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.
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.