Sunday, June 19, 2011

Problems Around the Horn of Africa Represent Mixed Fortunes for Freight Shipping

Developments in the Struggle against Somali Piracy
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – The struggle against the problem of piracy around the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean has experienced mixed fortunes this week with news of sentencing of foreign ransom couriers by a court in Mogadishu and a spat between navies that are supposed to be cooperating in protecting the sea lanes in the region from depredations.

Yesterday three British citizens, two Kenyans and an American were each sentenced to serve prison terms of between ten-and-fifteen years after being arrested in Mogadishu on May the 24th for bringing alleged pirate ransom money – some $3.6 million in cash - illegally into the country.

Amongst the convicted man are Britons Matthew Brown, a pilot, and Andrew Oaks and Alex James who work for Salama Fikira, a Mauritius-based risk management consultancy.

The British Foreign Office said that it was aware of the situation and that they had “…impressed upon the transitional federal government the need to ensure the safety and security of the group while legal options are considered”.

Although it has become a common practice for shipping lines to pay ransoms to pirates to secure the release of seized crews and vessels - with a UN report stating that $112 million in ransoms were paid to Somali pirates last year alone – the Somali government has outlawed the payment of ransom on the understandable grounds that it actually encourages piracy and, allegedly, funds the terrorist groups ravaging the country.

The judgement brings into question just what the situation is for ship owners and lines that have had vessels captured in how they can get their property and personnel released safely.

In addition to the court case, a diplomatic spat has blown up between the Indian and Pakistani navy’s regarding actions that occurred whilst two of their vessels were engaged on anti-piracy work off the coast of Somalia.

On the 16th of June the two navies were engaged in escorting the recently released MV Suez – whose crew has both Indian and Pakistani nationals - away from the Somali coast when their respective vessels, the INS Godavari and PNS Babur, brushed against one another.

This led to the Pakistani government issuing a formal protest to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad over what it describes as “a serious violation of international regulations pertaining to safe conduct at high seas and of the India-Pakistan Agreement of 1991 on Advance Notice of Military Exercise Manoeuvres and Troops Movements” and an accusation that the INS Godavari was acting with “aggression”.

Quite why the incident happened is not clear; suffice to say that the Indian government has issued a counter-complaint alleging that it was the Pakistani frigate that brushed against their vessel whilst engaged in “risky manoeuvres” that “jeopardised the safety of INS Godavari and its crew”.

While it is tempting to wonder if the mixed crew aboard the MV Suez suffered similar problems whilst transiting the ships corridors and gang-ways, unlikely given the professional reputation that crew from the entire sub-continental region enjoys, the incident does show up how stresses can disrupt the multi-national coalition efforts to work together to deal with the thorny issue of piracy.

A further development is the announcement that the Dutch parliament has voted to allow their military to perform pre-emptive strikes on pirate targets ashore in Somalia without consulting with the government in Mogadishu. The Dutch government state that the existing UN mandate on the issue allows them the right to take such actions if they believe them necessary. The Royal Netherlands Ship Owners Association, the KNVR, has welcomed the decision.

As a final piece, the Handy Shipping Guide wishes to make a clarification concerning a ‘viral’ email that is circulating at the moment showing the capture of pirate boat by Russian marines. The email states that the Somali pirates shown captured in the video (discretion advised before watching) were then handcuffed to their vessel prior to its destruction.

Though no one from the Russian Ministries of Foreign Affairs or Defence were available to comment on the video, the Handy Shipping Guide understands that this is not the case and that the pirates were transferred to the destroyer Admiral Panteleyev and received medical treatment.