Friday, May 29, 2009

Al-Shabaab's foreign fighters and possible money troubles

Following up on an earlier post about foreign fighters showing up in Somalia, here's an update on the situation from a couple of sources:

A Swedish media outlet reports that the Säkerhetspolisen (Sapo), Sweden's security service, believes at least ten young men have left the country to train and fight with al-Shabaab in Somalia. Sapo says, "a handful of people with Swedish passports have been killed in the fighting." And while a number of those who left Sweden were of Somali-background, others are reported to be of mixed ethnicity, attracted by the chance to take up arms in what they see as a global struggle.

That it is not just expatriate Somalis aiding al-Shabaab was confirmed to me by a colleague in East Africa. Speaking by phone earlier today, he briefed me about what he'd seen on his most recent trip through Somalia and, among other things, told me that in the port town of Baraawe the leader of the local contingent of al-Shabaab is a Chechen. Located about halfway between Kismaayo and Mogadishu, Shabaab has been controlled by Baraawe since last November and is one of the areas in which they have imposed their interpretation of Shari'ah law.

My source also says that Shabaab may be encountering some money troubles. He confirms that the group has been receiving some funding from pirate gangs operating in the southern part of Somalia and is encouraging the pirates to continue attacking vessels (in return for a cut of any ransoms garnered). The Islamists are hoping that with all the attention being focused on northern waters - such as the Gulf of Aden - there will be more potential prizes in the southern seas. My contact could not say whether or not this means that pirates will attempt to continue attacking even with the onset of the summer monsoon season, but if Shabaab is facing a money crunch, they might try to convince pirate allies to venture out even if marine conditions may not be the best.

My source also says that Shabaab now control three of the four roads leading into Mogadishu and are preparing for renewed fighting in the next couple of weeks. He said that Ethiopian troops crossed the border into Somalia last week and may be preparing to take on Shabaab in the vicinity of Jawhar, which is just north of the capital and is held by the Islamist group. (Reports that Ethiopian troops have returned are disupted by the government in Addis Abiba.) He added that there are fears in the country that without more support, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) will not be able to effectively deter the hard line Islamists and that Mogadishu will be lost to the latter forces.

Finally, regarding that report that a large group of pirates in Eyl were intending to give up their criminal activities (see previous post here), my contact broke out laughing when I mentioned it. Like me, and many others, my East African colleague felt it was more a public relations stunt than a sincere desire to actually end their pirating days. And he agreed that the summer monsoon season could be a strong factor motivating this event and that the truth could only be found when the fall piracy season begins.

(For more detailed information on recent events in Somalia, see the Armed Conflict Database of the International Institute for Strategic Studies website, located here.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rehabilitating pirates

There's a BBC report from earlier today that says a somewhat extraordinary meeting occurred recently in the Somali coastal town of Eyl, during which some 200 gunmen are said to have renounced piracy. The idea as put forward by 'pirate representative' Abshir Abdullah is that in return for halting their attacks on vessels, former gang members would be given an amnesty by local Somali leaders, who have become increasingly concerned about the impact of the criminal activities on the community.

Perhaps pirates like Abdullah have come to realize that the happy times are coming to a close and that it's better to call it a day while ahead of the game. From my own experience talking with pirates and others familiar with things, most who become involved with maritime crime enter this world with decidedly short-term visions. They want to make some money, preferably fast, and rarely think of it as a lifetime profession. Get in, get out, go home.

Take a look at a great report posted yesterday by McClatchy Newspapers' African correspondent Shashank Bengali for The Seattle Times. Bengali interviewed a 26-year-old former Somali pirate now living in the Eastleigh slum in the Kenyan capital, a guy who "cashed out", took his earnings - apparently about $116,000 - and is wondering how to start a new life in Nairobi or elsewhere. As Bengali notes, this man is far from the first Somali to decide on taking money garnered from various activities back home and invest it outside the country. The journalist found that one money broker in Eastleigh (aka 'Little Mogadishu') had transferred more than $10 million out of Somalia in just the past few months.

But what do you do with former pirates? What other options are available to entice them to cease their attacks? Well as German outlet Spiegel Online notes, the French put forth an idea last week at a gathering of European Union foreign and defence ministers in Brussels, one in which nations would help train Somalis to create more effective security forces, some of which would, presumably, be used in anti-piracy and related coast guarding operations. This wouldn't be the first time that former criminal elements were coerced into becoming legitimate parts of a governing structure, however shaky the current Somali versions may be.

The Germans have some concerns about the French idea, not the least of which is that giving Western security/military training and arming the Somalis could result in a blow-back should the trainees opt to defect to local gangs, something we've unfortunately seen before in places like Afghanistan.

One has to wonder whether this is the right time to be thinking of rehabilitation options like this, just as one has to wonder about the sincerity of those Somalis willing to renounce pirate now. In a manner of weeks, the 2008-2009 piracy will come to a close as the summer monsoon winds begin to blow (see EagleSpeak's detailed look at this here). Pirates will either be deciding what to spend their earnings on or perhaps return to a little fishing in the seas off the Horn of Africa. And as for those 200-odd pirates claiming to be ready to renounce things? Will they continue to be so willing when the monsoon ends in Autumn, or will they renounce their renouncements? These are, after all, opportunists.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Terror on the Seas web site

For those who follow my postings here and might like to know a bit more about my work, I'd like to invite you to visit the new web site

The site is devoted to my book of the same name, and you'll find an excerpt, some reviews and a little background on myself and some of the other projects I've done. But rest assured that I'll still be posting information and commentaries here at this blog.

Another American-flagged vessel targeted by pirates

MV Maersk Virginia (Maersk Line photo)

Another container ship from US-based Maersk Line Ltd. was involved in a pirate incident earlier today. According to Lloyd's List, the MV Maersk Virginia was sailing in the Gulf of Aden when a pirate boat approached. Other media reports say that the pirates had been targeting another freighter, the Maria K., in the seas south of Yemen when they appear to have decided to go for something bigger. As the CBC's David Common details from aboard the Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg, the warship deployed its Sea King helicopter in response to a distress call from the Maria K., which had been fired on by the pirates. Before the chopper arrived, though, the attackers turned their attention towards the much larger Virginia, which is crewed by 19 US-nationals. The arrival of the Canadian helicopter and a second one from an Italian warship caused the pirates to give up any further actions and throw their weapons into the sea. Italian naval forces then boarded and captured the suspects.

The Virginia is, of course, part of the same fleet that includes the Maersk Alabama. (One note of clarification from the CBS report by Sheila MacVicar, who is also embedded aboard HMCS Winnipeg, is that the frigate could not have deployed three helicopters as the warship only carries a single Sea King.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pirate threats to small vessels and a mysterious disappearance

With so much attention being focused on the activities of Somali pirates being committed against commercial shipping targets, it's easy to forget about the most vulnerable victims: small vessels. Fishing boats and recreational boaters are no less immune to attacks, but many of these pirate incidents go unreported.

Offshore fishing vessels make perfect targets for pirates, as they can be easily boarded, often have a crew that numbers over a dozen and their catch can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This means that the commercial firms who use the vessels end up having to decide whether to forgo the safety of the crews - often coming from Third World nations - or pony up the ransoms demanded. Additionally, there is the potential to use captured trawlers and other small vessels as pirate motherships which makes them valuable.

But clearly a pirate gang cannot expect to garner a million dollar ransom for a sailboat, right? Well, maybe not a million, but in at least one case it's being reported that $600,000 may have been paid to free a German couple captured in the Gulf of Aden a year ago. If true, this raises the stakes for any bluewater sailor thinking of venturing into the region.

Over at YachtPals, Brad Hampton wrote an article yesterday about the mysterious disappearance of a Japanese boater, Akio Yonago, who left the Seychelles a few weeks ago headed east. He hasn't been since. It is, of course, possible that Yonago's boat sank or was otherwise rendered inoperable, or that he's quietly making his way across the Indian Ocean in some relaxed manner. But the fact that he hasn't been heard from in weeks does raise the possibility he was pirated.

As Hampton points out in his piece, this year yachts have been officially reported to have been attacked in Brazil, Thailand, and near the Seychelles, with two yachters killed by pirates (and a third by French commandos). I've no doubt that the real numbers are far higher, based, in part, by reports I receive from sailors.

This is just a modest reminder that anyone at sea can be a target, a victim. Supertankers, military vessels, container ships, fishing boats, passenger liners or pleasure boats - no one's immune to the threat. And the threat is not limited to just the waters off the Horn of Africa.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Remembering the Tamil Sea Tigers

With the reported death of Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in northeastern Sri Lanka, it appears that his secessionist movement is at an end. At least as a political entity in control of parts of the northern end of the island. Whether further military activities continue, such as guerrilla attacks, is uncertain. Things are really now in the hands of the Sri Lankan government to find some means to reconcile the Tamil minority with the Sinhalese majority there (to say nothing of the Muslim and Christian elements).

Over the last few months here in Toronto, there have been numerous demonstrations by members of the Tamil community living in these parts, trying to draw attention to the plight of their brethren in Sri Lanka. And they have quite valid concerns about the effects of the Sri Lankan military's onslaught against the Tigers that has been borne out by reports of deaths and injuries and displacements created by the fighting. There is a grave humanitarian crisis on the island nation that needs to be addressed.

But I have often found myself troubled by the demonstrations - not because of what the protesters are saying, but, rather, because of what they are not saying. Since I write about maritime issues, I've known about the Tamil Sea Tigers for several years. And their activities were deplorable. They targeted civilian vessels - as well as Sri Lankan naval 'targets' - and engaged in hijackings, thefts, intimidation and murder.

Over at Oldsailor's Marinebuzz site, he has a short list of some of the vessels the Sea Tigers attacked, primarily in the 1990s, plus a look back at their seizure of the freighter MV Farrah-3 in December 2006. (See the photos from his site of what the vessel looks like today, posted below.)

But he's forgotten what, in my mind, is one of the most horrific incidents that the Sea Tigers are believed to have committed. On March 20, 2003, a Chinese trawler was working the seas off the northeastern tip of Sri Lanka, about 17 nautical miles offshore of Mullaittivu (then a major Tiger base). This put the 26 crew of the Fu Yuan Ya 225 in international waters. About four in the morning, a group of speedboats suddenly surrounded the trawler and then, without warning, opened fire on her with automatic weapons.

Now take a moment to imagine the situation: You're a fisherman working far from home in the middle of the night, doing the backbreaking work that is your stock in trade. It's a brutal job at the best of times, but now has become deadlier. For a half hour the trawler is shot up by the attackers until it begins to sink. Those members of the Chinese crew not trapped inside the trawler managed to jump into the sea, hoping for an end to this bizarre event. At which point the shipwrecked survivors were gunned down in the water.

By daybreak there were only 9 left alive out of the crew of 26. And though the Tigers denied responsibility, there was no one else in the area who could have carried out such an attack.

Now I can hear the critics braying already, wondering how I can be critical of the aspirations espoused by the Tigers, and other Tamils, when they've been virtually persecuted for decades by the federal government in Colombo. Seventeen dead Chinese fishermen seems inconsequential compared to the thousands killed in Sri Lanka.

But once you start killing innocent foreigners who happen to be fishing nearby or hijacking foreign ships that happen to be in trouble nearby, you sully your means to achieve your goals. The Tigers had become like the PLO in the 1970s, ready to use whatever was necessary to achieve their dreams. But at least the PLO knew when it was time to stop their nefarious campaigns and come to the table, and their dream may actually become a reality within the foreseeable future. Prabhakaran's vision has been squandered, as has that of thousands of other Tamils.

Freighter MV Farrah-3 beached ashore, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Somali pirates allowing themselves to be captured?

Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, the lone Somali to survive the Maersk Alabama incident, was indicted today by a Manhattan grand jury on ten charges, including piracy and kidnapping. He will be arraigned in a District Court on Thursday, with his trial expected to commence in the fall. Muse faces life in prison if convicted on the piracy charge. Reuters reports that one of his lawyers is looking into the chance that Muse was "kidnapped and taken hostage" by American forces, a somewhat specious allegation given that the Somali man had been part of the armed group holding Captain Richard Phillips against his will.

Meanwhile, in The Netherlands, five other Somalis accused of attacking a vessel registered in the Dutch Antilles, are being prepared for their own trial under Dutch laws. The men were captured after a January incident involving the cargo ship Samanyulo, and at least two of the accused seem quite happy to be incarcerated in a European country. The Telegraph has a piece in which one of the men says that life in a Dutch jail is "good" in comparison to what things were like back home in Somalia.

The attorney of another is quoted as saying that his client is relieved to be in a Western prison where he feels safe. "His own village is dominated by poverty and sharia law but here he has good food and can play football [soccer] and watch television. He thinks the lavatory in his cell is fantastic." This accused is apparently considering sending for his wife and children to come to Holland as soon as he's released - which presumes the man will plead guilty and/or be sentenced to a prison term. His lawyer considers the man to be a Robin Hood driven to piracy to support his family.

All of this has led an international criminal law attorney, Geert-Jan Knoops, to wonder whether pirates will voluntarily surrender to Western naval forces in order to get to a better life, even one behind bars. It's not such a strange idea, and one that you can bet has been discussed in detail by a variety of legal experts prior to all the naval warships deploying to the seas off the Horn of Africa. Indeed, it's one of the reasons we've seen some nations hand over captured pirates to Somali authorities, or release them outright. It's the unwritten worry that once these suspects are brought to a Western nation to face legal trials, they'll never go home again.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Charges dropped against anti-piracy advocate Andrew Mwangura

On a holiday that marks the unofficial end of cold nights and the start of something warmer here in Canada, I was more than a little happy to hear news that my colleague - and friend - Andrew Mwangura was seeing an end to his own very long and very dark period of persecution from Kenyan authorities. As I've mentioned in the past, Mwangura has been at the receiving end of charges intended to silence one of East Africa's most energetic opponents to the scourge of piracy in the seas off that part of the world.

For embarrassing the Kenyan government months ago, Mwangura and his family faced great hardships as a result of the charges brought against him. For speaking the truth, he became the focus of intense pressure to quieten his resolve to address the plight of those mariners dealing with pirates off East Africa.

Andrew Mwangura, Mombasa, Kenya

There is much I have wanted to write about Mwangura in recent months but haven't - for fear it would impact on his legal imbroglios. Now I can say that he is one of those individuals who are characterized by an extreme degree of compassion that makes most of the rest of us pale in comparison. Without his assistance, I would never have learned more than a fraction of what I did while in Kenya.

The ability for him to operate with the meager resources he has is amazing. Piracy is not some passing media fad to Mwangura; he is there for the forsaken and the forgotten, those mariners who are not American or Western. He cares little about the nationalities involved, only the seafarers themselves.

Word has it that Hollywood is now intrigued by Andrew's experiences, which is great. After all he's been through, he deserves that. But he also reminds those of us interested in piracy that it takes a great degree of fortitude to be on the real front lines of this issue. Fortitude, strength of character and bravery...hat's off to a true friend of seafarers in that troubled part of the world.

My last evening in Mombasa, with Andrew Mwangura

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Some thoughts on writing a book about piracy

With the release this past week of my new book, Terror on the Seas: True Tales of Modern-Day Pirates, I did a short interview that may be of interest to some of you. It was done with acclaimed Canadian author and filmmaker David Bezmozgis for The National Post's book blog, The Afterward, and can be read here. Enjoy the weekend and, for those of you in Canada, the Victoria Day holiday.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Foreign fighters in Somalia

Late last month I posted an item about foreign fighters who were arriving in Somalia from abroad, working to aid al-Shabaab in its campaign to create an Islamist state. At that time, it was being reported that there were thought to be two or three dozen of these foreigners. But according to a Reuters report just out, those numbers may have increased - dramatically.

Speaking to reporters in Nairobi, the UN special envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, said that the United States has informed the Security Council that they believe there are between 280 and 300 fighters from other parts of Africa as well as abroad now in Somalia.

Some of these fighters are clearly aiding al-Shabaab in the intense fighting that's been going in and around Mogadishu for the last week: An African Union envoy told other reporters today that an Afghan man was among those killed. Moderate Somali Islamist groups are not giving in so easily to al-Shabaab, and we can expect to see more bloodshed in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Making a criminal case against pirates

While discussions abound about the intelligence-gathering aspects of pirate gangs and whether they're all working together - which, in my mind, is doubtful - I'd like to return to an earlier issue: what to do with captured suspects.

We've seen another incident this week in which Spanish naval authorities opted to hand over some suspects to Kenyan authorities (see here), and American and South Korean forces have captured 17 others (see here). What will happen as a result of the latter incident is still uncertain, but it's not unlikely the Somalis will be turned over to Kenyan authorities.

There is a certain amount of anger that lingers in some quarters about the apparent lack of follow-through on the part of various nations to bring suspected pirates before the judicial system and prosecute them for their actions. After all, why bother capturing pirates if we're not going to incarcerate them if proven guilty of their crimes?

Welcome to the quagmire of addressing an age-old criminal endeavor in the modern era. We no longer hang pirates from the yardarm arbitrarily or execute them summarily. In fact, we haven't done either - in Western nations - for a couple of hundred years. We have relied, instead, on due process and the definitive proof of guilt, a benchmark of an advanced, civilized society. So for those advocating a "hang 'em high" position for pirates, I say settle down. We are better than that.

Okay, but what do we do? Well, we shouldn't rely on naval forces to be criminal investigators, for one. Those sailors and marines working in the seas off the Horn of Africa are not police officers - they are warriors. That's what we've trained them to do. Their job descriptions do not include gathering evidence for a criminal investigation. We should expect them to fulfill the obligations of warriors. (I recall my brother's thoughts after his first tour of duty on a UN peacekeeping mission: "The most useless six months in my career.")

So why not emplace individuals with more criminal investigation aboard warships in the region? My Canadian colleague Patrick Lennox has put forth just an idea in a recent paper (see here), suggesting that Canadian authorities consider putting RCMP (our famous 'Mounties') teams on our warships. They're better equipped to gather evidence for a criminal prosecution than most naval elements. We've done this before, in Canada, putting RCMP teams on Coast Guard ships to deal with various domestic issues. Besides, every nation with warships in the region has criminal investigation divisions capable of doing likewise, with personnel better able to put together the means to better prosecute suspected pirates.

This is not in any way a slight at the naval forces in the region, merely a suggestion to augment their operational capabilities. Remember that piracy is, in legal terms, a national issue, up to individual nations to deal with. The better prepared we are to deal with it the more effective we are.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The intelligence-gathering aspect of piracy

There have been some media musings about Somali pirate gangs using operatives in London, UK, to augment their sea-going operations. The Guardian entitles yesterday's article "This is London - the capital of Somali pirates' secret intelligence operation", while The Telegraph's piece says that "Somali pirates helped by intelligence gathered in London".

Sounds pretty scary, right?, this the idea that there are individuals aiding and abetting pirates from the comfort of the British capital. But this is old news to those of us who watch the shipping industry. Indeed, pirates are among the last to enter the cloaked world of maritime espionage.

For thousands of years, the shipping industry has been rife with spies, informants and keen observers intent on gleaning whatever information comes from the intended itineraries of vessels on the seas and oceans. Make no mistake, it is one of the most cutthroat businesses around, where any advantage is used against competitors. And London is one of the epicenters of global maritime commerce, so it's no surprise that Somali pirates would access the font of available knowledge there.

Yet London is but one of many places in which informants operate for pirate gangs. From Kenya, Tanzania and Egypt to the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia, there are individuals in ports who keep an eye on the movement of vessels and report back to leaders in Somalia. Anyone poking around into piracy in, say, Mombasa or Singapore, will be noted. (Based on personal experiences, it's a big issue.) Every port in the world is porous in terms of intelligence, which is one of the problems we're facing dealing with maritime crime.

But this also is a reflection of the dissipated nature of modern day piracy, in which the operations of gangs are spread across various nations. We're no longer talking of a group of guys all huddled together in a compound beside the Indian Ocean who could be taken out by commando strike. They have evolved into sophisticated entities with elements in a number of locations. There is likely someone, somewhere, being paid by a pirate gang in Somalia who has read this, just as he has read hundreds of other online posts.

We're dealing with an asymmetrical form of warfare here, against an enemy that has learned from its predecessors' mistakes. Just like pirates in Southeast Asia, Somali brigands have evolved far beyond some uncouth thugs and need to be combated with a greater degree of efficiency. And one way to do that is to locate, identify and undermine the support structures that allow pirates to stage their attacks.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Using convoys to deter pirates

Talk of increasing the use of convoys as a deterrent to pirates has been making the rounds of late. Last week it was reported that Søren Skou, chief executive of Maersk Tankers, was saying his company was in favour of a secure sea lane off the east coast of Africa. And in today's Washington Times, Stephen J. Solarz and Michael E. O'Hanlon are also espousing convoys with naval escorts as a means of reducing the threat potential. This concept is in addition to the existing system in place in the Gulf of Aden (GoA) approach to the Red Sea.

This is all positive, but convoys are not going to be the complete solution to the problem of pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa - or elsewhere, for that matter. It is not a fool-proof system, and there's a great bit of insight into things coming from Kennebec Captain. He's a master mariner who knows those seas well and recently posted some thoughts on the use of convoys that is definitely worth checking out (read it here). It is somewhat disheartening to hear from Kennebec Captain that the situation in the GoA is still lax: A year ago, as I sailed with the crew of a Maersk box ship through these same waters, I thought the silence emanating from various organizations was simply because they were still coming up to speed. Looks like a lot of work still needs to be done, guys.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Is there a racial, cultural or religious bias to reporting on piracy?

One of the downsides to my work looking into global piracy and presenting it to the public is the negative feedback I sometimes receive. It's an occupational hazard of putting yourself out there, that those who disagree with your perspectives will rant back, usually anonymously.

For the most part the haranguing comments I receive are quickly delegated to the trash bin, owing to the often ill-informed nature they present. (Advice to my critics: slow down, take a deep breath, and compose your thoughts. Bad punctuation and grammar, run-on sentences and the random use of CAPITALIZATION undermine anything you have to say.)

At any rate, I do give these missives some thoughts, even before deleting. I recently received one that was surprisingly well-written. Here's what was emailed to me:

"'Terror' on the seas? How subtle. It must irk you some, when your intellectual contortions to flatly blame piracy on Islam are contested so aptly in real media sources. What is your background, anyway? Maybe we can find a source for your obsession with attributing the worlds ills to black people. I mean muslims."

That I am blaming all the world's ills on black people is an odd sentiment, but there you go. As for piracy, it is not confined to Africa, not by a long stretch. And as anyone who has followed my postings here should know, I have never blamed piracy on Islam. Indeed, I have not even blamed it on the Somali people (see my post from last month, for instance). Islam has absolutely nothing to do with the pirates operating from Somalia, Indonesia or Nigeria, or anywhere else where there is an Islamic community. The Muslim mariners I have met in East Africa who have been held hostage by pirates were not given any reprieve because of their religion. The Malaysian fishermen I spent time with in the Strait of Malacca endure endless attacks from Indonesians who share their faith.

Pirates care little whether one is Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Buddhist. Be they Asian, African or American, these brigands are criminals who prey on the weak, whether that is foreigners or their own people. Religion? It is unimportant.

The only bias that I bring to my work is that of my concern for the plight of those affected by piracy. This includes mariners of many faiths and cultures, as well as ordinary people ashore in various nations.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Another busy weekend for Somali pirates

There were a number of incidents in the seas off East Africa the past few days, including the hijacking of a European-owned bulk carrier and a UAE-owned cargo ship, both on Saturday. (There is some confusion about the bulker ownership, with sources like the BBC reporting it to be British-owned, while AFP says it is Greek-owned with a British shipping agent. Fairplay reports today that it is British. The crew are all Ukranian and the vessel was seized some 250 n.m. southwest of the Seychelles.)

On Sunday, French naval forces captured 11 suspected pirates in waters about halfway between Kenya and the Seychelles, seizing a 10-metre long vessel - probably a mother ship - and two smaller skiffs. According to Fairplay, "further treatment of the suspects is yet to be decided."

Finally, a South Korean warship came to the aid of a North Korean freighter that was being stalked by pirates in the gulf of Aden. The Times Online says that snipers in a South Korean naval helicopter helped scare off the attackers, a remarkably rare event when you consider that the two Koreas are still technically at war with one another. (This brings to mind an incident back in November of 2007, when a US Navy destroyer responded to a distress call from another North Korean vessel that had been boarded by pirates.)

It's interesting to note the activity in the waters around the Seychelles, an area of sea that is not a prone to the summer monsoon winds that plague the northern part of the region. Might Somali pirates be thinking of shifting more of their operations into this part of the Indian Ocean in the coming months, to avoid any weather-influenced disruptions?

Meanwhile, the naval elements currently patrolling the western side of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden look to be extending and augmenting their missions. Canada has announced that HMCS Winnipeg will be staying in the region until early June as part of the frigate's commitment to Standing NATO Maritime Group One. And a Greek frigate has arrived to join with the European Union Naval Force ATALANTA. That force now comprises 8 frigates, a patrol boat and two support vessels from spain, Germany, France, Italy and Greece.

Photos below are of HMCS Winnipeg and are from the DND Combat Camera team. Take a look at the last one, in particular. It gives you an excellent view of a pirate skiff and their boarding gear.

HMCS Winnipeg in the Indian Ocean
(photo: Warrant Officer Carole Morissette, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

Canadians rarely forget the hockey playoffs, even when patrolling the Gulf of Aden
(photo: Warrant Officer Carole Morissette, CF Combat Camera)

Pirate skiff, Gulf of Aden, April 18, 2009
(photo: MCorporal David Tillotson, Air Detachment HMCS Winnipeg, CF Combat Camera)