The Profits of Piracy Soar: Organised Piracy Has Become Big Business in and around the Gulf of Aden, with International Banks and Insurance Companies Bearing the Brunt of the Illegal and Unscrupulous Practice
Vesely, Milan, The Middle East
THE GULF OF Aden is listed as a maritime danger zone, with piracy now a major issue. And with 15 merchant ships and 150 crew members under hijacker control in the Somali port of Eyl, what started out as a few Somali militia men making a quick buck by robbing wayward sailors has metastasized into a fully fledged Mafia business operation involving heavily armed mother ships, a sophisticated money laundering operation and dubious ransom payouts by international insurance companies. There is no safety in the Gulf of Aden or its adjacent oceans, with Somali piracy rampant from Djibouti at the mouth of the Red Sea all the way down to the northern coast of Kenya.
The emergence of organised Somali piracy has been fuelled by the ever-larger ransoms being paid out by merchant-ship operators and their foreign insurers. Ten thousand dollars was initially considered astronomical for the release of pirated yachts and their crew, now tens of millions are being demanded for megatankers fully loaded with Saudi crude.
On 18 September the Greek freighter Centauri with its 25 Filipino crew was seized some 200 miles south of Mogadishu while en route to Mombasa, Kenya. On the same day that the Hong Kong registered Great Creation and its 26 Chinese crew were captured north of the lawless Somali capital, the vessel was en route to Tunisia from the Indian port of Pipavav. Playing cat-and-mouse games with the international navies patrolling the Gulf of Aden, the pirates switch their activities to less-protected areas whenever the danger of interception appears imminent; their ability to identify foreign warship positions seems uncannily accurate.
Things took a more ominous turn on 27 September when pirates seized a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying 30 T-72 tanks and armoured-car spare parts for Sudan's SPLA (Southern Peoples Liberation Army). If these were to end up in the hands of the Somali Islamists in Mogadishu, it would change the whole equation in their guerilla war against the American-backed Ethiopian Army supporting the central government.
"The Somali pirates adjust from the Gulf of Aden to north of Mogadishu and then south to the Somali/Kenya border and back again," Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenya chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Programme claimed on 18 September. "In this way they avoid heavy concentrations of navy ships patrolling the Gulf of Aden."
So how are the pirates able to operate undetected considering the array of sophisticated naval vessels from at least six western navies operating against them?
The answer appears to be that Somali piracy has evolved into a sophisticated criminal enterprise coordinating intelligence gathering, ransom negotiating and multiple hijack operations into one very efficient extortion racket.
Somali militia men were not generally considered proficient sailors, but with the breakdown of law and order in the country following the Ethiopian invasion of 2006, Somali Coastguard personnel turned to piracy as a means of earning a living. Flush with success, their ranks have risen to over 1,000 increasingly proficient seamen, now grouped under a Mafia umbrella of Somali businessmen with the ability to train new recruits and finance the purchase of modern freighters for mother-ship purposes. Stacked with small wooden attack craft that are extremely difficult to detect even by modern radar, these disguised mother ships are now ranging far and wide in search of new targets, making interception extremely difficult.
Fuelling this growth has been the Somali Mafia's ability to negotiate a ransom with the shipping company's insurers via third-party middle men. Monies received, the huge sums are rapidly dispersed throughout Somali communities in Europe and the Middle East; this sophisticated laundering operation is difficult to detect since much of the Somali community's finances operate on the personal honour system: "You pay me in Mogadishu and I'll pay you in Rome, Frankfurt or Geneva," is difficult to trace, let alone to penetrate. …