Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Somali pirates set up "agencies" on three continents

From Debka (I know, but where else are you going to see that headline?):

...DEBKAfile's military and counter-terrors sources report, the pirates have set up a land-based intelligence-financial-logistic logistic network in the Persian Gulf, East Africa and… northern Europe....

...DEBKA-Net-Weekly 373, revealed on Nov. 21, information turned up by the US Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet intelligence that the Somali pirates had organized their traffic on business lines by establishing a sort of "back office" in Abu Dhabi.

It is run by money changers earning a rake-off on ransom payments as the pirates' agents. They have since established similar "agencies" in Mombasa, Kenya; Piraeus, Greece; Naples, Italy; and Rotterdam, Netherlands, which work through spies at shipping and marine insurance firms.

Here is how the system works, according to DEBKAfile's exclusive sources: The pirates' undercover agents gather information from their shipping contacts in Gulf, East African and European ports on the merchant vessels heading for the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and the cargoes. They brief the pirates on the presence of security guards and weapons available for the crew aboard the vessel.

The pirates are always on the lookout for “special cargoes”, meaning smuggled goods or merchandise exported illegally or contrary to international law, such as clandestine weapons shipments.

Such consignments, like that of the Ukrainian MV Faina, which carried a large unregistered cargo of 33 T-72 tanks and other armaments - and is still held - increase the ransom value of the vessel and pay more than routine freights.

The pirates also use their proxies to negotiate ransoms and terms for releasing the hijacked vessels, rather than exposing themselves and their locations. These front men also go shopping for the latest word in speed boats, navigation equipment, GPS, communications gear, food, fuel and other supplies.

DEBKAfile's counter-terror sources report that the pirates' logistics and intelligence are far superior to that of the European counter-terror operation. This gap seriously detracts from the international patrol fleet's prospects of getting to grips with the pirates, who have attacked more than 90 vessels this year and successfully seized more than 36 on the world's busiest shipping lanes....