Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Somalia: Puntland home of the pirates?

One man finds corruption in a part of Somalia here:
Not surprisingly, the official line among Puntland’s government ministers was that “piracy is a global problem that found headway in Somalia’s porous waters in recent years.” One after another, they told me that Puntland isn’t tooled to combat this problem, because pirates are well-armed, well-financed and multi-jurisdictional. (That’s to say that pirates operate in places like Haradheere in central Somalia).

But surprisingly, and below the official line, there’s a wide belief among Puntlanders that “pirates [they don’t even use this word!] are heroes, because they are protecting Somalia’s unguarded resources, looted by international companies.”

Quite the contrary, so many people, including former government officials and journalists told me that pirates have deep connections in the highest ranks in Puntland’s regime. In fact, people could list names of government ministers whose own militia are the pirates.

Few weeks ago, when pirates kidnapped a Japanese vessel outside Somalia’s international waters (which is quite routine, and, remarkably, counter-argument to those who say that pirates are “guarding” our resources), U.S. and French naval ships cornered the pirates near Boosaaso, the business capital of Puntland. The pirates, I was told, were able to disembark from the kidnapped ship every night to chew Khat and hang out with friends and family members, while other “substitute” pirates replaced them!

Eventually, the ordeal ended with the Japanese tanker being released unharmed, and pirates getting away with an undisclosed amount of ransom. The pirates’ front-men are senior government officials, who typically convince kidnapped ships to pay ransom (usually less then than pirates originally demanded). I found that this scenario occurred no less than three dozen times in the last few years.
n addition to piracy, human trafficking is pandemic in Puntland. More than 35,000 people have perished since 1991 trying to cross the short, but dangerous distance between Boosaaso and Yemen, using makeshift rafts.

Even back in the days when President Yusuf was the president of Puntland, the administration there made a noise that it will crack down on traffickers, whenever the international attention was zeroing on the issue.

However, hardly anything has been done. In fact, human traffickers, who like pirates have deep connections to the corridors of power, have flourished. In Boosaaso and nearby towns, journalists and other sources sent me the photos of the homes of well-known human traffickers and pirates, whose villas and latest-model Land Cruisers have dazzled me.

Last week, when Gwen Le Gouil, a French journalist tried to do an investigative report on human trafficking, he was kidnapped for nine grueling days. Remarkably, he was seized on his way to Shimbiraale, the infamous village known for its human and weapons traffickers. Insiders told me that his kidnappers were Puntland intelligence officers associated with both human traffickers and pirates.

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