Friday, December 3, 2010

The secret Somalia anti-piracy force

In November 2008 the 300,000 tonne (that's three times the weight of the largest aircraft carrier) Sirius Star was hijacked while loaded with two million barrels of Saudi crude, at that time worth a bit over $100 million.
The ship was freed on payment of a reported $3 million ransom, negotiated down from the initial $25 million demand. Here's the ransom being dropped by parachute onto the ship:

File:Sirius star ransom.jpg

Another VLCC, the MV Maran Centaurus was released in January after a $5.5 million ransom was paid
The 319,000 tonne MV Samho Dream was taken in April this year with two million barrels worth $150 million. It was released Nov. 6 after a record $9.5 million ransom.

The reasons for this recitation?
1) There are big dollars at stake.
2) The ransoms appear to be increasing faster than the price of crude.

Here's the story from the AP via the Washington Post:
In the northern reaches of Somalia and the country's presidential palace, a well-equipped military force is being created, funded by a mysterious donor nation that is also paying for the services of a former CIA officer and a senior ex-U.S. diplomat.

The Associated Press has determined through telephone and e-mail interviews with three insiders that training for an anti-piracy force of up to 1,050 men has already begun in Puntland, a semiautonomous region in northern Somalia that is believed to hold reserves of oil and gas.

But key elements remain unknown - mainly who is providing the millions of dollars in funding and for what ultimate purpose.

Pierre Prosper, an ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues under former President George W. Bush, told AP he is being paid by a Muslim nation he declined to identify to be a legal adviser to the Somali government, focusing on security, transparency and anti-corruption.

Prosper said the donations from the Muslim nation come from a "zakat fund," referring to charitable donations that Islam calls for the faithful to give each year. The same donor is paying for both training programs....MORE
HT: Foreign Policy's Passport blog who writes:
...If it weren't for WikiLeaks, this might well be front-page news.  For the last two years, the international community has been trying to do two things: train a decent government army to defend the country from Islamist militant groups that now control much of the country's southern territory, and end the epidemic of piracy that has plagued the Somali coast. This donor Muslim nation now seems more serious (and more willing to pay) for both things in one sweeping blow, creating what may soon be Somalia's best functioning military force. As AP reporter Katharine Houreld points out, he who holds the gun makes the rules in Somalia. 

I can't speculate with any authority on which country is behind this rather game-changing feat. But I will say that one of the region's most active ports, Dubai, sends a lot of cargo through the pirate plagued Gulf of Aden. Then again, we learn from Wikileaks that Egypt has urged the U.S. Joint Chiefs to "focus counter piracy efforts on the Somali shore." But equally of question is whether the United States knew about this and was on board. The State Department today expressed concern about the report.