Shoot, But Don't Touch
April 2, 2009:
So far this year, over 20,000 Somalis have fled to Kenya, where they live in camps near the border. Hundreds cross the border each week, trying to get away from the fighting in southern Somalia. Islamic radical groups like al Shabaab claim to control most of the south, but that control is still disputed by other, less radical groups, or resisted by clans that prefer to run their own affairs. The fighting and general anarchy is driving many Somalis to flee the country.
The pirates have not been able to seize ships in the Gulf of Aden since the anti-piracy patrol began operation in January. So now at least one pirate mother ship has shifted to the east coast, going after the ship traffic headed south for South Africa and around the cape to the Atlantic. Many of these ships come out of the Persian Gulf, and travel 400-800 kilometers off the Somali coast. Speed boats can't make it out that far, and have to be towed out by a larger "mother ship." Now it's up to the anti-piracy patrol to hunt down and capture or destroy the mother ship. That's only a temporary fix, as any large fishing boat (built to operate on the high seas) can operate as a mother ship. Since most nations participating in the anti-piracy patrol are not authorized to prosecute captured pirates (they are disarmed and released), it's going to be difficult to halt, or even control, the pirate problem. In the last two weeks, there have been nearly 20 ships attacked far off the east coast, and four ships (including a yacht) have been taken. Currently the pirates are holding nine ships for ransom, along with 137 crew.
Fighting continues in Mogadishu, and throughout southern Somalia, as al Shabaab and government gunmen battle each other for control. Al Shabaab has officially asked foreign aid groups to return and help feed over three million people who are starving in the south because of a long drought. Most aid groups have withdrawn because of increasing attacks (robbery, murder, kidnapping) on aid group personnel. The aid groups are negotiating with al Shabaab over a possible return. In the past, Islamic conservative groups have proved unreliable negotiating partners.
Now that Ethiopian troops have departed, Islamic terrorists have felt more confident about relocating to Somalia. While last year there were about a hundred foreign Islamic terrorists in the country, now there are nearly 500. Osama bin Laden has issued audio messages calling for Islamic radicals to come to Somalia and install an Islamic religious dictatorship, so the country can be used as a base for Islamic terrorists. This has angered many Somali Islamic conservatives, who now control the government (such as it is). One thing Somalis can agree on is opposition to foreign domination.
In some parts of the south, al Shabaab are trying to ban all sorts of "sinful" activities (cigarettes, music, videos, and chewing Khat, a popular narcotic leaf). This does not make al Shabaab any more popular.
March 29, 2009: In the Gulf of Aden, pirates attacked what they thought was a tanker. It was, but it was a German Navy tanker, assigned to the anti-piracy patrol. Armed members of the crew fired back at the pirates, and the tanker turned about and went after the fleeing speedboat. Other anti-piracy patrol ships and helicopters joined in, and the seven pirates were captured by the Germans. But after being disarmed, the pirates were released, as the Germans have no authority from their government to prosecute pirates.
March 28, 2009: In Puntland, a bomb went off outside police headquarters after a pro-al Shabaab cleric was arrested. Elsewhere, someone tossed a grenade at some police. These attacks killed one person and wounded another. Islamic radicals have some support in the northern statelets of Puntland and Somaliland, but not enough to take control.
March 27, 2009: A German tanker, and its crew of 13, that was seized five weeks ago, were released after the payment of a ransom. Every time a ransom is paid, more Somalis are encouraged to join the pirate gangs and go for the big prize.
March 26, 2009: In the last two days, a Greek tanker, the 9,000 ton Nipayia, and a Norwegian one, the 25,000 ton Bow Asir, were seized off the east coast of Somalia, where the anti-piracy patrols rarely operate. The Nipayia was taken while 729 kilometers from the Somali coast, while the Bow Asir was 400 kilometers from the coast.