Thursday, November 13, 2008

Somalia: How low can you go?

The ongoing situation regarding the freighter MV Faina remains unclear. The Faina is the vessel hijacked by Somali pirates on September 25, along with her crew and a cargo that includes 33 T-72 battle tanks. Her captain died shortly after the ship was seized, possibly suffering a heart attack, and the freighter continues to be anchored near the Somali coast, boxed in by foreign naval vessels from the United States and Russia.

But while that situation remains at an impasse, pirates have not let up in their attacks on merchant ships plying the waters off the Horn of Africa, targeting a number of vessels in the last week. This led to joint British-Russian efforts to assist a Danish vessel, the MV Powerful, which was assaulted yesterday by pirates presumably intent on hijacking the ship. In response, two helicopters were deployed from the Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland and the Russian frigate Neustrashimy, while British boat teams were also dispatched. The end reuslt was that two of the would-be attackers were killed by British commandos, the first instance of the Royal Navy engaging pirates in quite some time.

Meanwhile, the situation in Somalia itself continues to deteriorate. As reported by Time Magazine, aid workers are being killed ashore, government officials are being killed, civilians are being killed and even Italian nuns are being abducted. As the article by Alex Perry points out, 8 UN staffers and 24 aid workers have died in Somalia this year. there is no idea how many Somalis have perished in the anarchy that reigns there.

But just one under-reported event gives you some idea of how the downward spiral in Somalia is continuing: A 13-year old girl is reported to have been stoned to death by Islamic extremists on October 27 in the southern part of the country. Her crime? Having commited "adultery" after being gang-raped. That incident allegedly involves the al-Shabaab (Arabic For Youth) gang, who have been linked to incidents of piracy off Somalia, including the taking of the MV Faina.

The connection between sea-based piracy and land-based tyranny should not be forgotten in this part of the world. Expect things to get worse.

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