Monday, November 15, 2010

British Couple Released By Pirates At Last

After over a year in captivity, British yachters Rachel and Paul Chandler were finally released by their Somali pirate captors yesterday. In a video posted on the BBC site, they appear thin, but in good spirits. In a comment given to the BBC's Andrew Harding, Rachel said one of the worst things about their ordeal was being separated from her husband, an unusual tactic that pirates do not normally employ with captives.

Xan Rice of The Guardian provides a closer look at what may have gone on behind the scenes to secure the couple's release (see it here). It includes the possibility that some of the ransom money may have come from part of British government assistance provided to the Somali government.

Though denied by a spokesman for British prime minister Gordon Brown, one would have to wonder about things based on what happened to the Chandlers after being let free. Instead of being allowed to go free - as every other captive has - the couple were, instead, flown to Mogadishu. There they were driven by African Union forces in an armoured vehicle to meet with Somali government officials for a photo op. Not the usual way these things work out.

It should also be noted that the same spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon did not call the Chandlers' captors pirates. Instead he called them terrorists.

Regardless, it is good to see the ordeal of these hostages finally ended.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pirates Get The Largest Ransom For The Largest Ship Ever Seized

According to media reports, Somali pirate gangs have managed to secure a record ransom of $9.5 million (US) for the release of the largest vessel ever seized. The MT Samho Dream was captured last April off the Horn of Africa while sailing about 1500 kilometers southeast of the Gulf Aden, while en route from Iraq to the United States with a load of crude oil valued at around $170 million. Her crew of 24 are said to be in good condition after spending seven months in captivity, though the supertanker has yet to leave for open sea.

When the Samho Dream was seized back in the early hours of 4 April, her capture immediately raised the bar in terms of how big the prizes are that pirates are going after. Yet since the ship and her crew were taken, there has been precious little reported about this situation.

Writing the day after this immense vessel was hijacked (see here), I wondered if she would garner the largest ransom ever seen. And, unfortunately, I've been proven right. I wish I'd been wrong.

There appears to be a change happening within pirate cartels in Somalia, another metastasis of their various criminal enterprises. Some are garnering huge payouts - meaning we will see the $10 million barrier broken next year, unless the situation drastically changes. But others are feeling the pinch of reduced returns on their investments, leading them to more frustration, and actions such as the sinking of vessels deemed of insufficient value (see here). As well, there is the pressure coming the main Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

Regardless, the situation with piracy off the Horn of Africa is currently morphing, evolving. But is anyone noticing?