Friday, October 3, 2008

Horn of Africa Weekly Review

A Ukrainian cargo ship laden with 33 Russian built T-72 tanks destined for the port of Kilindini in Mombasa, Kenya, is the latest victim highlighting the enormity of piracy in the beautiful Horn of Africa. Earlier, as reported by the Egyptian news agency, Mena, an Egyptian ship and its crew hijacked off the coast of Somalia has been released without mentioning whether ransom demands have been met.

According to the New York Times, the ship that has attracted international media attention, MV Faina, is owned by an Israeli, operated by a Ukrainian, registered in Belize, has 17 Ukrainian sailors, 2 Russians (one died of hypertension), and a Latvian. It is laden with 33 Soviet-era T-72 Tanks, 150 grenade launchers, 6 anti-aircraft guns, and lots of ammunition. The ship was hijacked off the coast of Somalia on the 25th of September, 200 miles off the coast of Somalia. The international maritime agency reports the hijack of 18 ships in Nigeria and 26 in Somalia this year alone. Piracy has become a lucrative business especially in Somalia where it is managed by a well organized syndicate traversing a 200-mile deep sea territory.

Meanwhile, the Russian Navy has sent a Frigate to secure the release of the ship carrying the Kenya-destined tanks. Also, San Diego-based destroyer U.S.S Howard is within watching distance of Faina-the Ukrainian cargo ship under Somali pirate control. Besides, a man claiming to be the spokesman for the piracy group that is holding MV Faina, Ali Sugule, has issued a stern warning to any power that may attempt to use force to release the said cargo liner.

Meanwhile, Kenya’s out spokesman representative for seafarers union, Andrew Mwangura, has been placed in custody by a judge in Mombasa for sounding the alarm about the ship’s cargo and destination. The government of Kenya earlier claimed ownership of the consignment though western intelligence sources have highlighted to that effect that the arms were destined for southern Sudan. On the other hand, Kenya police claim to have arrested Mwangura while in possession of four rolls of marijuana, a claim refuted by Mwangura.

Earlier this year, French commandos raided a luxury yacht to free 30 crew held hostage by Somali pirates. French commandos captured half-dozen hard-core criminals who terrorized the luxury yacht off the Red Sea coast sending them to France for prosecution.

Whether the rest of the world will mobilize to fight a few hungry Somalis to safeguard international trade in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean is now a burning desire for many affected shipping magnates.

For a long time pirates in this part of the world played into the lives of Somalia’s hungry population by disrupting food supplies and killing dedicated aid workers struggling to make changes to the starving millions. Right now it is the Canadian Navy that is responsible for escorting bulk carriers transporting food for the World Food Program (WFP) and other humanitarian agencies working in Somalia. But still, the waters off Somalia is a risky adventure even for the most advanced navy.

Somalia’s coastline may invite a new Cold War phenomenon as old rivals gather in these untested waters to deter belligerent pirates who claim to be responding to overfishing and damping of nuclear wastes along their coastlines by callous outsiders.

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