Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Insights On Somali Piracy

There's a new book now out in North America, the UK, Australia and the Netherlands that provides one of the most detailed looks ever presented into how piracy operates in the seas off Somalia. "The Pirates Of Somalia" is the result of several years of meticulous research by Canadian journalist Jay Bahadur, who has gone where few others have to explore the issues by immersing himself in things the hard way: He traveled throughout the Horn of Africa. At great risk to himself, Bahadur ventured into coastal communities, met with pirates, their leaders, supporters and those struggling with this nefarious threat. As I wrote in a review for The Globe & Mail newspaper this weekend (read it here), Bahadur manages to get to the core of piracy - the money angle - by using his contacts and research to break down the financial aspects of this criminal enterprise, positing that some of those on the low end of the hierarchical ladder of a gang make less than $11.00 an hour for all their efforts. The book is a fascinating read and a well-needed look into the ongoing problems, well worth checking out.

I've added a link at right (under Horn Of Africa Piracy) to Bahadur's blog, The Pirates Of Puntland, where he has more information about the book, and himself.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Working together

Almost sixty years ago, as the world was being turned upside down in what we now call the Second World War, Canada and the United States of America created one of the best trans-national fighting forces seen in modern times. The First Special Force, or Devil's Brigade as it became known, embodied the best aspects of each nations warriors - and our mutual desires for peace in the face of injustice and anarchy. Two nations that once warred each have become the strongest of friends. Let us argue, amuse and enlighten one another. To my many American friends: Happy 4th of July.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bonne fĂȘte Canada

For those who have missed me, I'm back in my native land. Thoughts and insights will resume shortly. In the meantime, I've my grandfather's old ensign laid out on my deck in honour of our nation's birthday, and a beer in hand. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Post-Osama Peace Dividend Potential

And that's Osama (as in bin-Laden), not Obama. Though both are key to this.

A perceptive analysis of what could - should? - be done in the wake the al-Qaeda leader's death comes from Chrystia Freeland of Reuters. His death last week brings to a close a decade-long, US-led international effort at stemming bin Laden's efforts to wage conflict with those who did not ascribe to his extremist view. And to those who feel otherwise, can you please just accept that he is dead. If the Taliban believes he's gone, there's no reason anyone else should.)

Read what Freeland wrote yesterday, as there is an economic aspect worth considering.

Boating Safety 101

Now that May has arrived, folks in these parts have finally put away their snow shovels and begun thinking about summer's coming pleasures. And for many of us that means hoping to spend some time on the water, in a canoe, sailboat or even an aging, much-patched craft (powered by a 3HP Evinrude outboard acquired when Canada was celebrating its centennial).

But a colleague of mine who works as a marine safety inspector recently reminded that the warmer weather also signals the start of what he blithely calls "the idiot season". That is, the period when an inordinate number of people take to the water, many of whom put themselves - and others - at risk by their actions.

As he put it, "There is a certain kind of Mad Men mentality that affects boaters. Small craft operators, I mean. It's like, 'We don't need any rules'. But driving a car without wearing your seat belt? No way, not any more. Flying an airplane without knowing the rules, or drinking and driving? Absolutely not. But folks still think they can just climb in a boat, fire up the engine, grab a beer and head off."

His frustration was evident as we spoke. After years working on merchant vessels in the Great Lakes and on the oceans, he's seen his share of accidents, near misses and "stupidity" on the water, with much of his ire focused on recreational boaters, especially small craft users.

I bring this up because a surprising number of people in Canada still don't realize that operators of recreational craft fitted with any type of motor must carry what Transport Canada deems proof of competency while on board. It's the law from coast to coast to coast, whether you're in a PWC, a sailboat with an outboard or a canoe with a trolling motor. Motor + watercraft = need to get a competency card.

Now lest anyone fret that this is another form of government intrusion into our daily lives, it should be noted that there's an easy way to deal with things: Get a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. Essentially it proves you've done a basic boating safety course and know port from starboard, so to speak. There's a manual you can purchase in many nautical outfitters or book stores that you study, then comes a written exam. If you pass, the card is yours, for life. It's not a license that has to be renewed.

To make things easier, Transport Canada has accredited a variety of organizations across the country that offer classroom or online courses. A list of accredited groups can be found on the Transport Canada website (see the Marine Safety sidebar), but I'll point out one good online site that can help anyone through the process.

It's called, and allows you to do tutorials at your own pace and write the final exam when you're ready. And the exam is an open book one, so that should make things easier.

Getting a Pleasure Craft Operator Card is a no-brainer, whether you're a teenager or retired. About seven to nine million Canadians take to the water every year, but over 200 die while out boating, and something like 6000 other accidents occur annually. Doesn't have to be that way.

Get the card.

Algoma District, Northern Ontario

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pirates Sentenced In U.S. Court To Life In Prison

For the first time in over two hundred years, the United States has convicted individuals on the crime of piracy. As AFP reports, five Somali suspects today each received life sentences for their attack on a an American frigate last year (the USS Nicholas, see here). In a Norfolk, Virginia, court, the individuals also received an additional 80 years apiece for other charges, for whatever that's worth.

Able prosecution using the fullest legal means possible is part of dealing with the problem. The international community must not shy away from using the clearest - and most transparent - means available to address things. The rule of law is one of the thin wedges that keeps communal cohesiveness from spiraling into anarchy.

However, I still advocate the establishment of an international admiralty court to deal with suspected pirates, as this is a unique situation in the broader scheme of things. More to come, but this is a big advance.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Suspected Pirates Indicted In Virginia

Fourteen suspected pirates have been indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury in Norfolk, Virginia, relating to the attack on the yacht Quest. That incident ended on February 22 with the deaths of four Americans, Jean and Scott Adam (the owners of the yacht) and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle. It's being reported that the suspects face charges of piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and use of firearms. No member of the group has charged with murder, which may be because investigators are still trying to unravel what happened when the incident ended. Thirteen of the indicted suspects are said to be Somali, while the fourteenth is apparently Yemeni.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

More On Danish Yachters Seized By Pirates

It's being reported that the Danes seized by pirates last week, while sailing in their yacht, have been moved to another vessel. And the seven captives have apparently been split up, clearly to make it more difficult for forces to try to rescue them. What happened earlier last week with the four American yachters has obviously been noted by the pirates holding the Danes, which tells you a little about how much these maritime criminals communicate and follow the news.

Meanwhile, there are still have ill-informed postings about the situation, harping on that these Danes should never have been in the area. In a piece in today's National Post out of Canada, Araminta Wordsworth writes, "A Danish couple and their three children ignored warnings of Somali pirates when they elected to sail blithely into the Indian Ocean. Guess what? They got caught. Now they're getting little sympathy as they pray for rescue."

Wordsworth assumes many things here: That the children ignored warnings, that the pirates offered a warning, that no one cares about their plight and that the Indian Ocean - in toto - is the realm of pirates. Okay, I am really talking about semantics and bad journalism, but there is a broader point here.

As I said in an earlier post, there are responsibilities on various fronts here. But the criticism being thrown at these Danish captives is wrong, in my opinion. Change what Wordsworth wrote to something like, "An Asian crew ignored warnings of Somali pirates when they elected to sail blithely into the Indian Ocean. Guess what? They got caught. Now they're getting little sympathy as they pray for rescue."

That could describe the vast majority of mariners currently being held hostage by Somali pirates. The Danish yachters took a risk and got caught. But this is what the seafaring world deals with on a daily basis. In fact, as I've been told in many interviews, the professional world of global shipping considers piracy as just another cost of doing business.

The media criticisms should not be aimed at the Danes hijacked last week. They should be aimed at the shipping community that has allowed piracy off the Horn of Africa to grow while being written off as a bottom end deduction.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Libya & Piracy

As various nations, including Canada, dispatch forces to the Mediterranean to deal with the rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi, any observer of piracy off the Horn of Africa will wonder if those same elements might be deployed elsewhere once the crisis in that nation hopefully ends.

There will potentially be a lot of naval assets in the Gulf of Sidra soon. But if the situation in Libya does not require them, might they be deployed to the seas off the Horn of Africa? Seems likely, especially given recent events. Which would be apt, given Gaddafi's previous endorsement of Somali pirates (see here).

Yachters: Piracy Risks & Responsibilities

With the news that a Danish yacht was seized by pirates last Thursday, there has been concern raised about the fact among the seven aboard the vessel are three children, aged between 12 and 16. As Danish foreign minister Lene Espersen put it, "It's almost unbearable to know that children are involved, and I vigorously condemn the pirates."

On a Time online blog, an item was posted today that voiced what many others are thinking, with the writer wondering, "What astounds your humble correspondent is that many foreigners, mostly Europeans and Americans, still insist on adventuring in the shadow of the pirate threat, especially with their own children."

Seems a fair assessment on the surface, but ignores the fact that piracy is not confined to the Indian Ocean or seas off the Horn of Africa. Yachters face the risk of seaborne attacks in many other places, such as the Caribbean. In early December, a Canadian man was killed by attackers while anchored on his boat off the north coast of Honduras. As reported, he was shot in front of his 24-year-old daughter, who managed to get a passing commercial vessel to rescue her. (The yachter killed, Milan Egrmajer, was a retired veteran of the Canadian Navy, so was not unaware of maritime risks.)

Sailing in many parts of the world is fraught with potential trouble, from the weather to criminal activity, on shore and at sea. Nobody sails in a place like off the Horn of Africa without being aware of the risks. But should they be there in the first place?

Well NATO does not think so. On their shipping site (see here), they state, "Naval forces strongly recommend that yachts do not transit this area." And the European Union's Naval Force Somalia site says, "Yachts are strongly recommended to avoid the area."

So if you follow this thinking we should just concede the seas off Somalia to the pirates and go elsewhere. Except that the route through the Red Sea to and from the Suez Canal is a vital transit corridor, for pleasure boats as well as commercial vessels. And giving in to the pirates is the wrong approach.

Instead, recent incidents involving yachters mean that the various entities dealing with the situation in that part of the world need to amend their procedures. To simply attempt to safeguard commercial vessels while ignoring yachters is misguided. As the EU says (quoted on Noonsite), "Anti-piracy patrols by warships can only offer limited protection for yachts in the area. If you are boarded by pirates, the rules of engagement prevent EU naval forces from taking steps to rescue you."

Damn, that's a bitch.

As an EU member, hopefully the Danes will not throw up their hands and leave the most recently hijacked yachters left to their own devices. But they should also have released information about the seizure earlier than four days after it occurred, if only to give fair warning to any other vessels in the area the incident transpired.

It is time for the naval forces in the region to extend their protection to yachts and specifically provide convoy assistance to these boats. they may not be carrying hundreds of millions in commercial goods, but they are still mariners seeking free passage on the seas.

But it is also time for the yachting community to address this situation in a more cohesive manner. As the level of violence continues to rise in the region as a result of pirate activities, sailing in the area must be considered akin to venturing into a storm front.

Most are aware of the risks, and a good take can be found on the Cruising World site (see here), where a couple of yachters recently talked about the stress of sailing in piracy-prone waters.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Americans hijacked by pirates

As has been reported tonight (see here, here here and elsewhere), a number of American yachters have been taken hostage by pirates in the Indian Ocean. The sailing vessel Quest, owned by Jean and Scott Adam, was reportedly seized Friday afternoon while sailing 240 nautical miles off Oman. We can likely watch a growing media reaction to this hijacking, owing to the hostages being American.

Which is both good and bad.

The good - such as it is - is that the media and the public will remember that maritime piracy is a problem that affects all of us, not just off the coast of Somalia. This is something that does impact on North Americans.

The bad is that this will forget the plight of the almost 800 individuals currently being held hostage by Somali captors, including a South African couple captured while aboard their sailboat four months ago.

Those aboard the S/V Quest deserve as much attention as all the other mariners currently being held in atrocious conditions. Please do not forget them - all of them; they have no one else but all of us to pressure international community to free them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Somali man sentenced in Manhattan court

Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, the sole survivor of the April 2009 Maersk Alabama incident, was sentenced this afternoon to 33 years and nine months in prison for his role in that pirate attack. This was the maximum sentence; Muse's lawyers had asked for the minimum-allowable sentence, 27 years, but Judge Loretta Preska declined the request.

The Somali man reportedly told the court today, "I'm very sorry for what I did. I got my hands into something that was more powerful than me."

Muse plead guilty last year to charges of hijacking, kidnapping and hostage-taking. He did not plead guilty to any piracy charges, nor was he convicted of piracy charges, unlike what some media are reporting (see the BBC here). While he may be a pirate in the eyes of many, he is a convicted kidnapper and hijacker in the eyes of justice.