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Pirates Take Control Of Somalia's Unpatrolled Waters

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by Ali Musa Abdi
Mogadishu (AFP) Oct 13, 2005
Highly organized, well-armed and increasingly brazen pirates have turned the unpatrolled waters off the Somali coast into a maritime disaster zone and attack and seize merchant vessels seemingly at will.

Amid faltering efforts to restore a functioning central government to the mainland after 14 years of lawlesslness, Somalia's Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden sea lanes have been taken over by ransom-seeking, ocean-going warlords, officials say.

Somali pirates, mainly remnants of the Horn of Africa nation's navy and seasoned fishermen-turned-hijackers, are now one of the world's biggest threats to commercial shipping, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

On Thursday, the head of Somalia's fledgling, largely powerless transitional government issued an urgent plea for help to stop the surge in piracy, asking navies of neighboring nations to begin patrolling Somali waters.

"It is clear that we cannot manage to patrol our coastline, so we want the help of equipment, such as ships, to man our waters," said Abdirahman Nur Mohamed Dinari, a spokesman for Somali prime minister Ali Mohamed Gedi.

The IMB reports 22 violent attempts to seize vessels off the 3,700-kilometer (2,300-mile) coastline in the past seven months, not including the most recent incident on Wednesday in which a second UN-chartered food aid ship was taken.

Pirates are extending their range, according to the IMB and the US Office of Naval Intelligence, which has issued a flurry of dire warnings for the Somali coast since March.

"Heavily armed pirates are now attacking ships further away from the coast," the IMB said in its latest weekly piracy report released Tuesday. "Ships are advised to keep as far away as possible from the Somali coast."

Their motives appear to be purely profit centered but many claim to be enforcing the sovereignty of Somalia's territorial waters in the absence of a formal navy or coast guard.

"There are pirates who are flatly sea robbers, others claim to be protecting Somali waters from overfishing and dumping of toxic material," said Andrew Mwangura of the Seafarers' Assistance Programme in Mombasa, Kenya, home port to at least two recently seized vessels.

"Others are hired to hijack ships for revenge," he told AFP. "The whole issue of piracy is about money and control of certain portions of the sea."

Mwangura and other industry sources say pirates have grown bolder and more successful because they have stationed accomplices in various east African ports to notify them of ship departures and expected times of passage through Somali waters.

While not always successful and occasionally beaten off by crews with the help of passing US warships, hijackers have claimed numerous prizes, holding vessels for months until their demands are met or negotiated down.

One group based near the town of Haradere, about 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of Mogadishu, held a Mombasa-based ship transporting World Food Programme (WFP) aid for Somali tsunami victims for nearly three months before abandoning it in early October.

While the WFP denies paying any ransom, local residents say it is likely money changed hands during negotiations with the Somali owner of another ship commandered by the same pirates in September.

"The pirates have collected millions of dollars in ransom since (1991)," said Abdi Aden Mahad, a businessman in Bossaso, the main port in the northern Somali enclave of Puntland.

"It's the best income-generating business I've ever seen," he told AFP. "It's like winning a lottery."

At least three well-known former pirate chieftains who have made fortunes from ship hijackings live in the Puntland fishing village of Marreray, according to local residents.

"They are now married and have decent lives without any fear or asking for forgiveness," Marreray villager Abdi Mohamed told AFP by radio phone. "They earned more than 100,000 dollars each from piracy."

Attempts to restore security have been limited and fraught with difficulty amid power struggles between unruly land-based militia in control of various fiefdoms and the sea-borne pirate.

"The warlords are powerless, they cannot do anything about piracy," said Mire Hassan Ibrahim, a trader in Somalia's bullet-scarred capital of Mogadishu. "They have failed to pacify the land let alone the sea. These pirates are very rich and could kill or overthrow a warlord who tries to expand his control offshore."

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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Second UN-Chartered Ship Hijacked In Pirate-Infested Somali Waters
Nairobi (AFP) Oct 12, 2005
A second UN-chartered vessel carrying aid for hunger-stricken Somalis was hijacked Wednesday at a small port south of Somalia's coast, becoming the fourth ship to be seized in the region since June, the World Food Programme (WFP) said.

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