Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Freight Vessel Attacks Down as Hostages Rescued by Special Forces

Helicopters Swoop In To Kill Pirate Gang
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – Reports from the region regarding the rescue of two hostages today by US forces paint a vivid picture of the fragmented society that has spawned the current wave of pirate attacks. A unit deployed in the area consisting of US Navy Seals together with other specialist troops from Army, Navy, Marine and US Air Force factions has apparently been in place for some while awaiting instructions for any possible intervention in hostage or terrorist situations. The rescue did not involve victims from freight or passenger vessels as Dane Poul Hagen Thisted and American Jessica Buchanan were seized in the town of Galkayo in October while working for the Danish Demining Group (DDG) a branch of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC)a non-profit organisation that works worldwide to help victims of conflict.

The rescue was allegedly triggered after the special forces unit, Joint Special Operations Command Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), received information that one of the hostages was seriously ill. The team, based in Djibouti and who are believed to be implicated in a series of previous actions against terrorists in Somalia including the assassination of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in 2009, the man suspected of constructing the bomb that killed 15 people in a Kenya hotel in 2002. US press sources are saying nine kidnappers were killed whilst local sources admit to eight deaths and one wounded.

The two hostages are believed to be unharmed by the rescue but suffering from stomach ailments, they were reportedly abducted by their own security guards and the same fate seems to have occurred to US journalist Michael Scott Moore last week who it is believed had travelled to the area to research a book on piracy.

Local reports say the capture of Thisted and Buchanan caused much friction between pirate factions claiming that the $10 million ransom first proposed caused in fighting and a reaction from local towns like Hiinlabi which refused entry to the gang and public figures alternately proffering mediation and threats. The US action will certainly deter many from sheltering the criminals after the 2am raid on Higale village (some say Hiimo Gaabo) when helicopters landed ground troops who soon infiltrated the pirate lair and opened fire.

The new trend of capturing soft targets on land may be as a result of the continuing success of tactics used to deter seaborne raiders. The use of Best Management Practices has stumped many would be raiders whilst increased Naval patrols by the EU and Nato coupled with the growing number of trained and armed guards aboard freighters and passenger liners are making the easy kills of yesteryear more unlikely. There is also the added factor that the pirates are usually unsure of their targets, picking off anything which happens along. In past months we have seen at least two raids mistakenly launched against much more heavily armoured Naval vessels and additionally the increasingly uncertain fate should the villains be captured.

Historically Western forces have invoked the rules regarding prima facie evidence resulting in an immediate freeing of suspects or at worst transfer for trial and imprisonment in prisons which many pirates would view as a soft option compared to life in Somalia. Recently however some nations have apparently been considerably less lenient in their dealings with the gangs. Knowing that harsh treatment of captives by any particular nation might result in a backlash (See Photo) there are rumours that some pirate skiffs have simply been sunk out of hand leaving the crews that survive to face certain death in the Indian Ocean.

Statistics for captures by pirates in the region vary but the general consensus is that only 7% of attacks on shipping were successful in months toward the end of last year as opposed to around 20% nine months earlier. The number of monthly attacks also fell from over thirty to thirteen in the same period, some of these on very small and vulnerable fishing vessels which were unlikely to reap the size of ransom that larger bulk carriers and container ships might.

The escalation of response against the gangs has apparently led to more violence for those unfortunate enough to be captured. We have included some horrifying videos of prisoner treatment in earlier stories but last week we received a report that the arm of Chao I-Wu, the captain of the Taiwan flagged fishing vessel Shiuh Fu was amputated by his captors in an effort to extort the $3 million ransom demanded. The vessel was seized on Christmas Day together with her crew of 26 and a report of the latest brutal act was made as Vietnamese crew members telephoned home to beg for release. The crew are reportedly being held in the vicinity of Harardhere, 500 kilometres North East of Mogadishu.

Photo: Two grinning Somali gunmen holding four crewmen from the Korean MV Gemini who were retained by pirates despite the ransom being paid.

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