Thursday, October 29, 2009

Somali Marines and the threat to yachters of pirates

Being up to my eyeballs in work and ongoing research on some new projects, I've been unable to comment on recent piracy incidents. Thankfully, my colleague EagleSpeak has been more vigilant in reporting on things. He provided a good roundup of general items on Wednesday (see here) as well as a piece today (here) about the hijacking of the British yacht by Somali pirates last weekend.

That incident has caused a small flurry of media interest, mainly because there are two middle-aged civilians involved. For the umpteenth time, I reiterate that the kidnapping of yachters is another reason to NOT believe the pirate spokesmen's claims that these criminals are trying to defend the overfishing or illegal waste dumping going on off the Horn of Africa (HoA). These people, and the hundreds of other mariners currently be held hostage by pirate gangs, have absolutely nothing to do with those problems.

As an article referenced by Eagle1 says, the British couple is being held in Harardhere, likely by the maritime elements of local warlord Abdi Mohamed Afweyne. These are the seaborne forces known as the 'Somali Marines', who have been the most successful of all Somali pirates. As I found while doing research into piracy in East Africa, they sometimes style themselves the 'Defenders of Somali Territorial Waters', an honorific that belies their criminal behavior. This is the group that has targeted UN-chartered merchant vessels carrying humanitarian aid in the past. They have a highly organized structure, with Abdi Mohamed Afweyne overseeing a marine operation that itself includes a fleet admiral and vice-admiral (who is also head of marine operations and, a few years ago, was known, paradoxically, as 'General Gray ').

Now the question on a lot of people's minds is how serious is the threat of pirates off the HoA to pleasure boaters? In a nutshell: it's not great, unless you provoke things. There's currently no reason to go sailing through the waters of the eastern Indian Ocean; there are plenty of other pleasant seas to explore. You can safely transit the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in convoys. Be informed and aware. And the reality is that pirates are less interested in small pleasure craft than commercial vessels, owing to the potential ransoms involved. But there is always a risk. Always.

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