirate operation attempting to cloak itself in the guise of social responsibility.

And lest there be any sympathies voiced about this act, consider the response this spokesman offered when asked whether or not the group would ask for ransom: "It has been the tradition to take ransom payment, but we will bring these ships in front of the law." Whose law was not made clear, nor was there an unequivocal refusal to accept money from Svitzer.

7 comments:

Diodotus said...

Very interesting. Of course, many pirate communities historically have viewed themselves as forms of legitimate and socially responsible resistance to a predatory state system.

freddo said...

Pirates,Militia, Bandits, Thieves,Soldiers of Somalia are all used for various effects. No matter what they call themselves it never forgives the vile act.

Hank Roberts said...

> it is undeniable that there
> are many dubious acts being
> committed by foreign
> nations in the waters off
> Somalia – such as illegal
> fishing and the dumping of
> toxic waste.

That's a bad combination, if you intend to go on eating fish from the area.

Documentation?

Putting the area under international protection would be a good idea -- particularly protecting the resource base as well as the transshipping vessels crossing through.

Likelihood?

Fiona said...

Diodotus: Yeah, sure, pirate communities have historically viewed themselves in that manner, but they've also promulgated slavery, theft, and violence against those not involved in the systems they were protesting. I hardly think those are the actions of socially responsible individuals. This bunch of pirates seem to be carrying right on in the footsteps of historical pirates.

Ausaf said...

"Clearly the attack on the tug Svitzer Korsakov was carried out with a certain amount of skill, for there were no Maydays sent nor was there any other radio traffic from the six member crew.
" As a seafarer myself, I have crossed Gulf of Aden couple of times recently. The only reason I see for no distress traffic/SSAS (Ship Security Alarm System) Alerts is lack of 'Anti-Pirate' watches rather than skill of pirates. It is understandable that tugs usually have lesser crew and are much more vulnerable to pirate attacks. I have my full sympathies with the tug's crew, however I do believe that had 'Anti Piracy' Watches been kept the vessel would atleast had been able to transmit distress/SSAS alerts.

JS GILL said...

UN expert earlier had reported the truth of deprival of fishing for Somali and damage to ecology. I with my experience as Nautical Advisor to the Government of India had such experiences in the past.

In the case of Stolt Valor, my suggestion given to al concerned and owner was that sicne the vessel is covered under P&I for polution damage etc. a solution can emerge by paying compensation covered under the Club Rules to avoid the phraseology of ransom, which today in the press was reported.

It is necessary that a further UN examination of damage to the ecology of the region and loss of fishery may be reassessed and Somlians be given some sort of aid under this provision.In the meantime a unified protection force against such incidences is to be strengthened for immediate action against such incidences, evenif certain sacrifices have to be made.

South St. Louis said...

It was said the three great traditions of the British Navy were Rum, the lash and sodomy. Apparently all that's left of that tradition is sodomy, because it seems that British and rest of the pansy West seems to enjoy getting raped by these Third World cretins. The Indian Navy did the right thing last week and sunk a pirate ship. I imagine that if a US nuclear sub was confronted by the Somali's, they would call CentCOM for instructions and in the mean time the Somali's would make off with 20 Tridents. America is weak and embarassing disgrace.