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Piracy

Somali piracy is back with a $1.7 billion problem after shipping firms lower vigilance

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The economic cost of maritime piracy is increasing once again as Somali pirate networks resume attacks on ships, while kidnapping for ransom becomes a more popular tactic, according to a new report.

The State of Maritime Piracy 2016, a new report released Wednesday from NGO group Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), claims the economic cost of piracy caused by groups in Somalia increased to $1.7 billion in 2016, from $1.3 billion in 2015. This total includes costs paid by shipping operators for increased insurance, labor, armed guards and other protection measures, as well as ransoms paid by insurers and the costs of naval deployments.

The cost had been trending downwards from $7 billion since 2010 due to counter-piracy measures, but the report claims that decreased vigilance by the shipping community, such as hiring smaller private security teams, may have encouraged pirate groups.
While zero vessels were hijacked in 2016, there were 27 reported incidents of pirate activity, according to the report. In 2017, there have been two high-profile hijackings by Somali pirates, including the Aris-13 tanker in mid-March and a commercial Indian ship in April.

Emma Gordon, senior Africa analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, criticized the complacency of shipping operators. Only 31.5 percent of operators employed armed guards by the end of 2016.

“Somali piracy is still a long way off 2012 levels. However, the recent attacks highlight that the pirate groups remain operational, and will be quick to capitalize on vessels that do not strictly adhere to advanced security measures,” she told CNBC via email.

“The importance of having armed guards is evident when looking at two recent tanker incidents. In October 2016, a U.K.-flagged chemical tanker fended off an attempted hijack when the armed guards engaged pirates in a firefight. By contrast, the Aris-13 – the first commercial vessel hijacked since 2012 – had no armed guard, and was ignoring best practice guidance on route and speed.”

This spike in activity has been blamed on the socio-political situation in Somalia. The OBP report says the lack of economic opportunity and law enforcement in the country remains unchanged, allowing piracy to flourish.

Similarly, Thomas Waldhauser, the commander of U.S. military operations in Africa, said during a press conference in Djibouti that the spate of attacks was due to widespread drought and famine in the region, as many of the ships targeted carried food and oil, the Washington Post reported on April 23.

Gerry Northwood, chief operating officer at MAST, the maritime risk management consultancy, blamed the rise in attacks on the decreased naval presence in the region.

“The withdrawal of navies from the region and many vessels not having in place sufficient security measures, coupled with reports of extensive illegal fishing in Somali waters, will make Somalis return to the business model which proved so lucrative between 2008-2010, meaning seafarers will again be the ultimate victims of criminal activity, as we saw with the hijacking of the Aris 13,” he told CNBC in March in an email.

While much attention is paid to Somalia, attacks in West Africa are also increasing. There were 95 reported attacks in the region in 2016, up from 54 in 2015, with two-thirds of attacks taking place near Nigeria. Kidnap for ransom attacks increased, with 18 incidents of kidnapping and 96 seafarers taken hostage, up from 44 the previous year.

“One of the reasons we are observing increased incidents of kidnap for ransom is that the model offers financial gain with less risk to the perpetrators than hijacking for cargo theft,” said Maisie Pigeon, a lead author of the OBP report, in a press release.

“Unfortunately, these kinds of attacks appear to have continued into 2017.”

Piracy

Eu Navfor’s Italian Ship Virginio Fasan Chases And Captures Suspected Pirates

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EU NAVFOR Somalia’s Flagship, the Italian vessel ITS Virginio Fasan, has apprehended six suspected pirates and seized their vessels.

Six crew of a motor whaler, acting as mother ship, and a skiff have been detained following attacks on a 52,000 tonne container ship and a fishing vessel. These events reportedly took place over a 24 hour period on 17th and 18th November in the Southern Somali Basin, in an area known for piracy incidents.

During the incidents a number of rocket propelled grenades were fired against the container ship.  However, adherence to BMP4, the presence of a security team on one of the vessels, and good seamanship avoided any damage or injuries, and all crew and vessels are now safe.

The suspected pirates were apprehended by the Italian Marines from ITS Virginio Fasan after their vessels were located using Fasan’s SH-90 helicopter, following initial searches by the Spanish Maritime Patrol Aircraft Cisne.  This search for the suspected pirates was coordinated with partners and from information provided by the masters of the vessels concerned. Positive visual verification was made which allowed this to take place.

A legal process has now begun for the suspected pirates to be transferred to the appropriate authority for prosecution. EU NAVFOR was able respond rapidly and successfully to these incidents due to the combined efforts of all involved, maximising synchronisation with all EU NAVFOR partners and forward deployed capabilities.

A reminder is made to all seafarers that adherence to BMP4 and registration with MSCHOA will help to overcome further illegal acts at sea. The presence of international counter-piracy forces in the area will continue to act as a deterrent to further incidents.

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UN Security Council asks for comprehensive response to piracy off Somali coast

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UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) — The Security Council Tuesday adopted a resolution to condemn the acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia and to call for a comprehensive response to prevent and suppress such acts and tackle their underlying causes.

Resolution 2383 underlines the primary responsibility of the Somali authorities in the fight against piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Somali coast.

It urges the Somali authorities to continue their work of passing a comprehensive set of anti-piracy and maritime laws and establishing security forces with clear roles and jurisdictions to enforce these laws.

The resolution asks Somalia to continue to develop the capacity of its courts to investigate and prosecute persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery.

It requests states to work with relevant international organizations to adopt legislation to facilitate the prosecution of suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia.

It calls on the Somali authorities to have mechanisms in place to safely return effects seized by pirates.

It also appeals to the Somali authorities to make all efforts to bring to justice those who are using Somali territory to plan, facilitate, or undertake criminal acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, and calls on UN member states to assist Somalia to strengthen maritime capacity at the request of the country.

The resolution calls on states to cooperate on the issue of hostage taking, and the prosecution of suspected pirates for taking hostages. It calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all seafarers held hostage by Somali pirates, and further calls on all relevant stakeholders to redouble their efforts to secure their safe and immediate release.

The resolution urges all member states to criminalize piracy under their domestic law and to consider the prosecution of suspected pirates and imprisonment of those convicted pirates apprehended off the coast of Somalia as well as their facilitators and financiers ashore, in line with applicable international law.

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Piracy

Pirates of the caliphate: who is the Somali kingpin accused of aiding Alshabaab?

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A feared Somali pirate kingpin is being investigated by the United Nations over claims that he has aided fighters from the Al-Qaeda-aligned militant group Al-Shabab.

A top United Nations official confirmed to Newsweek that Mohamed Garfanji Ali Dulai has provided logistical support to the Islamist fighters, who have been waging a bloody insurgency against the Somali state since 2006.

“We believe he has been involved in the moving and provision of boats and logistical support to move Al-Shabab fighters into the Galgala mountains,” said Alan Cole, head of the U.N.’s Maritime Crime Programme.
A former senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak about the investigation, was more specific, telling Newsweek that the probe into Garfanji centers on “Djiboutian allegations that he received arms from Eritrea and channeled them” to Al-Shabab.

CNN, citing U.S. officials, was the first to report the existence of the investigation, which it said focused on two ringleaders, Garfanji and the other unidentified. The investigation also focuses on their alleged support for the affiliate of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Somalia.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in an email statement to Newsweek : “As a general policy, the department will neither confirm nor deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.”

Somali pirates have taken dozens of hostages and plundered millions of dollars from companies and private individuals over the past decade, as lawlessness in Somalia has enabled vast criminal enterprises to operate with relative impunity in the seas off the Somali coast. News of the U.N. investigation now uncovers a potential nexus between piracy and extremist activity in Africa.

So who is this pirate kingpin and why is he now suspected of working with extremist groups responsible for some of the worst massacres in modern East African history?

Major Investor

As well as his alleged ties to Al Shabab, a U.N official said that Garfanji had links to Mohamed “Big Mouth” Abdi Hassan—known as Afweyne—a key player in the Hobyo-Haradhere Piracy Network, based out of the Somali fishing village of Haradhere.

Afweyne was lured to Belgium on the promise of appearing in a documentary in 2013 and then was immediately arrested by Belgian police for his role in the hijacking of Belgian vessel the MV Pompei in 2009.
American-German journalist Michael Scott Moore—whose case Garfanji is suspected of playing an integral role—said that Garfanji and Afweyne were on a similar level in the Somali pirate hierarchy.

Moore was kidnapped in Somalia in 2012 as he researched a book, now titled ‘The Desert & The Sea,’ due to be released in 2018. He spent two-and-a-half years in captivity.

“Garfanji’s a kingpin among pirates in central Somalia, a boss on the level of Afweyne, so he belongs in jail. In my case he seems to have been a major investor, not an operational boss, not in charge of holding or even capturing me,” says Moore.

The capture of the pirate chief would be “significant,” Cole admits, if he could be taken abroad for arrest. “But unless the Somali authorities can extend their reach to where he is, it’s going to rely on him traveling overseas and getting picked up, which I don’t think he does.”

But it has not only been the weakness of the Somali authorities that has enabled Garfanji to evade capture: other Somali pirate figures have taken on his name in order to confuse both his potential captors and hostages.

Three hostages who spoke to Newsweek appeared to believe that they were describing Garfanji when it appears they were giving the account of their experiences with a lower-level boss named Ali Duulaay, more brutal and present in day-to-day operations with hostages.

A Filipino hostage and two Bangladeshi hostages recounted a man who threatened crews with death at gunpoint in exchange for them retrieving money from their shipowners.

But while they described Garfanji has “tall and muscly,” Moore describes him as a heavy set man that looked little like Duulaay, who he believes may have been killed in a shootout over his ransom.

“Poverty is Slavery”

As for Garfanji’s motive for moving from hostage-taking to aiding terrorist groups, it is likely to be financial, says the U.N.’s Cole: “there’s no particular reason why that means that he’s sympathetic with them but he must know who they are.”

That would fit with the profile of top pirates that hostage negotiators have had to barter with. A hostage negotiator who has worked on more than a dozen piracy cases tells Newsweek that the characteristics of Somali pirates like Garfanji include being “brilliant entrepreneurs” and “pragmatic” in terms of “religious observation and getting a deal done.”

Moore agrees that Garfanji fits this profile. “Pirate bosses are businessmen, so they keep a portfolio of investments, normally in businesses that require armed men or help them launder money,” he says, adding that Garfanji has stakes in real estate. “He also maintains a private militia of armed men who can be hired out as security for a town, or bent towards other activities, like piracy or smuggling.”

The bandits’ stream of income from kidnaps and ransoms, some that fetched millions of dollars at the height of piracy, has dried up, with no commercials vessel attacked for five years until April, when the International Maritime Bureau reported four incidents involving pirate skiffs approaching ships.

Increased security and naval patrols have led to a reduction in attacks, forcing pirates to find other forms of income on land, another reason that may explain Garfanji fraternizing with extremists who have slaughtered hundreds of civilians in mass-casualty assaults such as the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, and the 2015 Garissa University College massacre.

“The criminal networks that have been running Somali piracy are still intact, those ashore who are behind and funding the criminals and organized crime to do it largely have not been arrested or changed sides, they are still there,” says John Thompson, senior advisor and founder of Ambrey Risk, a London-based maritime security consultancy.

“They are still organized crime syndicates, but they are just doing slightly different things. They are finding it harder to make money out of piracy, so they are doing more smuggling [of] people, smuggling [of] weapons, smuggling [of] drugs.”

A Somali proverb states that “poverty is slavery.” It appears that pirate figures like Garfanji will now go to even more extreme lengths to get out of it.

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