Piracy: The MV FAINA Crisis – Day 79

Extract from “The Mindanao Examiner”

– Sunday, 14 December 2008


The Ukrainian ship MV Faina, captured by Somali pirates in September, may be released in the next two weeks according to a Russian website devoted to maritime issues, which recently spoke of two days for the release.

Meanwhile, Russia’s anti-terror units are prepared for operations against the Somali pirates. This is what Feliks Makiyevskiy, former first deputy commander of the Vympel USSR KGB special unit, stated. “Our special forces, naval infantry units and a special commando team have already joined the operations against the pirates and are now based on the patrol ship Neustrashimy guarding merchant ships off the coast of Somalia” Makiyevski said.The crews of some merchant vessels were bolstered by so called “ship-riders” and in these cases by men of Russia’s special forces. Igor Dygalo, aide to the Navy commander in chief, confirmed that his AT team from the Neustrashimy was put on the ship Sachi Maara, and one further team followed by helicopter.


This special reinforcement seems to come more than timely. Disturbing news had been reported from London by Lloyds, the biggest insurance fund and premier underwriter of maritime transportation. According to its information from Lloyds of London, Al-Qa’idah has formed its own flotilla of 20 ships and stationed them in small harbours and island shelters in the area of the Horn of Africa and among the numerous islands of the Indonesian archipelago.

Rapid-fire automatic guns and man-portable air-defence missile systems have been installed on the vessels. In terms of combat employment they are subdivided into assault boats and kamikaze ships: fast patrol craft capable of carrying up to three tons of explosives. Many experts observe that Al-Qa’idah terrorists could perfectly well borrow the tactics of the modern-day freebooters from Somalia, disguising their ships as a pirate fleet.

Aleksey Bolshov, colonel of Russia’s FSB reserve and former high-level officer of the USSR KGB Anti-Terrorism Department, said that an increase in the number of Russian special units in the area of the Horn of Africa could be expected in the immediate future. “In Soviet times we already had quite a wealth of experience of the freeing of hostages on land, at sea, and on hijacked airplanes, as when it came to protecting merchant vessels also,” he said.

The colonel himself took part in such operations repeatedly, for which he was highly decorated. Bolshov also considers timely the idea of the formation of an international warning centre in Somalia. A high-level officer of Russia’s intelligence services made such a proposal recently. This centre would collect information and notify ships’ captains of the operational situation in the waters of the Indian Ocean adjacent to the coast of Africa – though the permission of the Somali Government is needed for this.

Soviet seamen in former decades successfully combated sea pirates operating in the Red Sea area. In May 1990 the minesweeper Razvedchik off the shores of Ethiopia successfully fought off an attack by ships of Eritrean separatists on the cargo ship MV International.

In this same area the patrol craft AK-213 fought for 24 hours an unequal engagement with four fast patrol boats operated by the separatists, sinking three of them.

“But the fight against piracy only with the Navy will be ineffective unless the Somali authorities permit special forces to ‘operate’ on their territory. For all the pirates’ bases are on the coast. And special forces, which would conduct operations on land, destroying the pirates’ vessels also, would be required for their elimination. They could be both put ashore and air-dropped. This was the case in Indonesia’s Aceh Province, which was a local pirate base: special forces practically destroyed the entire pirate fleet and supply depots. Now things are relatively quiet in the Strait of Malacca.”

The colonel emphasized that it would be necessary to operate not only against the mostly illiterate bandits in Somalia but their supervisors. According to Western sources’ information, there are among the pirate-networks high-class military personnel and experienced sailors and also mercenaries from various parts of the world, Europe included.

The French special forces’ detachment – Commando Hubert – so far is operating as the most successful commando in this area. It conducted its first operation on the Somali coast this April, securing the freedom of 30 hostages held by pirates against a ransom payment.

The French did not seek any permission from the local authorities here: they were afraid of leaks of information. After the peaceful release French commando on board a naval helicopter shot up an alleged flight vehicle of the pirates, arrested 6 people and reportedly found some of the ransom money. The six men were taken to Paris for trial with the permission of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.

Then in September Commando Hubert, using the Russian built, U.S.-abandoned base at Berbera in the northwestern region of the Somaliland republic, liberated a private yacht together with its hostage sailor-couple that had been seized by pirates – paying no ransom, but killing one pirate and arresting six others, which subsequently also were deported to France. Aside from the French special forces, their counterparts from Denmark, Australia, Germany, Spain, and India are operating also in the area and one platoon of American Seals, at a minimum, is in permanent readiness. But they have not yet once been “in action”.

Captain 1st Rank Oleg Gurinov reportedly met now with Vice Admiral Gerard Vallen, the French Navy commander in the Indian Ocean, to coordinate joint operations in the fight against pirates in that area around the Horn of Africa.

Piracy in Somali has its roots in the early 1990s, when illegal fishing trawlers and ships dumping toxic waste took advantage of the collapse of the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 to target Somali waters. Fishermen began seizing the foreign ships, saying they were defending their coastline. Now piracy in Somalia has morphed into a multimillion-dollar industry, with gunmen commanding huge ransoms for the ships they seize.

The European Union this week launched its first naval mission – Operation Atalanta – with significant French and Spanish participation and its ships joining an existing US-led coalition, but experts argue the area is too large to cover for a few dozen naval vessels with diverse interests. Several participants pointed out that the cost of the EU naval force – estimated at 250 million euros (320 million dollars) – was four or five times the EU’s annual aid budget for Somalia.

France and Spain, who are the most interested in the tuna-rich Indian ocean fisheries, had earlier called for the creation of an international maritime police force and were seeking an endorsement from the UN and the European Union, but many felt that this would be like making the goat the gardener. An earlier workshop in November on Piracy off the Somali Coast, commissioned by the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN to Somalia, found:

The number of foreign boats fishing illegally off the coast of southern Somalia is reported to be still increasing and includes fishing boats with the following flags: Belize (either French or Spanish-owned purse-seiners operating under flag of convenience to avoid EU regulations); France (purse seiners targeting tuna); Honduras (EU purse seiners targeting tuna operating under flag of convenience); Kenya (Mombasa-based trawlers); Korea (longliners targeting swordfish seasonally); Pakistan (trawlers, but also targeting shark); Saudi Arabia (trawlers); Spain (purse seiners targeting tuna); Taiwan (longliners targeting swordfish seasonally); and Yemen (trawlers).

Former colonial powers Britain, France and Italy as well as Greece, Germany, and Turkey, the United States, India, Malaysia as well as Russia have naval ships patrolling the waters off Somalia, founding their legality of operations on the UN Security Council resolutions, but they have miserably failed to arrest a single illegally fishing foreign vessel.

Now under consideration, to complement international mobilisation to patrol the high seas and regional cooperation among the states affected, is again the idea to create proper coastguard schools to train young Somali men considering becoming fishermen and not to leave such to individual private companies or locally governed (illegal) fishing-licence-scams, whose later abandoned guards became hostage takers.

The UN-backed international conference on piracy entered its second day in Nairobi on Thursday with participants decrying surge in piracy and calling on the world to curb the menace along the coast of Somalia. UN Special envoy for Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah appealed to the international community to help stabilize the war-torn nation, saying piracy is a result of an almost non-functioning government in Somalia.

The most important conclusions approved by the ministerial session deriving from the other three expert meetings were:

* To secure coastal waters for the recovery of the Somali fishing community/industry.

* To support Somalia to establish an effective police and coastguard to provide adequate law enforcement capacity to deal with piracy, human trafficking, illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste.

* To establish a task force of UN/international community/Somali representation to identify and investigate the issues at the local community level including local complaints with regard to economic, security concerns and the illegal exploitation of Somali maritime resources including human and arms trafficking, toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing.

In a joint communiqué issued at the end of the two-day meeting, the 145 delegates from 45 countries, including ministers and ambassadors admitted that piracy cannot be effectively tackled in Somalia without the return of peace, stability and a functioning government. “Somali leaders who impede the stabilization of their country creating conditions to breed and escalate piracy will be individually and collectively placed under sanctions by the African Union and IGAD and also in accordance to U.N. Security Council resolution 1844 (2008),” they said.

The meeting highlighted the importance of strengthening the capacity of Somali national as well as regional authorities in combating the menace, both to interdict pirates at sea, and to take effective legal action against pirates once returned to shore. Providing a broader agreement between coalition countries and coastal nations such as Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti and Yemen is one of the main proposals on the agenda at the Nairobi conference.

The international community is looking already at the upcoming Djibouti conference in January next year to make some headway in tackling the rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia under IMO guidance, with the hope of forming a UN-led anti-piracy naval force. The Arab League of nations are also likely to meet in January over their concern to a disruption of important oil-trading routes due to piracy.

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