Enemies of All Mankind
Who Can Stop the Pirates?
Somali pirates are becoming more brazen in their attacks on commercial and passenger ships off the coast of Africa, and — thanks to international law — there is little that can be done to stop them.
Pirates ... you just can't hang 'em anymore.
In the 18th century, the British government made a "great show of how wicked pirates were" by hanging them in public, said David Cordingly, author of "Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates."
"Often their bodies were coated in tar and wrapped up in chains and then hung from a gallows at the entrance of a port or harbor," Cordingly said. "The idea was to make it seem that it wasn't a very good career option to become a pirate."
But now, three centuries later, pirates sail the high seas with near impunity — stealing, blackmailing and intimidating commercial ships. And it's not clear who can or should be the pirate police.
"The authorities have to be very careful with the law of the sea and United Nations charters," Cordingly said. "Nowadays you can't simply charge in with warships, blast the pirates and hang them on the waterfront."
An international fleet of warships, including American, British, Danish, Italian, Greek, French and Canadian ships, has moved into the waters off Somalia, where the International Maritime Bureau estimates 100 attacks have occurred this year.
But protecting the sea is difficult. On Sunday, pirates tried to attack a U.S. cruise ship, the MS Nautica, with over 1,000 people on board. The Nautica was able to outrun the pirates, but other ships have not been so lucky — like the Saudi oil tanker seized late last month with its crew and $100 million worth of oil.
Somali Pirate Leader(?)
"There are statements in international law that say pirates are the 'enemies of all mankind,' and that goes back to the 1600s," said Linda A. Malone, director of the human rights and national security law program at the William and Mary Law School in Virginia.
"It’s a form of terrorism, but it's not done for political reasons. It's done for financial gain, although those lines are starting to blur," Malone said. "It's one of the oldest international criminal law offenses."
Barry Hart Dubner, a law professor at Barry University in Florida who has written extensively on piracy, said that on the high seas, anyone can step up to battle the pirates.
"It gets trickier when you try to get them in territorial waters (within 7.5 miles of the coastline), because theoretically you need permission of the coastal state. But they can use any force they want because they're considered enemies of mankind," Dubner said.
Bringing weapons on board ships is "strongly discouraged" by the United Nations' International Maritime Organization, and experts agree that arming commercial crews is a bad idea.
"If you hire a company to do it or even arm your crew personnel, I think it would put them more at risk than if they weren't. If they start shooting … now you have an international incident," said Michael Lee, assistant vice president at Miami-based "non-lethal" security company McRoberts Maritime Security.
Having weapons on board isn't just a health and liability hazard, it also increases insurance costs "exponentially," Lee said. Armed guards cost between $1,000 and $1,500 a day.
"The problem is that most ship owners will not allow crews to carry weapons on board the ship. Most of these crews come from the Philippines and other areas and they're worried they'll kill each other. They're more worried about that than they are about piracy," Dubner said.
Since they don't carry weapons, ships have to resort to non-violent methods to ward off pirates. Among them are long-range acoustic devices that blast loud, irritating noises at them. "It’s the most annoying sound you've ever heard in your life — you literally cannot operate. It makes you nauseous," Lee said.
Other non-lethal methods include electric fences and hoses. Ships can spray pirates with water and knock them off their ladders into the ocean before they can climb on board.
But non-violence isn't always effective, as was proved last week when pirates struck the MS Biscaglia, a chemical tanker that is operated out of Singapore but flies a Liberian flag, in the Gulf of Aden.
In that hijacking, three guards from a British anti-lethal security company, Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions (APMSS), were unable to fend off the pirates and threw threw themselves overboard to avoid capture.
The U.N. Security Council extended its authorization for countries to enter Somalia's territorial waters with advanced notice and to use "all necessary force" when combating piracy, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
American security firm Blackwater Worldwide, which protects American diplomats and congressmen in Iraq, announced in October that it was making its 183-foot ship, the McArthur, available to companies looking to hire security.
The company said it is available to escort merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden and is outfitted with helicopters that can patrol ships rather than put armed guards on board the vessels.
"This recent attack over the weekend on a U.S. cruise ship really ups the ante, I think, because once the attacks are going beyond merchant ships or isolated attacks against small private ships and are directed against passenger vessels with civilians from many states, that's going to prod the international community into being even more proactive," said Malone.
Yet, nobody wants to take the pirates on board and be responsible for them, especially when they come from war-torn places like Somalia, and that restricts how effective law enforcement can be, Cordingly said.
"They can't just hand the pirates over to a country where they can claim asylum," he said. "It does get all very tricky. One has to say that everything at the moment seems to be on the pirates' side."
Greek Captain blames Nigeria
for helping Somali Pirates
The Nigerian armed forces are cooperating with Somali pirates in kidnapping international ships, says a Greek Captain from a recently freed ship which was at the hands of the Somali pirates for 3 weeks.
As local media reports, captain Albo Simeon stated the pirates used automatic weapons to force his crew into boarding barrels of oil into the pirates' boat. The ships of the Nigerian navy who stood nearby made no attempt to prevent the hijacking of the Greek ship.
The Vice Admiral of the Nigerian Navy denied the allegations of the Greek Captain saying they were incorrect and not true.
Threat of piracy
could push up cruise insurance
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — It's an insurer's nightmare: Heavily armed pirates, emboldened by their success in capturing cargo vessels, hijack a cruise ship with hundreds of well-heeled passengers and ask for massive ransoms.
It hasn't happened yet, but the failed attack this week on the luxury American cruise liner MS Nautica has shown the threat is real — raising questions about what impact piracy may have on cruise ship insurance costs.
"I don't know where the rates are going to go, but they're not going to go down," Rich DeSimone, president of Travelers Ocean Marine insurance, said by telephone from New York.
"One of the greatest impacts on insurance rates is increased exposure. And if you have increased exposure to something like piracy, it's going to result in higher costs."
But he and other brokers said it was unlikely that passengers' costs for buying cruises would be greatly affected as companies would be reluctant to pass on the increases.
And travel insurance companies indicated they would not boost rates for tourists taking cruises.
"We are still offering travel insurance to customers who are on cruises and there will be no effect on premiums as a result of the attempted act of piracy recently reported," said Sally Leeman, a spokeswoman for the British insurance company Norwich Union.
Ian Crowder, spokesman for AA travel insurance, said he expected cruise companies would avoid pirate-infested waters.
"Given that the shipping company is not playing Russian roulette with its passengers ... then we don't expect the premiums to increase," Crowder said.
He said that while travel insurance would not cover ransom payments, his company's policies would cover costs such as medical expenses and repatriation were someone to be injured or suffer a heart attack when taken hostage.
Both AA and Sainsbury's Travel Insurance noted that their policies would not cover people traveling to areas where Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office had advised travelers not to go. The FCO advises against all travel to Somalia itself, and advises "mariners to maintain a high level of vigilance and to exercise extreme caution when anywhere near Somali waters."
On the ship industry front, brokers, underwriters and shipowners indicated that while the costs for insuring vessels against piracy were likely to increase, it was impossible to tell at this stage by how much.
"It is a developing subject," said David Glass of the Greek shipping publication Naftiliaki. "It is something the insurance industry is now grappling with."
Although cruise ships have been the target of terrorism in the past, such as the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro, there haven't been incidents of hundreds of passengers being held purely for ransom.
"Because there's no case law, everyone is feeling their way," said one marine insurance broker with a firm of Lloyds brokers.
"It's up in the air. Nobody knows who will respond to what. It is a dangerous situation," said the broker, who asked not to be named because the situation was still unclear.
Neil Smith, senior manager for underwriting for Lloyd's Market Association, said that while insurance costs would likely change, "it's impossible for us to put a figure on it because each individual underwriter will make a decision as they're approached."
Overall, cruise ships are probably in a better position than merchant vessels in facing pirates: they are faster than cargo ships, and their tall hulls make it harder for bandits to throw hooks over the side and board.
In the Nautica attack, a small band of pirates in two small speedboats fired shots at the roughly 180-meter (600-foot) long ship as it crossed the Gulf of Aden. The ocean liner increased speed and outran the bandits.
And with destinations such as the Mediterranean and Caribbean available to pleasure-seeking tourists, cruise ships don't necessarily have to sail through dangerous waters.
But passengers tend to book months in advance, and some companies have already set itineraries through the region.
Silversea Cruises spokesman Brad Ball said his company was "taking a wait and see attitude" about future cruises in the region, but that no changes were being made yet. Andre Poulton, spokesman for Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which also has ships scheduled to go through the area next year, said he was not aware of any increased insurance costs from the Nautica incident.
Cost increases are unlikely to be immediate, especially on contracts that are renewed annually, brokers and underwriters explained. And as no hijacked merchant ships have been damaged yet, insurance companies have had limited involvement.
In addition to annual policies, extra hijacking and ransom coverage can be bought for the days a ship will transit through dangerous waters.
Christos Stoforopoulos, owner of Epirotiki Shipping, said piracy insurance costs for passage through the Gulf of Aden vary between $15,000 to $50,000. Costs for cruise ships could be higher.
He added that any increase in cruise ship insurance costs could be softened by the fact the ships are able to outrun pirates.
"Cruise ships can evade pirates faster, so that might temper insurance costs," he said. "There might be a small markup, but I don't think it'll be significant."
The Greek Ship MV Centauri
Freed Greek ship docks in Kenyan port
NAIROBI -- A Greek ship which was hijacked off the pirates-infested Somali coast has finally docked at the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
The Maltese-flagged MV Centauri which docked in Mombasa on Tuesday night bore bullet marks on one of the cabins as a result of gunfire as pirates stormed it.
The ship with a crew of 26 fell in the hands of hijackers on Sept. 18 as it transited 200 nautical miles off Somali shoreline. It was released on Nov. 27 with the crew members safe.
However, it was not immediately clear whether any money was paid to secure her release from the pirates. "We have interrogated the ship's master but he was not clear on any ransom," Port Policechief John Nyanzwii said.
He said there are 14 pirates armed with AK 47 rifles who were operating in shifts guarding the ship. Catalino Burigsay, 36,who has been a seaman for only a year, said it was his first experience with pirates.
The crew members earlier spent the day happily, hoping to get to Mombasa in three days. "When we heard the shots, we knew pirates were already on board. It was scaring because they huddled us together and threatened to kill us if we did not cooperate," the father of three told the Daily Nation newspaper.
Video: The release of the Greek ship
Seamen can spend years on board a vessel without seeing their family members. Chief cook Joland Besana, who left his wife expecting their now six-month-old daughter, said: "I could not imagine dying without seeing my daughter."
He left home on Nov. 1, last year, and the girl was born months after he left. During his 13-year career, the 35-year-old had not fallen into the hands of pirates.
"I used to hear of hijacks, but had never experienced it. But I kept praying we all get home safely," he said, adding: "When they captured us, they demanded our mobile phones and money."
He said seamen had learnt to hide valuables when approaching dangerous areas, as was the case with Besana who hid his gold ring and started wearing it only after the pirates started being friendly. "But they took it days before we were released."
Briefing journalists after police completed investigations, Nyanzwii said the captain did not disclose whether a ransom was paid.
The vessel registered in Malta has a dead weight tonnage of 19,555 tons and is carrying 15,500 metric tons of salt.
It was sailing to Mombasa from Asmara in Eritrea when it was hijacked about 200 nautical miles off Somali waters, and had been held captive for 71 days. It was released last Friday, November 28
During the past weeks, Somali pirates have seized nine vessels, including a huge Saudi tanker carrying 100 million U.S. dollars worth of crude oil.
This high profile case has outraged the maritime industry and the international community which have called for joint action against piracy.
This year there have been more than 90 attempts at capturing ships by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, 39 of which have been successful, according to maritime organizations.
Pirates release Greek super tanker
hijacked in September..
The Greek supertanker Sirius Star is the biggest vessel seized by pirates this year
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Somali pirates have released a hijacked Greek-owned tanker with all 19 crew safe and the oil cargo intact, Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry said Saturday. The ship's management company said a ransom was paid but did not say how much.
The Liberian-flagged tanker MV Genius, seized Sept. 26, was released Friday and is about 500 miles (800 kilometers) off Somalia on its way to the United Arab Emirates, ministry spokesman Constantine Gialelis said.
The pirates had seized the 6,765 gross-ton vessel in the Gulf of Aden near the Horn of Africa, waters that have become highly dangerous for shipping.
Gialelis said the Georgian, Sri Lankan and Syrian crew was safe.
A representative of Piraeus-based Mare Shipmanagement, the tanker's management company, told The Associated Press that the pirates had contacted the owners right after the ship was hijacked and had demanded a ransom.
"Our primary concern is the safety of the ship and its crew. ... They released it when ransom was paid," Ctesiphon Koukoulas told the AP by telephone, without specifying the amount.
He said he could not divulge details because of safety concerns for the crews of other ships held by pirates in the area. At least one other Greek-owned ship is held there.
In the past two weeks, Somalia's increasingly brazen pirates have seized eight vessels including a huge Saudi supertanker, the Sirius Star, loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil. Several hundred crew are now in the hands of Somali pirates. The pirates dock the hijacked ships near the eastern and southern Somali coast and negotiate for ransom.
Koukoulas, whose company manages five ships, said the pirates keep the ships they hijack "at a secure location" on the Somali coast. The cargo vessels crossing the busy seaway were advised by warships patrolling the area on what route to take but "the best one can do is pray that it doesn't happen to them," he said.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Friday that the Saudi government was not negotiating with pirates and would not do so, but that what the ship's owners did was up to them.
The same day, a radical Islamic group in Somalia said ships belonging to Muslim countries should not be seized and that it would fight the pirates holding the Saudi supertanker.
NATO has four warships, including a Greek frigate, on duty off the 2,400 mile (3,900 kilometer-long) coastline of Somalia, an impoverished nation caught up in an Islamic insurgency that has had no functioning government since 1991.
The four-ship contingent was dispatched to the region under a U.N. mandate to escort vessels chartered by the World Food Program to Somali ports, and to conduct patrols designed to deter pirates from attacking merchant ships transiting the Gulf of Aden. Watch how ship owners are left with little choice but to pay »
The Greek and Italian warships are escorting cargo ships chartered by the U.N. food agency to carry aid from Mombasa, Kenya, to Mogadishu, Somalia. Turkish and British frigates are conducting deterrence patrols in the Gulf of Aden, where they engaged in a firefight last week with pirates attempting to hijack a Danish ship.
A look at how
Somali pirates operate
By The Associated Press – Dec 6, 2008
Video: Somali Pirates Striking
As piracy explodes off Somalia's lawless coast, the questions become ever more stark: How can ragtag bands of Somali pirates stand up to international warships? And why not just shoot the bandits when they try to clamber aboard?
First, the pirates are not as ragtag as one might expect. And second, it's a big ocean.
In Somalia, pirates are well-funded, well-organized and have easy access to heavy weapons in a country that has been in tatters for nearly two decades. Pirates travel in open skiffs with outboard engines, working with larger ships that tow them far out to sea. They use satellite navigational and communications equipment and have an intimate knowledge of local waters, clambering aboard commercial vessels with ladders and grappling hooks.
Any blip on an unwary ship's radar screens, alerting the crew to nearby vessels, is likely to be mistaken for fishing trawlers or any number of smaller, non-threatening ships that take to the seas every day.
It helps that the pirates' prey are usually massive, slow-moving ships, such as the Saudi supertanker carrying $100 million worth of crude that was hijacked last month.
By the time anyone notices, pirates will have grappled their way onto the ship, brandishing AK-47s.
Beyond that, the bandits are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and grenades — weaponry that is readily available throughout Somalia, where a bustling arms market operates in the capital, Mogadishu.
To date, pirates have raked in some $30 million in ransom. Given free rein in a country with no stable government, the pirates have attacked more than 90 vessels this year and seized more than 36, everything from ships carrying palm oil and chemicals to luxury yachts. Besides the oil tanker, other high-profile seizures include a Ukrainian ship laden with tanks.
Their focus has been the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen, where 20,000 merchant ships a year pass on the way in and out of the Suez Canal, the quickest route from Asia to Europe and the Americas. Three NATO and Russian vessels and up to 15 other warships from a multinational force are patrolling there, along with a number of U.S. Navy ships.
But NATO and the U.S. Navy say they can't be everywhere, and American officials are urging ships to hire private security. Warships patrolling off Somalia have succeeded in stopping some pirate attacks. Military assaults to wrest back a ship are highly risky for hostages and, to this point, uncommon.
Governments, navies, oil companies and ship owners are scrambling for solutions, and finding few options are ideal. At least one private security company said it has been flooded with requests from shipping companies for protection.
Experts say the pirates on the ships are generally paid a fixed amount. The negotiations are done by middlemen who have access to satellite phones and speak English.
If the ship is held for a long time, the middlemen may put together a group of investors who raise cash for supplies and other costs that will be recouped once the ransom is paid.
Nikos Deja Vu