Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Somali Pirates Captured and Sentenced as Bulk Freight and Container Shipping Warned to Stay Wary

Extremist Muslim Groups Attacked on Land Whilst International Navies Maintain Pressure at Sea
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – With the seizure of bulk freight and container shipping vessels much reduced in recent months due to the inclement weather, the adoption of Best Management Practices, the vigilance of an increased and more collaborative multinational naval presence and the siting of armed security personnel on merchant ships, there has been far less pirate activity to report of late but this hardly means the country, and the surrounding waters, are not still in turmoil.

Last week we received news from inside the country that air forces were making low level reconnaissance missions around areas held by the forces of al-Shabaab. Unsurprisingly our appeals to the authorities for confirmation met with ‘no comments’ all round, but on Saturday, forces from what are believed to be the Kenyan Air Force are reported to have killed three civilians during an attack on the port of Kismayo, a key al-Shabaab stronghold.

The situation on the mainland for those held within the region by al-Shabaab militants has worsened as their captors fortunes have steadily declined under the onslaught from the forces of African peacekeepers (AMISOM), and the Somali Transitional Federal Government and its allies. Local press reports the fundamentalists have abandoned their affected moral stance and resorted to looting, robbery and intimidation in order to obtain supplies.

On Tuesday (7th August) a Kenyan Court sentenced seven Somali men arrested by EU NAVFOR in October 2009 whilst fleeing aboard two skiffs following their attack on a French owned fishing boat. The men will serve twenty year sentences in Kenyan jails after they were found guilty of a ‘terrifying attack’.

Meanwhile offshore the three day hunt by NATO and EU counter piracy forces for a dhow captured by a pirate gang was concluded apparently satisfactorily when , HNLMS Rotterdam, flagship of the NATO Combined Task Force 508, in close cooperation with EU Naval Force unit FGS Sachsen, pursued the vessel in Somali coastal waters then managed to retake the ship and rescue the crew. The ‘suspected’ pirates will be extradited to the Netherlands to face trial.

The latest arrests come close on the heels of a warning issued by the US Office of Naval Intelligence regarding surveillance of merchant shipping transiting the Gulf of Oman, Strait of Hormuz and Arabian Gulf. It appears contact is being made with the merchantmen by pirates (or other persons unknown) purporting to be crew aboard legitimate vessels transiting the area. In fact the perpetrators may well be operating from a shore station when, after initial greetings, the charlatans claim to be aboard a known vessel (subsequently to be found elsewhere in the world in most cases) and question the target as to name, complement, position etc.

Although no vessel seems yet to have influenced a subsequent attack personnel aboard ships in the area are advised to act with caution if contacted by an unknown source asking for details in this type of radio ‘phishing’ exercise. Vessels which receive suspect communications are asked to report the details to the Maritime Liaison Office Bahrain marlo.bahrain@me.navy.mil +973-17-85-3925 and U.K. Maritime Trade Office ukmto@eim.ae or OpsRmSup@ukmto.mod.uk  +011-971-50-552-3215.

Photo: Two American made MD 500 and a larger Russian built MI-17 helicopters being used in a raid near the mouth of the Jubba River in Somalia. Both types are used regularly by Kenyan and AMISOM forces in their battles with al-Shabaab.