Monday, November 07, 2005

More pirate attacks off Somalia

The International Maritime Bureau declares the waters off Somalia "out of control" and ask for coalition help after two more ships were attacked over the weekend (in addition to the well-publicized cruise ship attack) as reported here:
Pirates attacked two more merchant ships off Somalia at the weekend, one close to where a cruise ship was hit on Saturday, a sea piracy watchdog said on Monday, warning that the problem was out of control.
The London-based International Maritime Burea (IMB) said a large bulk carrier and a roll-on roll-off cargo ship were attacked on Saturday and Sunday off the east coast.
The latter was attacked with heavy machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades close to where a U.S. cruise liner carrying holidaymakers had been ambushed on Saturday.
"They opened fire with RPGs and machine guns, the bridge window was completely shattered -- the problem is totally out of control," Jayant Abhyankar, deputy director of the IMB, told Reuters.
The IMB declined to name the ships but said both managed to outrun the pirate gangs who gave chase in speed boats. No one was injured in the attacks.
Abhyankar called on coalition ships in the area to coordinate patrols in international waters off the Somalian coast to safeguard important merchant shipping routes.

UPDATE: Two dhows may have been captured by pirates off Somalia as reported here:
Two dhows carrying general cargo were feared hijacked by Somali warlords last Saturday, pointing to escalating piracy in Somalia's territorial waters, where five ships were hijacked last month alone.

The two dhows were said to have been captured by Somali gunmen last Saturday afternoon, hours after a luxury cruise liner, MV Seabourn Spirit was attacked by pirates off the war torn country's coast.

The luxury ship with 302 passengers and crew was attacked 100 miles off the Coast of Somalia, forcing its captain to change its destination from Mombasa to Seychelles.

An impeccable source told the Standard that one of the hijacked dhows was sailing from Dubai, destined for Somalia.

The source said the dhow was carrying general cargo from Gulf countries for Somali businessmen in Mogadishu. The other vessel was carrying charcoal from Somalia for the Gulf region.

Reports from Somalia indicated that one of the dhows was captured near Kismayu.The warlords who were said to be in powerful speedboats besieged the dhows and seized them before leading them to an unknown destination, added the source.
Busy pirates...

And a overwrought dire "warning' here. Ten guys in two boats and a possible mother ship might be terrorists in training or it might be pirates improving their operations.

Given the successes the Somali pirates have had lately, it's probably the latter.

Is the terrorist threat worth considering?
Absolutely. But no need to go to full panic mode just yet...

UPDATE 2: (8 November) Another view reminds us of past attacks and threatened attacks:
Private sector intelligence group Stratfor fears that in the event of a similar attack aimed at killing tourists – rather than taking hostages – it's unlikely that any special forces rescue team could respond in time. Stratfor says although pirate attacks against cargo ships are a growing menace, cruise ships have rarely been targeted since the 1980s.

In October 1985, hijackers attacked the Italian liner Achille Lauro, murdering a wheelchair-bound US citizen Leon Klinghoffer...
Stratfor said conditions in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region were conducive to terrorist operations, and the prospect of al-Qaeda or some similar group seeking to seize a ship full of hostages needed to be further examined.

It said the arrest in Turkey in August of a suspected al-Qaeda member on charges of planning attacks against Israeli cruise ships raised this possibility.

"The Achille Lauro attack, carried out by less than 15 hijackers, proved that a small number of attackers can seize a cruise ship even if they are outnumbered by the passengers and crew," it said.

Stratfor said Western governments had developed procedures for dealing with hostage situations on cruise ships, but such operations were complex and dangerous for the hostages.

"In addition, hostage rescue teams trained to respond to situations on cruise ships might not be readily available where the ship is seized," it said.
Of course, the Achiille Lauro helped warn the shipping industry that such attacks were possible and, as evidenced by some of the tactics used by the cruise ship, preparations have been afoot for some time and ships' crews seem well drilled in them. See this report on the use of a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) to fend off the pirates:
The LRAD is a so-called "non-lethal weapon" developed for the U.S. military after the 2000 attack on the USS Cole off Yemen as a way to keep operators of small boats from approaching U.S. warships.

The military version is a 45-pound (20 kilos), dish-shaped device that can direct a high-pitched, piercing tone with a tight beam. Neither the LRAD's operators or others in the immediate area are affected.

The cruise line was investigating whether the weapon was successful in warding off the pirates, Good said. The ship's captain also changed its course, shifted into high speed and headed out into the open sea to elude the pirates, who were in two small boats, he added. He had no further details.

The maker of the device, American Technology Corp., based in San Diego, California, said earsplitting "bangs" were directed by trained security personnel toward the pirates. That, combined with ship manoeuvres, caused the attackers to leave the area, the company said.

American Technology compares its shrill tone to that of smoke detectors, only much louder. It can be as loud as about 150 decibels, while smoke alarms are about 80 to 90 decibels.

The devices have been deployed on commercial and naval vessels worldwide since summer 2003, the company said.
LRAD info here. (UPDATE: Working in parallel, Bubblehead at the Stupid Must Be Punished beat me to the LRAD information and also dove into the DU pages for some reactions to the use of sonic weapons, brave man that he is...)

On the other hand, there is the "speed boat terrrorist" example of Lu'ai Skara, arrested by Turkish authorities in August (see posts here):
A police official said Sakra was planning to attack Israeli cruise ships with speedboats packed with explosives. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because only top officials are allowed to speak on the record without prior authorization.

Police suspect Sakra was still in contact with al-Qaida operatives planning future attacks.

As Sakra left the courthouse, he shouted: “I was planning an attack in open seas. Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar.”

Another defense lawyer, Osman Karahan, said authorities caught his client with 1,650 pounds of explosives.

“He was planning to hit Israeli ships in international waters with these explosives,” CNN-Turk quoted Karahan as saying.
More info on Sakra's background here. See also my post Asymmetric Warfare: Terrorists, Small Boats, Explosives and Unarmed, Unescorted Ships and the links therein.

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