Thursday, September 24, 2009

Merchant captain killed by Somali pirates

In an unusual display of violence, Somali pirates attempting to hijack a freighter today killed the captain when he refused to comply with the attackers' demands. According to Reuters, the Panamanian-flagged freighter was bound for Mogadishu's port when pirates boarded and demanded her master alter course. He refused and was then murdered. The ship - reportedly named the Barwaqo - and its crew was later freed by Somali police and African Union troops (those AMISOM troops being the ones targeted in last week's deadly double suicide bombing by al-Shabaab).

The murder of the Syrian captain is unusual because Somali pirates have, for the most part, always understood that killing hostages - or potential hostages - should be avoided. For one, it's very hard to negotiate a ransom with a dead hostage. For another, killing crews risks ratcheting up the levels of violence that pirates could face: if crews begin arming themselves and taking on the boarders - figuring they've nothing to lose, so to speak - the situation off the HoA could quickly change. I would not be surprised to see some pirate spokesman make a contrite statement.

Regardless, higher ransoms and the killing of a master mariner do not bode well for the coming piracy season off the Horn of Africa.


Anonymous said...

I wonder, how much does Khat play into violence such as this. Is it as high use among pirates as it is with the malitia?

Daniel Sekulich said...

The use of khat - and alcohol - is fairly widespread among Somali pirates. But it's unlikely that the use of khat would have been a mitigating factor in the captain's death. Normally it is when pirates do not get their khat supply that they become more trigger-happy: the withdrawal symptoms are more of a problem.