Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hey, lookie here ---shhh! Don't tell them...They may make it go away again

UPDATE: Lex gets it right.

UPDATE2: Another explanation. Hat tip to TIgerhawk.

Somalia Piracy Status

Let me thank the NATO Shipping Center for their PowerPoint slide, which I have "borrowed" and partially updated. For a change, a PPT slide I like.

Click on the slide to enlarge.

Maritime Security: The Drug Sub Threat

For some time at this blog, we've been concerned about drug-running self-propelled semi-submersible boats (see here, here, here, here).

Today's DOD Bloggers' Roundtable concerned the current state of drug-running self-propelled semi-submersible interdiction. The speaker was Commander Cameron Naron, Deputy Chief, Coast Guard Office of Law Enforcement. You can listen to the discussion here.

CDR Naron started off discussion recent successful interdictions of Colombian drug cartel SPSSs recently in the news. Mexico and the U.S.Navy-Coast Guard team efforts here and here. As CDR Naron noted, these captures largely are due to the efforts of U.S. Maritime Patrol aircraft working in conjunction with surface units.

The Colombian effort to use these SPSSs appears to be more successful than not. CDR Naron reports it is estimated that only perhaps 1/2 or 1/3 of the semi-submersibles are caught as they run up the eastern Pacific ocean from Colombia. It also appears that this smuggling program has proved successful enough that SPSSs are a large and growing problem, with newer boats becoming increasingly sophisticated with full communication suites and able to carry crew of 4- 6 with food and fuel enough for a 5,000 mile trip.

Both house of Congress have now passed legislation that will clarify the law concerning these unregistered (therefore "stateless") vessels and impose up to a 15 year sentence for the crews who embark in them. See here for some background on the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act:
The law would criminalize the operation of submersible or semisubmersible watercraft without identifiable nationality in international waters -- regardless of cargo. It also includes protections for researchers and explorers conducting legitimate business.

Smugglers historically have used fishing vessels and go-fast boats to transport cocaine. "This is the new method," said John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The growing use of these vessels has created a sense of urgency among federal agencies. In the first three quarters of 2008, the Coast Guard recorded 62 "events" regarding SPSS vessels. In the previous six and a half years, there were fewer than 30 such encounters.
In a recent encounter the "master" of the boat attempted to throw the Coast Guard boarding team into the sea by manuvering sharply.

The legislation is headed to the President for his signature.

The U.S. is not the only country seeing such boats. Spain has recovered what appears to be one crude vessel.

Aviation Week has a nice piece on the Maritime Patrol Aircraft activities looking for these drug runners here:

U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection maritime patrol aircraft are the key to the initial successes the government is having in interdicting self-propelled, semi-submersible craft trying to smuggle tons of cocaine into the U.S.

In the past week, Navy P-3 Orions working with Coast Guard teams have spotted two of the self-propelled, semi-submersible (SPSS) craft trying to make their way from Colombia up to the west coast of the U.S. in the Pacific ocean. Intelligence helped them know where to look.

Rear Adm. Ted N. Branch says the Navy P-3 Orions used in the interdictions have radar and forward looking infrared sensors that can detect these low profile SPSS craft on the ocean.

The Coast Guard says it has interdicted roughly 71 metric tons of drugs worth about $2.1 billion being carried via SPSS since November 2006.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine office also operates 16 P-3s on this drug interdiction mission in joint operations with the Coast Guard and Navy in the Caribbean and the Pacific, says John R. Stanton, executive director of national air security operations for CBP. The service also has several de Havilland Dash 8-200s and a few Piper Cheyennes equipped for maritime surveillance.

In addition, Stanton says, CBP and the Coast Guard are considering the use of maritime surveillance radar aboard the Predator unmanned aircraft to search for drug smuggling vessels. CBP currently operates four MQ-9 Predators for border patrol and is acquiring two more. The Coast Guard may also acquire Predators. Stanton says one radar made by Elbit has been flown on a Predator. He expects a CPB and Coast Guard radar procurement effort to start next fiscal year with a request for information.

A couple of years ago, on the capture of one crude vessel, American amateur sub builders mocked the crudity of the drug boat's design.

I am concerned that a successful amateur sub builder might be convinced by large drug dollars to "assist" the engineering of more sophisticated drug boats.

On the other hand, the SPSSs offer a cheap, relatively safe vehicles for long range transport at low risk of detection. With the minor modifications that have been made, they prove up the wisdom of "good enough" engineering.

From a maritime security concern, these boats look like they might be very tempting for terrorist operations.

Some thoughts along those lines appear in my previous posts.

However, given bin Laden's "destroy the American economy" approach, one might worry about attack on offshore oil platforms, as the author of the piece noted in this post did.

It's worth remembering the New York "artist" whose submarine was nabbed near the Queen Mary 2 about a year ago. If an idiot in a wood boat can get that close to a potential target, dedicated terrorists in a SPSS could pose a serious threat under the right circumstances.

One more thing to keep your eyes open for.

UPDATE: Transcript available here. Highlights:
CMDR. NARON:...First I'd like to tell you a little bit about what a typical SPSS is.

These are stateless vessels, typically less than 100 feet in length of steel construction, typically with four to five crew members on board and usually carrying up to 10 metric tons of illicit cargo for distances up to 5,000 miles. Drug trafficking organizations design SPSSs to sink themselves when they've detected law enforcement, thereby making contraband recovery usually impossible.

These vessels are typically built in the FARC-controlled jungles of Colombia. And the use of these vessels has grown in recent years as a means to counter effective drug interdiction efforts. Drug trafficking organizations continue to adapt these vessels and their transit means to our law enforcement successes. These SPSSs were once perceived as a very impractical and risky smuggling tool, but now have proven successful as an innovative and highly mobile asymmetrical method of conveyance.
Q Well, this is Eagle 1 again. Let me ask -- I notice that not only the U.S. is experiencing these problems with these SPSSs, but there appear to have been a couple of instances off Spain. Are you seeing a larger international effort in this area? Are you aware of those instances?

CMDR. NARON: Well, we do share the information with other countries.

I am not aware of the cases off of Spain, but that doesn't surprise me.

There is significant drug trafficking to Europe these days, and we are engaged in helping to counter that through Joint Interagency Task Force South.

One significant thing that we've seen, up until September of 2007, there were 23 SPSS events that we estimated in that 6-1/2-year -- in a 6-1/2-year period leading up to September of 2007, but those numbers ballooned in fiscal year '08. In the first three quarters of this fiscal year, we went from, as I said, 23 total
estimated events in the past 6-1/2 years to 62 total events in only the first three quarters of this fiscal year. And we attribute that to the effectiveness of other enforcement efforts that have been in effect for a long time, and the drug trafficking organizations finding that this is something that they need to
go to in order to move their cargoes.

Also, of the cases that we've actually interdicted or interrupted, I would say when we come across an SPSS that sinks itself before we're able to do anything with it -- just lost my train of thought, here. Oh, I would say those cases that we are actually aware of are estimated really to be only the tip of the iceberg. We have estimates that there are two to three of these -- of these that make their -- make their trips every week.

Somali pirates holding "tank" ship squabble- 3 die

As the pressure on them mounts, the Somali pirates holding the Ukrainian ship full of tanks are having fights over what to do and one of these squabbles cost three of them their lives, as set out here:
Andrew Mwangura, of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, a local maritime group, said an argument broke out last night between factions in the 50-strong pirate gang over whether to give in to international pressure to free the cargo and 20-man crew.

"There was a misunderstanding yesterday between the moderates and the radicals on board who do not want to listen to anyone," said Mwangura, whose Kenya-based group is monitoring the saga via relatives of the crew and the pirates.

"The moderates want to back-peddle. The Americans are close, so everyone is tense. There was a shootout and three of the pirates were shot dead."
The U.S. has several ships nearby.

UPDATE: Another Malaysian ship has been released by other pirates after a ransom was paid, as set out here:
Pirates have released a second Malaysian tanker hijacked near Somalia in exchange for a ransom, the ship owner said Tuesday.

Malaysian shipping line MISC Berhad said the palm oil tanker, MT Bunga Melati 2, was freed Monday, two days after its first vessel was released.

Chairman Hassan Marican said a ransom was paid for both vessels but declined to reveal the amount. All 79 crew, including 14 Filipinos, on both ships are safe but are traumatized and will undergo counseling, he said.

Malaysian navy warships are escorting the two tankers, which are expected to reach neighboring Djibouti in the next few days, he said.

Hassan slammed Malaysia's local media for speculating that a total ransom of US$4 million was paid.

"You have made MISC a target for the pirates in the future by disclosing an amount that is incorrect," he told reporters. "Going forward, we will take necessary steps to protect our vessels and our crew."
UPDATE2: Another report downplaying shooting and reporting pirates are enjoying a Muslim feast: here:
The standoff in the Indian Ocean over a ship laden with tanks and weapons entered a sixth day Tuesday, with pirates claiming they were celebrating the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr despite being surrounded by American warships and helicopters.
A photo from the USS Howard shows Somali pirates in small boats hijacking the MV Faina last week.
"We are happy on the ship and we are celebrating Eid," pirate spokesman Sugule Ali told The Associated Press by satellite phone. "Nothing has changed."
UPDATE3: An interview with a pirate, asserting some form of innocence in their actions here.

Cameroon: Bank Robbing Pirates From the Sea

Reported here, bank robbing pirates from the sea in Cameroon:
A group of unidentified armed robbers stormed Limbe in the wee hours of September 28, killed one, wounded many and carted away several millions from AMITY Bank.The robbers, who reportedly came by sea, succeeded to escape under the cover of intensive gun fire.
The entire article is worth reading.

It's an interesting story and reminds me that Blackbeard and other pirates often attacked cities during their piratical careers, as noted here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

ONI Worldwide Threat to Shipping Report (to 27 Sept 08)

Latest ONI Worldwide Threat to Shipping Report (to 27 Sept 08) can be found here. Highlights:
1. GULF OF ADEN: Tanker (GENIUS) hijacked on 26 Sep 08 while underway in position 13:32N 048:26E, 30 NM off Yemen. The attack was reported to the shipping company by the ship’s captain by radio shortly before the pirates boarded the vessel. The pirates fired a number of shots into the air to bring the ship to a halt. According to the Greek coastguard, 19 Romanian sailors are aboard the tanker (IMB, LM: VisitBulgaria.info).
2. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier (GREAT CREATION) hijacked on 18 Sep 08 at 0618 UTC while in position 14:13.0N - 049:59.0E, Gulf of Aden. About eight pirates armed with guns boarded the vessel. The vessel was drifting due to engine problems and had requested assistance. Pirates took 25 crewmembers hostage consisting of 24 Chinese nationals and a Sri Lankan master (IMB, BBC, LL).
3. GULF OF ADEN: Chemical tanker reported suspicious approach 18 Sep 08 at 0630 UTC
while underway in-between the positions 13:57N-049:34E and 13:54N - 049:31E, 40 nm southeast of Al Mukalla, Yemen. Two white hulled boats with several persons onboard aggressively approached the tanker underway with alleged intent to board The ship’s master raised alarm, increased speed, took evasive maneuvers and contacted coalition forces. SSAS was activated and crew mustered. The boats continued to follow until 0730 UTC when the boats aborted the attempt (Operator, IMB, UKMTO).
4. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk cargo ship reported suspicious approach on 16 Sep 08 at 0830 UTC while in position 12:28N-44:53E, 20nm miles southwest from Aden, Yemen. A speed boat with five armed pirates approached and attempted to board the vessel. The master raised general alarm, crew alerted and sea water thrown against pirates by fire hoses. The pirates attempted three times to board the vessel unsuccessfully. After ten minutes the speed boat left and the attack was aborted. The master tried to call CMF by phone and VHF but could not receive a signal. There was no crew injury or damage to the vessel or its cargo (UKMTO).
5. GULF OF ADEN: Chemical tanker reported suspicious approach on 13 Sep 08 at 0440 UTC while in position 13:32.5N - 048:47.5E, Gulf of Aden. One speed boat with seven men armed with guns chased the tanker while it was transiting westbound. The Master increased speed and took evasive maneuvers to prevent boarding and altered course southward to rendezvous with a coalition warship. Speedboats approached as close as two cables before aborting the attempt (IMB, UKMTO).
6. GULF OF ADEN: Chemical tanker (STOLT VALOR) hijacked 15 Sep 08 at 1047
UTC/1316 local time, while underway in position 13:33N–049:09E, 60NM south of Al Mukalla,
Yemen. There are approximately 15 pirates onboard and 22 crewmembers held hostage. The
crew consists of 18 Indians, two Filipinos, a Bangladeshi and a Russian (IMB, AFP).
7. GULF OF ADEN: General cargo vessel fired upon 15 Sep 08 at 1453 UTC while
underway in position 13:38.87N-048:59.0E. The duty officer onboard the vessel noticed a
possible red mother-ship releasing speedboats. The blue speedboat had approximately six pirates
onboard and approached the vessel and opened fire. The Master contacted the coalition warships
on VHF 16 but received no response. Anti-piracy measures were enforced, the speedboats
followed for ten minutes before moving away (UKMTO, IMB, Operator).
8. GULF OF ADEN: Tanker (GOLDEN ELIZABETH) reported suspicious approach 13 Sep
08 at 0845 local time/0445 UTC while underway in position 13:32.5N-048:47.5E. A suspicious
green and white wooden boat, 7-10 meters long traveling at approximately 20kts had a crew of
no less than eight wearing dark camouflage clothing approached the vessel on port quarter with a
CPA of 1-2 cables. No arms or ammunition was visible. There was one tanker about 2NM
ahead and three vessels meeting off port bow. The OOW observed a small boat approaching
from port quarter. The Master ordered evasive maneuvers and sounded the alarms and activated
INMARSAT-C Distress alarm and ISPS Piracy/Terrorist alarms, then reported the event to the
UN Coalition Forces who advised the vessel to proceed on a southerly course to meet with them
as they were 14NM south. The suspicious boat moved away after a hard wheel turn to starboard
pushed the boat away. At 1000 local time/0600 UTC while in position 13:27.8N-048:34.1E, the
Master confirmed the vessel is safely proceeding to its destination, Suez under a high level of
anti-piracy measures (UKMTO, IMB, Operator, LM: Maritime Global Net).
9. GULF OF ADEN: General cargo vessel reported suspicious activity 11 Sep 08 at 0600
local time/0300 UTC while underway in position 12:38.3N-045:39.0E. The vessel reported
approximately 25 speedboats in the vicinity in position 12:35.9N-045:35.3E (UKMTO, Operator).
10. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier reported suspicious approach 11 Sep 08 at 0925 UTC
while underway in position 13:17N-047:36E. A blue speedboat with three masked men onboard
reportedly followed the vessel at full speed. The speedboat was initially stationary before
moving away. The vessel took evasive maneuvers, and other preventative actions. The vessel
resumed voyage (UKMTO, Operator).
11. GULF OF ADEN: Chemical tanker reported attacked 11 Sep 08 at 1335 UTC, while
underway in position 12:24N-045:23E, off Yemen coast. A failed piracy attack was reported by
the vessel’s Master. Naval helicopters from UKMTO promptly arrived and chased the pirates.
There were no injuries or damage to property or pollution (UKMTO, Operator).
12. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier reported suspicious approach 10 Sep 08 at 0125 UTC
while underway in position 15:46N-053:07E. Three suspicious small boats were reportedly
following the vessel. Coalition warships were urgently requested to render necessary assistance.
At 0330 UTC the vessel reported that the three suspicious small boats have moved away but
another one is reportedly following the vessel, approximately 5NM away. Last located 15:48N-
052:57E (IMB, Operator, UKMTO).
13. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier (BRIGHT RUBY) hijacked 10 Sep 08 at 0657 UTC while
underway in position 13:09N-047:57E, approximately 100NM southwest of Al Mukalla, Yemen.
There are 21 crewmembers on board the vessel, eight Koreans and 13 Myanmar (IMB,
14. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier fired upon 10 Sep 08 at 0343 UTC while underway in
position 12:39.4N-048:23.0E. One speedboat chased and fired at the vessel. The vessel took
evasive actions and contacted the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre for assistance. They duty officer
at the Centre informed the coalition navy which sent a warship and a helicopter that flew over
the speedboat and interrupted the attack. The pirates moved away. The vessel continued its
passage to its destination port. There was no damage to the vessel or injury to crew (UKMTO,
IMB, Operator).
15. GULF OF ADEN: General cargo vessel fired upon 9 Sep 08 at 1513 UTC while
underway in position 13:24N-048:20E. Eight pirates in a skiff reportedly chased the vessel.
They fired upon the vessel and attempted to board. The Master contacted the coalition warships.
A helicopter intervened and the pirates aborted the attempt (IMB).
16. GULF OF ADEN: Container ship reported suspicious approach 8 Sep 08 at 0400 UTC
while underway in position 12:54.2N-046:04.2E. Two suspicious speedboats crossed the bow
from starboard to port at 20kts approximately 1NM away before altering course towards the
vessel. The vessel altered course heading towards the speedboats in a threat to hit them. They
avoided by turning starboard and passing closely on port side. Observation by binoculars
revealed a vessel approximately 120 meters long with a person holding a rifle onboard. The
speedboats eventually moved away (Operator, IMB, UKMTO).
17. GULF OF ADEN: Tanker reported suspicious approach 8 Sep 08 at 0655 UTC while
underway in position 12:45.48N-046:05.3E. There were reportedly more than ten speedboats in the surrounding area with many personal on board. Incident was reported to coastal authority (Operator, IMB, UKMTO).
18. GULF OF ADEN: IMB reported suspicious vessel, per 8 Sep 08 reporting. A suspicious
boat was transmitting the AIS with a different call sign – VRWO. The IMO and MMSI number remains unchanged and untraceable. The passing ship reported to have seen the names as (EAST TRADER) in position 14:13.73N-050:18.45E, 13.7kts at 0200 UTC. All ships are advised to stay clear of this suspicious vessel (IMB).
19. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier (MONIMA) reported suspicious approach 7 Sep 08 at
1500 local time, while underway in position 13:06.87N-045:41E, approximately 12NM off the
Yemen coast. Three speedboats reportedly chased the vessel. The Master contacted the IMB
Piracy Reporting Centre to inform them of the situation and requested immediate assistance from warships. Two of the three boats continued to follow at a distance of 2.5NM. The Master suspected that the perpetrators may be armed with machine guns and may board any time. TheYemeni coastguard arrived and the three boats moved away at the sight of the coastguard boats (Operator, IMB, UKMTO, LM: The News Straits Times Online).
20. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier reported suspicious approach 7 Sep 08 at 1020 UTC
while underway in position 12:46N–045:54E. Suspected pirates in two speedboats reportedly
chased the vessel. The owner contacted the IMB Piracy Reporting Center (PRC) for assistance. The duty officer at PRC informed authorities to render necessary assistance. The Master was advised to enforce anti-piracy measures to delay and prevent boarding. The authorities advised the PRC that every effort was being made to send assistance to the vessel. At 1343 UTC, the Master reported the suspicious boats moved away and was continuing passage to its destination port (IMB).
21. GULF OF ADEN: Tanker (FRONT VOYAGER) fired upon 6 Sep 08 at 0950 UTC while
underway in position 12:54.9N–047:05.1E, 39NM off the coast of Yemen. The vessel spotted a blue-hulled speedboat with five armed men onboard approximately 6NM away. The speedboat approached the vessel and opened fire. The alarm was raised, speed increased and coalition warships contacted. When the coalition warship and navy helicopter arrived, the speedboat aborted the attack and moved towards a potential mother-ship. The vessel sustained damages; however no crewmembers injured (Operator, IMB, UKMTO, LM: Aftenposten).
22. GULF OF ADEN: Tanker fired upon 6 Sep 08 at 0705 UTC while underway in position
12:57.8N-047:01.6E. A white speedboat, less than 10 meters long with approximately five to six persons on board approach from port side, near the accommodation ladder. The general alarm was raised and fog horn was sounded. The Chief Officer directed a fire hose at the speedboat. The persons in the boat signaled to reduce speed while pointing an RPG at the Chief Officer. The Chief Officer dropped the fire hose and entered the galley and then went to the bridge to assist the Master. The Master began evasive maneuvers while the Chief Engineer advised him to
give maximum revolutions on the engines. The Master activated the SSAS on the bridge and
broadcasted a mayday message on VHF.16. The first reported attempt to board resulted in the
speedboat rolling heavily in the water because it was caught in the stern wash of the vessel. As a result, approximately three to four persons were washed out of the speedboat. The speedboat recovered its crew and resumed chasing the vessel again. By this time, UKMTO had contacted the vessel on satellite phone and obtained the position and situation. The vessel contacted IMB Piracy Reporting Center on the satellite phone and advised the situation. The speedboat approached a second time and reportedly chased the vessel for a considerable amount of time, while narrowing the gap steadily. The speedboat came very close and the crew was seen trying to raise a ladder to board the vessel. The vessel continued evasive maneuvers when suddenly the speedboat engine stalled because it was following in the stern wash of the vessel. Ricochets were heard near the boiler room and was later determined that the vessel was fired upon. The speedboat met up with the suspected mother-ship which was a raft with an orange cover before
chasing the vessel again. For a while, the distance was steadily reducing. At 0812 UTC, it was determined by radar that the speedboat was moving away. Coalition warships were informed and proceeded to assist the vessel (Operator, IMB).
23. GULF OF ADEN: General cargo vessel fired upon 5 Sep 08 at 0510 UTC, while
underway in position 12:57N-047:04E, 118NM east of Aden, Yemen. The ship reportedly
sighted a suspected mother-ship described as a blue tug towing a small boat about six miles off, bearing 155 degrees from the ship. At 0515 UTC, a small boat began approaching the ship at high speed. They duty officer raised the alarm and all crew mustered. At 0530 UTC, four armed suspected pirates were seen on the vessel. The vessel had one man steering the vessel, one man with a rocket launcher, and two men armed with machine guns that reportedly fired at the vessel, and reportedly attempted to board. The ship increased speed, altered course, and began evasive maneuvers to prevent the small vessel from coming alongside the ship. The crew used a hose, bottles, shackles, screws, dishes, etc, to throw at the pirates. The pirates reportedly attacked the ship four times with no success. The pirates moved away at 0600 UTC (Operator, IMB).
24. GULF OF ADEN: Container ship reported suspicious approach 3 Sep 08 at 0310 local
time while underway in position 14:18.3N-050:34E. The vessel detected an unlit speedboat
approaching the vessel approximately 2.2NM on starboard bow. As the speedboat approached
closer to 1.5NM, a search light was directed on the boat and visually sighted. The speedboat was approximately one mile on starboard beam when it altered course and moved towards the vessel. Coalition naval forces were contacted immediately. The fast boat increased speed and reportedly chased the vessel before moving away. At 0332 local time, two fishing vessels were sighted approximately 7.5NM on port and starboard bow of the vessel, suspected of being the mother-ship for these boats. Latest position of two vessels was 1415.1 N-050 47.4E and 14:25.4N-050:45.3E (Operator, IMB, UKMTO).
25. GULF OF ADEN: Tanker reported suspicious approach 3 Sep 08 at 2030 UTC, while
underway in position 13:44.4N-049:02.2 E. The suspicious boat traveling at 14.5kts towards the
vessel. Coalition forces were informed of the boats location and then the boat altered course and moved away (Operator, IMB, UKMTO).
26. GULF OF ADEN: General cargo vessel (AL MANSOURAH) hijacked 3 Sep 08 at 0900
local time while underway in position 14:27N-049:40E, 17 miles off Al Mukalla, Yemen. The
pirates reportedly sailed the vessel and anchored it off Caluula, Somalia. There are reportedly 25 crewmembers onboard. The vessel was enroute Bin Quasim, Pakistan (Bloomberg, IMB, LM: Xinhua, Maritime News Russia).
27. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier (ORSOLINA BOTTIGLIERI) fired upon 3 Sep 08 at
1450 UTC while underway in position 13:36.8N-049:13.16E approximately 40NM off the
Yemen coast. Reported pirates attempted to close in on the vessel for boarding; however the
vessel was able to increase its speed and diverted its course. A coalition navy warship was
dispatched to the area. The pirate boat moved away. No injuries to crew, or damage to vessel
(IMB, LM: rainews24.it).
28. GULF OF ADEN: Yacht (CARRE D'AS IV) hijacked 2 Sep 08 at 1853 UTC,
approximately 80NM north of Caluula, Somalia. The vessel reportedly departed Cocos Islands on 5 Aug 08 enroute to Aden, Yemen. There are reportedly two French citizens onboard and one Australian. However, recent press report from the French authorities shows only two French crew. On 15 Sep 08, French soldiers reportedly rescued the two crewmembers. The yacht has been towed away from Somali waters to Djibouti. One pirate was killed during the rescue and six more arrested (UKMTO, AFP, LM: afrol News, marinelog.com).
29. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier reported suspicious approach 1 Sep 08 at 0600 UTC
while underway in position 13:40.5N-049:08.7E. The suspicious boat was spotted on starboard bow at a distance of 3.7 miles. The vessel began evasive maneuvers. The suspicious boat reportedly began to chase the vessel at a speed of 17kts. A coalition warship was contacted and responded to the emergency call. When the warship arrived, the suspicious boat began distancing from the vessel and eventually moved away. The suspicious boat was described as having a brown hull with a white stripe and a white superstructure (Operator, IMB, UKMTO).
30. GULF OF ADEN: LPG tanker reported suspicious approach 1 Sep 08 at 0735 local time
while underway in position 12:48.5N-049:42.3E, Gulf of Aden. Two small speedboats
approached the vessel from starboard side with entering ladders. A mother-ship was sighted
about 1NM away. The alarm was raised; the vessel increased its speed and contacted a coalition warship. The suspicious boats moved away after a few minutes. The security alarm was not engaged because the vessel was reportedly in close contact with an American Coalition warship. All clear and voyage continue as normal at 0800 local time (Operator, IMB, UKMTO).
31. GULF OF ADEN: Container ship reported suspicious approach at 0250 UTC, while
underway in position 11:23.32N-066:22.72E, per 1 Sep 08 reporting. The vessel reported one
suspicious blue fishing trawler with one speedboat. No further information (UKMTO).
32. GULF OF ADEN: Chemical tanker (BUNGA MELATI 5) hijacked 29 Aug 08 at 1400
UTC while underway in position 13:11N-046:38E, approximately 14NM off the coast of Yemen.
The vessel was reportedly chased by a speedboat and requested coalition warship assistance.
The vessel’s crew activated hoses and attempted to ward off the attackers. The vessel was then
fired upon for approximately ten minutes before being boarded. Communication then went dead.
A warship arrived, but by then, the pirates had altered the course of the vessel and headed
towards Somali waters. The vessel reportedly has 41 crewmembers on board. ONI
COMMENT: This location is in the central Gulf of Aden approximately 135NM farther to the
west from previous hijack locations indicating an increased operating area for piracy in the Gulf
of Aden (Operator, ONI, UKMTO, LL, IMB).
33. GULF OF ADEN: Tanker reported suspicious approach 26 Aug 08 at approximately
2052 local time/1652 UTC while underway in position 12:27.29N-045:02.10E. Two suspicious
small boats reportedly chased the vessel. The general alarm was raised; the crew mustered and
took evasive maneuvers. The small craft moved away. The incident was reported to the IMB
and the vessel’s captain requested assistance from nearby coalition task force elements. There
was reportedly one fishing boat drifting in position 12:22.7N-044:47.3E, which was described as
possibly a suspicious trawling mother-ship. The vessel was proceeding to the Suez. UKMTO
NOTE: No weapons seen and no concerted attempt to attack. CTF-150 investigated and now
assesses mistaken identity of Aden Fishermen (IMB, UKMTO, Operator).
34. GULF OF ADEN: Container ship reported suspicious approach 26 Aug 08 while
underway in position 12:29.7N–044:59.44E. The vessel requested assistance. UKMTO Note:
No weapons were seen and no concerted attempt to attack. CTF-150 investigated and now
assess mistaken identity of Aden fishermen (UKMTO, IMB, Operator).
35. GULF OF ADEN: Cargo vessel reported suspicious approach 26 Aug 08 at 1040 local
time/0740 UTC while underway in position 13:30N-048:34E, 87NM southwest of Al Mukalla,
Yemen. While transiting the Gulf of Aden the vessel reported a number of suspicious boats to a
Coalition Warship in the area. The vessel kept monitoring the suspicious boats and noticed two
suspicious boats at the vessels port quarter about two miles off. The vessel increased its speed to
move away from the suspicious boats (IMB, Operator).
36. GULF OF ADEN: Vessel reported suspicious approach 26 Aug 08 while underway near
Aden, Yemen. A vessel heard an announcement on VHF Ch. 16 that another near by vessel
stated that it had spotted three speedboats that had pushed away from a reported mother-ship and
was traveling at 22kts. The position of the mother-ship was 12:28N-044:44E, 25NM southwest
of Aden, Yemen. UKMTO COMMENT: This appears to be a case of mistaken identity. It has
been assessed by CTF-150 to be the Aden fishing fleet being mistaken for pirates (IMB,
37. INDIAN OCEAN: Roll-on/roll-off cargo vessel (FAINA) hijacked 25 Sep 08 at 1600
local time while in position 02:01N-050:40 E, approximately 280NM east of Mogadishu,
Somalia. Three pirate boats attacked the ship. Pirates, armed with automatic weapons, then
boarded the vessel (IMB, AP)
38. INDIAN OCEAN: USNS (JOHN LENTHALL) reported suspicious approach 23 Sep 08
while underway off the central east coast of Somalia. Despite defensive measures to deter them
from approaching, the small boats continued to approach the ship. An embarked security team
aboard the ship fired warning shots in the vicinity of two small boats. The rounds impacted the
water approximately 50 yards from the closest boat and resulted in both small boats ending their
pursuit. All shots were accounted for as they entered the water. There were no reports of
casualties. “This incident is clear proof that all mariners must remain vigilant,” said Captain
Steve Kelley, the commander responsible for all Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships in the
region. “I am extremely pleased with the actions taken by the ship’s master and ultimately by the
security personnel aboard. They initially used defensive measures and when those weren’t
enough the security personnel took action to defend the ship.” While it is unclear if personnel on
the boats were intent on attacking the 41,000-ton ship, it is clear they were not following the
international rules of the road observed by mariners around the globe. More importantly, the
location of the incident, the types of boats involved (small open skiffs), and the maneuvering
they undertook was consistent with reports from previous attacks on merchant vessels in the
region. (LM: Combined Maritime Forces Public Affairs, Release #116-08)

Picture of the Day

USS San Antonio transiting the Suez Canal.

Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Zalasky.

Good one, Petty Officer Zalasky!

Click the image to enlarge.

Shipping Industry Not Happy Over "Global War on Piracy"

A joint press release here:
The international shipping industry (represented by BIMCO, ICS/ISF, INTERCARGO and INTERTANKO and the International Transport Workers’ Federation) is dismayed by recent comments, attributed to leaders of the Coalition Task Force operating in the Gulf of Aden, that it is not the job of navy forces to protect merchant ships and their crews from increasingly frequent attacks from pirates operating out of Somalia.

The pirates are now attacking ships on a daily basis with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, and currently holding over 200 seafarers hostage. The pirates are operating with impunity, and governments stand idly by.

If civil aircraft were being hijacked on a daily basis, the response of governments would be very different. Yet ships, which are the lifeblood of the global economy, are seemingly out of sight and out of mind. This apparent indifference to the lives of merchant seafarers and the consequences for society at large is simply unacceptable.

The shipping industry is utterly amazed that the world’s leading nations, with the naval resources at their disposal, are unable to maintain the security of one of the world’s most strategically important seaways, linking Europe to Asia via the Red Sea/Suez Canal.

Since 9/11, the international shipping industry has spent billions of dollars to comply with stringent new security requirements, agreed by the international community to address concerns about terrorism. Yet when merchant ships – which carry 90% of world trade and keep the world economy moving - are subject to attack by violent pirates, the response of many governments is that it is not their problem and that ships should hire mercenaries to protect themselves.

The arming of merchant ships, as suggested by the Task Force, will almost certainly put the lives of ships’ crews in even greater danger and is likely to escalate the level of violence employed by the pirates. It would also be illegal under the national law of many ships’ flag states and in many of the countries to which they are trading.

The industry understands that military resources are stretched and that the Coalition Task Force is doing what it can, consistent with current rules of engagement provided by participating governments.

But the international shipping industry, in the strongest possible way, urges governments to commit the necessary navy vessels now, and to ensure they have the freedom to engage forcefully against any act of piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Governments must issue clear rules of engagement to allow naval forces to intercept and take appropriate action against these violent pirates, and the oceangoing ‘motherships’ from which the pirates are operating, as permitted by UN Security Council Resolution 1816, of 2 June 2008, and existing international law about the rights of States to repress criminal acts on the high seas.

Governments must also ensure that these pirates and armed robbers, who are terrorising the high seas, are brought to justice in a court of law and are not allowed to resume their piratical activities unimpeded because of governments’ unwillingness to take the necessary action.

There should be no doubt that the situation is now so serious that major shipping companies, who are currently negotiating with charterers to avoid transiting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea/Suez Canal all together, will decide to redirect their ships via the Cape of Good Hope. This would add several weeks to the duration of many ships’ voyages and would have severe consequences for international trade, the maintenance of inventories and the price of fuel and raw materials. This would also affect not just those countries to which cargoes are destined but all global seaborne trade, a consequence which, in the current economic climate, must surely be avoided.

A repeat of the crisis in the early 1970s, when the Suez Canal was closed and shipping was similarly diverted around the Cape of Good Hope, must be prevented at all cost, thus this call for urgent measures now – today and not tomorrow!

It cannot escape notice that the supply of consumer goods – the majority of which are carried from Asia to Europe via this vital sea lane - could be also seriously affected.

The international shipping industry recognises that the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO), with whom it continues to liaise daily, has acknowledged the massive severity of the problem and has similarly implored the United Nations and the UN Security Council to ensure that appropriate action is taken. But far greater urgency is required by governments and their navies, particularly those in the Coalition Task Force who are in the best position to restore security to this critical trade artery.

We need action, not words or rhetoric. What is at stake are the lives of merchant seafarers and the security of world trade.
UPDATE: By way of background, the comments these groups are referring to are set out here and included:
The Combined Maritime Forces Commander, Vice Adm. Gortney also suggested that the shipping industry must consider hiring security teams for their vessels. “The Coalition does not have the resources to provide 24-hour protection for the vast number of merchant vessels in the region. The shipping companies must take measures to defend their vessels and their crews.”
Questions: Is what the Admiral said so outrageous or was it just a call for the ship operators to start looking out for their crews? What steps are these complaining entities taking to protect ships and sailors? Will they consider convoys even it means some delays in shipping? Will they fund private security forces if not to ride on merchant ships (thus not making them "armed") but to provide escort services?

Stay tuned.

Monday Reading

Fred Fry's' Maritime Monday 129 at gCaptain.com. Fred has photos of APL line ships and a whole lot of quality maritime links. He even links to a National Geographic contest in which you (yes, you!) could get involved a sea cruise with the Indian Navy.

Bubblehead notes the passing of a submarine force legend.

Consul at Arms links about an anti-current Iranian regime group that you may not want to get behind.

The Coasties announce a contract for a new Fast Response Cutter here. More info on the "Sentinel" class here.

UPDATE: More photos of pirated ships:

Caption: HOYBYO, Somalia (Sept. 29, 2008) Pirates holding MV Faina receives supplies while under observation by the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72). The Belize-flagged cargo ship is owned and operated by "Kaalybe Shipping Ukraine" and is carrying a cargo of Ukrainian T-72 tanks and related equipment. The ship was attacked on Sept. 28 and forced to proceed to an anchorage off the Somali Coast. Vella Gulf is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet conduct maritime security operations to promote stability and regional economic prosperity. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Zalasky/Released)

HOYBYO, Somalia (Sept. 29, 2008) The pirated vessel MV Centauri as observed by the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72). MV Centauri is anchored in the vicinity of MV Faina, off the coast of Hoybyo, Somalia. Several U.S. Navy ships are in the area monitoring the situation. U.S. 5th Fleet conduct Maritime Security Operations (MSO) to promote stability and regional economic prosperity. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Zalasky/Released)

Yemen's Anti-Piracy Unit

Reported here:
Yemen has formed a maritime unit to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. The Yemen Coast Guard has established an anti-piracy unit to battle an increase in piracy in the Arabian Sea and Red Sea. Officials said the unit would contain 1,600 special forces soldiers who are well trained to fight piracy and 16 high speed patrol boats purchased from Australia. “The aim of the deployment is to enhance the protection of ships and stop Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Bab Al Mandab Strait,” a Coast Guard official said.
More here:
Officials said each patrol boat would contain 60 marines trained to combat piracy. They said the vessels would contain artillery, radar and advanced communications.

"We have already trained officers on detecting and monitoring pirates and recognizing vessels in distress," the official said.

Officials said the Yemeni force would work with regional and Western navies, including France, Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The Yemeni Coast Guard has conducted training with the U.S. Coast Guard and other coalition forces. See here.

GULF OF OMAN - Coast Guardsmen aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Wrangell (WPB 1332) (right) pick up members of their crew involved in a training exercise with the Yemen coast guard patrol craft Saber-7 (center). The Wrangell, along with Dutch support ship HNLMS Amsterdam (A-836) (left) and USS Typhoon (PC5), is underway performing maritime security operations in and around the Arabian Sea. Official U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 3rd Class Bobby Northnagle.

Among the missions of the Yemeni force is rescuing refugees from Africa trying to reach Yemen but who put their fates in the hands of crooked human traffickers. See here:
At least 52 Somalis died after smugglers abandoned them on a boat in the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden, the U.N. refugee agency said Sunday. Seventy-one people survived the 18-day ordeal.

The boat broke down within hours of leaving Somalia on Sept. 3, bound for Yemen and carrying more than 100 Somalis, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement. The crew abandoned the boat for another craft and never returned for the refugees, who threw bodies overboard as fellow passengers died, the UNHCR said.

The boat eventually drifted close enough to southern Yemen that three passengers tried to swim ashore. Two alerted rescuers; the third never made it.

The Yemeni coast guard rescued the survivors Sept. 21, the statement said.
UPDATE: More info here, especially at the last link in Jim Dolbow's post.

Somalia: Navy ships continue to monitor ships full of tanks

As reported here:
The U.S. Navy bolstered its force of warships off Somalia on Monday, intensifying its watch over Somali pirates holding a hijacked Ukrainian-operated vessel with crew members, arms and tanks aboard.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, said "there are now several U.S. ships" within eyesight of the hijacked ship, Faina, which was bound for Kenya when it was seized last week.

Speaking by telephone from Bahrain, Christensen declined to say how exactly many other U.S. warships had joined the USS Howard, a guided-missile destroyer, off Somalia. The U.S. ships were staying in international waters off Somalia, Christensen said, while the Somali pirates kept the Faina within the 12-mile territorial bounds of Somali waters.

U.S. sailors remained close enough to see the ship, and had established bridge-to-bridge contact via radio, he said.
A report that the "watch" includes a helicopter gun ship here. Report that a helicopter is being used to stop resupply by the pirates from shore here:
Andrew Mwangura, of the Kenyan-based Seafarers' Programme, said the Faina was sitting a few miles off the Somali coastal village of Hinbarwaqo on Monday, closely monitored by the USS Howard which had come close enough for visual contact.

"They cannot attack because we think there are dangerous chemicals on board too," he said.

A helicopter, probably U.S., had been buzzing over the Faina to prevent people on shore reinforcing the vessel.

"Ten small boats were headed to the ship yesterday. But they went back when the chopper buzzed them," Mwangura said.

"With the helicopter and the Howard watching them, the tactic is clearly to scare the pirates."
Kenya also rejects the idea that the tanks were meant for southern Sudan:
Kenya reacted angrily to suggestions, by the Seafarers' Programme and some anonymous military sources, that the Faina's military cargo was headed secretly for south Sudan.

"There have been alarming propaganda by the pirates to media that the weapons are not for the Kenyan Military. This is a tactic by the terrorists to try and fend off reprisals against them," government spokesman Alfred Mutua said.

"The Kenyan Government will not engage in answering back to terrorists who have hijacked important military equipment paid for by the Kenyan tax payer for use by the Kenyan Military."
UPDATE: It is unclear about the timing, but a U.S. Navy spokesman says differently:
A U.S. Navy spokesman says a weapons shipment on a Ukrainian ship hijacked by Somali pirates was headed to Sudan, not Kenya.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a deputy spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain, says the buyers in Sudan are unknown.

A 5th Fleet statement Monday says the ship was headed for the Kenyan port of Mombassa, but that "additional reports state the cargo was intended for Sudan."

Kenya has claimed it was the buyer for the shipment, which includes T-72 battle tanks.

The U.N. has imposed an arms embargo on weapons headed to Sudan's Darfur conflict zone. But the ban does not cover other weapons sales to the Khartoum government or the southern Sudan's autonomous government.

UPDATE2: UN Resolution re arms to Dafur explained here. You can download your very own copies of UN Resolutions 1591 and 1556 here.

UDPATE3: Was the hijacking of this ship an "inside job?" That question posed here:
A MYSTERY grew today as to whether pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian ro-ro last week might have had prior knowledge about the ship's route and cargo of battle tanks – and help in seizing the vessel.

MV Faina, which is carrying a cargo of 33 Ukrainian T-72 tanks and related equipment, was sailing much closer to the Somali shore than security rules dictate when it was boarded by pirates aboard small boats on Friday.

Suspicions also mounted because no convoy or armed guards were protecting the Kenyan-bound vessel.
Makes you go "hmmmmm."

To view earlier posts on this situation, click the "label" MV Faina below.

Strait of Hormuz: More Danger from Iran?

A piece from Asia Times poses some questions about the choke point at the end of the Arabian Gulf here:
The conventional wisdom is that either country would do so by mining the strait, something that happened in the war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s. The conventional American military wisdom has always been that if a country attempted to mine the strait it might cause some short-term disruption, but that US naval assets would clear it in relatively short order.

But a new analysis suggests that the reality is actually more complicated and less sanguine than conventional wisdom suggests. It finds, "The notion that Iran could truly blockade the strait is wrong - but so too is the notion that US operations in response to any Iranian action in the area would be short and simple."

The key question is whether Iran can harass shipping enough to prompt US intervention in defense of the sea lanes. According to Caitlin Talmadge, a political science doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who writes in the current issue of International Security journal, the answer, especially since the United States has long pledged to keep the strait clear, is yes.

Talmadge notes that Iran possesses a larger stockpile of missiles and mines 10 times as powerful as those used in the tanker wars of the 1980s, the last period of sustained naval conflict in the gulf. Even if Iran managed to lay even a relatively small number of these mines the US certainly would act to clear the area. But, she writes, "The experience of past mine-warfare campaigns suggests that it could take many weeks, even months, to restore the full flow of commerce, and more time still for the oil markets to be convinced that stability had returned."

Projections based on past instances of US mine-clearing operations indicate that it could take a month or more to reopen the Strait of Hormuz if Iran were allowed to initiate even a small mine-laying campaign.

Even worse, if the US decided to clear the strait of mines, the potential for further military escalation would be high. In part, this is because United States' mine warfare assets are designed to be used only in non-threatening environments.

Thus, the US would want to locate and destroy any sources of Iranian attack on its mine countermeasure (MCM) ships. Specifically, it would want to eliminate Iran's land-based, anti-ship cruise missile batteries. The aerial hunt for these assets could add days, weeks, or even months to the time needed to clear the strait, and quickly develop into a large and sustained air and naval campaign.
The Caitlin Talmadge article, "Closing Time: Assessing the Iranian Threat to the Strait of Hormuz" can be downloaded in pdf format here

Recommended reading.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Ship History: Andrew Jackson and the Malay Pirates

In the current environment of pirates off the coast of Africa, many people recall President Jefferson sending the U.S. Navy to fight the Barbary pirates. Less well remembered is the action taken against the Malay pirates during the administration of President Andrew Jackson.

As set out here, it began during a time of increasing trade between southeast Asia, Europe and the United States. In 1831, American merchant ships were visiting exotic ports as they engaged in the pepper trade. One port was Quallah Battoo (a/k/a Kuala Batu). One such ship was the merchant vessel Friendship:
Various small trading boats darted back and forth along the coast trading pepper with the merchant ships waiting offshore. On February 7, 1831 the captain of the Friendship went ashore to purchase some pepper from the natives when three boats attacked his ship, massacred the crew, and plundered its cargo. Endicott and a handful of his crew fled to another port with the assistance of a friendly native chief named Po Adam. There they enlisted the help of three other merchant captains. With their help Endicott managed to retake his ship and sailed back to Salem, Massachusetts. Upon reaching Salem there was a general uproar about the massacre and President Andrew Jackson dispatched the frigate USS Potomac under Commodore John Downes to punish the natives for their treachery.
An interesting description of Jackson's foray into Asia is available here in which a comparison is made to the Global War on Terror.

Downes arrived off Sumatra and took action:
The public were unanimous in calling for a redress of the unparalleled outrage on the lives and property of citizens of the United States. The government immediately adopted measures to punish so outrageous an act of piracy by despatching the frigate Potomac, Commodore Downs, Commander. The Potomac sailed from New York the 24th of August, 1831, after touching at Rio Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope. She anchored off Quallah Battoo in February 1832, disguised as a Danish ship, and came to in merchantman style, a few men being sent aloft, dressed in red and blue flannel shirts, and one sail being clewed up and furled at a time. A reconnoitering party were sent on shore disguised as pepper dealers, but they returned without being able to ascertain the situations of the forts. The ship now presented a busy scene; it was determined to commence an attack upon the town the next morning, and every necessary preparation was accordingly made, muskets were cleaned, cartridge-boxes buckled on, cutlasses examined and put in order, &c.

At twelve o'clock at night, all hands were called, those assigned to take part in the expedition were mustered, when Lieut. Shubrick, the commander of the detachment, gave them special orders; when they entered the boats and proceeded to the shore, where they effected a landing near the dawn of day, amid a heavy surf, about a mile and a half to the north of the town, undiscovered by the enemy, and without any serious accident having befallen them, though several of the party were thoroughly drenched by the beating of the surf, and some of their ammunition was injured.

The troops then formed and took up their line of march against the enemy, over a beach of deep and heavy sand. They had not proceeded far before they were discovered by a native at a distance, who ran at full speed to give the alarm. A rapid march soon brought them up with the first fort, when a division of men, under the command of Lieut. Hoff, was detached from the main body, and ordered to surround it. The first fort was found difficult of access, in consequence of a deep hedge of thorn-bushes and brambles with which it was environed. The assault was commenced by the pioneers, with their crows and axes, breaking down the gates and forcing a passage. This was attended with some difficulty, and gave the enemy time for preparation. They raised their warwhoop, and resisted most manfully, fighting with spears, sabres, and muskets. They had also a few brass pieces in the fort, but they managed them with so little skill as to produce no effect, for the balls uniformly whizzed over the heads of our men. The resistance of the Malays was in vain, the fort was stormed, and soon carried; not, however, till almost every individual in it was slain. Po Mahomet, a chief of much distinction, and who was one of the principal persons concerned in the outrage on the Friendship was here slain; the mother of Chadoolah, another rajah, was also slain here; another woman fell at this port, but her rank was not ascertained; she fought with the spirit of a desperado. A seaman had just scaled one of the ramparts, when he was severely wounded by a blow received from a weapon in her hands, but her life paid the forfeit of her daring, for she was immediately transfixed by a bayonet in the hands of the person whom she had so severely injured. His head was wounded by a javelin, his thumb nearly cut off by a sabre, and a ball was shot through his hat.

Lieutenants Edson and Ferret proceeded to the rear of the town, and made a bold attack upon that fort, which, after a spirited resistance on the part of the Malays, surrendered. Both officers and marines here narrowly escaped with their lives. One of the natives in the fort had trained his piece in such a manner as to rake their whole body, when he was shot down by a marine while in the very act of applying a match to it. The cannon was afterwards found to have been filled with bullets. This fort, like the former, was environed with thick jungle, and great difficulty had been experienced in entering it. The engagement had now become general, and the alarm universal. Men, women and children were seen flying in every direction, carrying the few articles they were able to seize in the moments of peril, and some of the men were cut down in the flight. Several of the enemy's proas, filled with people, were severely raked by a brisk fire from the six pounder, as they were sailing up the river to the south of the town, and numbers of the natives were killed. The third and most formidable fort was now attacked, and it proved the most formidable, and the co-operation of the several divisions was required for its reduction; but so spirited was the fire poured into it that it was soon obliged to yield, and the next moment the American colors were seen triumphantly waving over its battlements. The greater part of the town was reduced to ashes. The bazaar, the principal place of merchandize, and most of the private dwellings were consumed by fire. The triumph had now been completed over the Malays; ample satisfaction had been taken for their outrages committed upon our own countrymen, and the bugle sounded the return of the ship's forces; and the embarkation was soon after effected. The action had continued about two hours and a half, and was gallantly sustained both by officers and men, from its commencement to its close. The loss on the part of the Malays was near a hundred killed, while of the Americans only two lost their lives. Among the spoils were a Chinese gong, a Koran, taken at Mahomet's fort, and several pieces of rich gold cloth. Many of the men came off richly laden with spoils which they had taken from the enemy, such as rajah's scarfs, gold and silver chunam boxes, chains, ear rings and finger rings, anklets and bracelets, and a variety of shawls, krisses richly hilted and with gold scabbards, and a variety of other ornaments. Money to a considerable amount was brought off. That nothing should be left undone to have an indelible impression on the minds of these people, of the power of the United States to inflict punishment for aggressions committed on her commerce, in seas however distant, the ship was got underway the following morning, and brought to, with a spring on her cable, within less than a mile of the shore, when the larboard side was brought to bear nearly upon the site of the town. The object of the Commodore, in this movement, was not to open an indiscriminate or destructive fire upon the town and inhabitants of Quallah Battoo, but to show them the irresistible power of thirty-two pound shot, and to reduce the fort of Tuca de Lama, which could not be reached on account of the jungle and stream of water, on the morning before, and from which a fire had been opened and continued during the embarkation of the troops on their return to the ship. The fort was very soon deserted, while the shot was cutting it to pieces, and tearing up whole cocoa-trees by the roots. In the afternoon a boat came off from the shore, bearing a flag of truce to the Commodore, beseeching him, in all the practised forms of submission of the east, that he would grant them peace, and cease to fire his big guns. Hostilities now ceased, and the Commodore informed them that the objects of his government in sending him to their shores had now been consummated in the punishment of the guilty, who had committed their piracies on the Friendship. Thus ended the intercourse with Quallah Battoo. The Potomac proceeded from this place to China, and from thence to the Pacific Ocean; after looking to the interests of the American commerce in those parts she arrived at Boston in 1834, after a three years' absence.
A book detailing the voyage of Potomac is available here. This book Cruise of the United States Ship Potomac Around the World is interesting for its details of what has been called the "first US military intervention in Asia" - though not it is not necessarily viewed as a tempered response to a pirate attack on a merchant ship (although the source of the comment needs to be considered):
The first US military intervention in Asia took place in 1832. The year before, some Sumatrans temporarily seized an American merchant vessel, looting it and killing three of its sailors.[8] The captain of the vessel has claimed that those responsible were drug addicts attracted to the ship's 12 chests of opium; but historians note that there was strong evidence that the seizure was brought about by US merchants cheating the Indonesians.[9] In any event, Washington dispatched a naval vessel, whose captain, without bothering to find out the facts of the incident, set the town of Kuala Batu on fire after plundering it, and slaughtered somewhere between 60 and upwards of 150 people, including non-combatants.
Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr, also cites the operation as an example of The Imperial Presidency (he also considered Jefferson's dispatch of ship to take on the Barbary pirates as such). To his credit, Schlesinger notes that research on occasions of the President ordering military action most often involve action against non-governmental entities taken to protect American citizens (p.52). Such might have been the case with Kuala Batu, except that Schlesinger finds Commodore Downes exceeded the instructions given to him by the President and the Secretary of the Navy.

Downes's actions when they became known, provoked a mini-uproar about what instructions he had received, with Jackson, in essence, being forced to defend acts that he seems to have disagreed with. Downes was not promoted further.

However the United States government may have viewed Downes's assault on the pirate community, it did not stop further attacks by Malay pirates on U.S. ships and further military action was required. There were underlying matters of international intrigue being played out, as is noted here, but the injection of a British steam powered warships seems to have slowed piracy down substantially. The same author notes that the attack on Kuala Batu did not earn the same level of fame as the attacks in Tripoli against those Barbary pirates, though the Marines have offered up it up as part of their proud history:
Daring death and danger is an old story to the U. S. Marines, who have landed on foreign soil at least 200 times on errands for Uncle Sam.

They claim to have unfurled their flag "to every breeze from dawn to setting sun," and that is no idle boast. Often their landings were accompanied by enough thrills to last a lifetime.

Such a landing was made at Quallah Battoo in Sumatra in 1832 for the purpose of bringing to terms some Malay pirates who had robbed an American ship and murdered some of the crew.

Three Forces Formed--In the early morning a landing party of bluejackets and marines rowed ashore and, dividing their forces into three parties, one group attacked the first stronghold, blowing up the stockade gate and meeting the Malays in hand-to-hand conflict. The enemy fought to the death.

One by one three other fortresses were captured during the five hours of bitter fighting required to bring the natives to terms. The affair ended when a delegation of native chiefs made a plea for peace.
History, after all, is usually written by the victors...

You might be interested in this rendition of Malay pirates, which is part of a larger work on pirates of by-gone times.

Red blob on map is general area of Kuala Batu.

Somali Pirates: Under the Eyes of the U.S. Navy

NavCent press release here :
MANAMA, Bahrain - The U.S. 5th Fleet continues to actively monitor the situation with Motor Vessel Faina, the Belize-flagged cargo ship, which was captured Sept. 25.

San Diego-based destroyer USS Howard (DDG 83) is on station and is in visual range of MV Faina, which is anchored off the Somalia coast near the harbor city of Hobyo.

"Howard is on-station," said Cmdr. Curtis Goodnight, Howard Commanding Officer. "My crew is actively monitoring the situation, keeping constant watch on the vessel and the waters in the immediate vicinity."

Two other pirated vessels, MV Capt Stefanos and MV Centauri, are also anchored at this location.

This incident highlights the complexity of the situation in the region. MV Faina is owned and operated by "Kaalybe Shipping Ukraine," and is carrying a cargo of T-72 tanks and related equipment. Its crew is comprised of citizens from Ukraine, Russia and Latvia. There is no indication that the ship had a security team aboard.

Howard is part of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to conduct Maritime Security Operations (MSO).

MSO help develop security in the maritime environment. From security arises stability that results in global economic prosperity. MSO complements the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations and seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.
U.S. Navy photos showing pirate boats around Fainna and pirates on board the captured ship. Click on the photos to enlarge.

UPDATE: Pirates reduce ransom demand and one crewman has died as set out here:
As a heavily armed U.S. freighter patrolled nearby and planes flew overhead, a Somali pirate spokesman told The Associated Press his group was demanding a $20 million ransom to release a cargo ship loaded with Russian tanks.

The spokesman also warned that the pirates would fight to the death if any country tried military action to regain the ship, and a man who said he was the ship's captain reported that one crew member had died.
In a rare gesture of cooperation, the Americans appeared to be keeping an eye on the Faina until the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, reaches the area. The Russian ship was still somewhere in the Atlantic on Sunday, the Russian navy reported.

Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said he was speaking Sunday from the deck of the Faina via a satellite phone — and verified his location by handing the phone over to the ship's captain, who also spoke with the AP. It was not possible to further confirm their identities.

"We want ransom, nothing else. We need $20 million for the safe release of the ship and the crew," Ali said, adding that "if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves until the last one of us dies."
I have my doubts about the part about waiting for the Russian ship unless that's at the request of the government of the Ukraine, which is, after all, an independent nation, not part of Russia.

UPDATE: Arrows on map show locations where pirates are taking captured ships - Eyl is pointed to by the upper arrow, Hobyo by the lower.

UPDATE2: Some controversy over exactly where those tanks were headed:
The fate of the crew and cargo intercepted by pirates off Somalia remained in doubt last night even as fresh controversy emerged over the destination of the military hardware.

Military and diplomatic sources claimed the hardware was destined for Southern Sudan.

Sudan faces United Nations’ arms embargo, which Kenya is a signatory, and also guarantor to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended war between the South and the North after 25 years.

The claims were rebuffed by Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua who termed the assertion as "misleading and aimed at diverting the attention from Kenya to another country".

"There has been propaganda by the pirates that the weapons are not for the Kenyan military," read the statement posted online.

Mutua said efforts to secure the ship hijacked two days ago were going on. He maintained that the Government was not in contact with the pirates.

"The Government advises media to be cautious about being used by terrorists," he said.
UPDATE3: Pirates offloading portable weapons? See here:
Islamist extremists prepared last night to unload rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns from a Ukrainian freighter seized by Somali pirates even as foreign warships surrounded the vessel.
“The Islamists have sent pick-ups from Mogadishu to go and collect the gear,” said an analyst with a network of Somali informers. “There's not much they can do with the tanks — they can't get them off — but the rest of the weapons they are trying to move ashore.”

Somalia's insurgents have made a series of impressive gains in recent weeks. They now control the port city of Kismayo and have armed and equipped pirate gangs as part of a campaign to control the seas.

Kenya's Government said that it was awaiting the weaponry aboard the ship, but similar shipments in the past have been sent on to southern Sudan.

Witnesses on the Somali coast said that the navy ships were using loudspeakers warning the pirates not to attempt to unload the cargo. A tribal chief and local fishermen about 250 miles north of Mogadishu said that they had seen the MV Faina near at least two ships.

“The pirates are now surrounded near the village of Hinbarwaqo by Western ships. They asked individuals in charge of the hijacking of the Ukrainian ship to come aboard the navy ship for talks,” said a local clan elder.
More here:
Controversy is looming over seized Ukrainian vessel carrying military equipment with fresh reports indicating that the arsenal was destined for south Sudan and not the Kenyan military.

Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program said on Sunday the Somali pirates claim to be in possession of confidential documents showing that the arms were actually destined for southern Sudan and not Kenya.

Mwangura said that the hijacked ship-MV Faina was ferrying the fourth such consignment from Ukrainian to southern Sudan.

"One of the cargo arrived at the port of Mombasa in October last year, two in February this year. The seized load of 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and some ammunition was the fourth cargo with military equipment for southern Sudan," Mwangura told Xinhua by telephone on Sunday.
It should be noted that the Chinese government strongly leans in favor of the government of Sudan to which it sells arms (see here). There is a lot going on here in the international politics arena.

UPDATE4: You might find this on "flags of convenience" interesting. The Faina is Ukrainian owned, Belize registered.

Earlier posts here and here and by hitting "label" MV Faina.

UPDATE5: A report that the pirates now demand only $5 million here. I suggest holding out until the pirates are willing to pay $2 million...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Somali Pirates and the Iranian "Mystery Ship"

Galrahn recently (9/24) posted about the mysterious Iranian ship Deyanat. His post contains some interesting speculation but I am not sure we know enough yet to be ranging too far into "what it might mean."

I reported on the seizure with the mystery cargo early on (see here, here), followed up with a link to the Long War Journal post before Galrahn set out his take on the story.

Note that the initial report here mentions "arms." The Long War Journal refers to mysterious deaths among the pirates:
Within days, pirates who had boarded the ship developed strange health complications, skin burns and loss of hair. Independent sources tell The Long War Journal that a number of pirates have also died. "Yes, some of them have died. I do not know exactly how many but the information that I am getting is that some of them have died," Andrew Mwangura, Director of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, said Friday when reached by phone in Mombasa.

News about the illness and the toxic cargo quickly reached Garowe, seat of the government for the autonomous region of Puntland. Angered over the wave of piracy and suspicious about the Iranian ship, authorities dispatched a delegation led by Minister of Minerals and Oil Hassan Allore Osman to investigate the situation on September 4. Osman also confirmed to The Long War Journal that during the six days he negotiated with the pirates members of the syndicate had become sick and died. "That ship is unusual," he said. "It is not carrying a normal shipment."
I distrust first reports, especially partial first reports and I have taken a "wait and see" position on this particular ship. It does seem odd that the pirates report death and illness, but there are no reports of health issues with the crew...

Galrahn does offer up the possibility of a Russian rescue of the Iranian ship, based on early reports of Russian ships headed to the area.

I note that the Russians are sending a single frigate to join ( or parallel) the international coalition formed into CTF 150 patrolling the area. The Malaysians are sending 3 ships to do the same and the Indians are thinking of sending a ship or two. This just seems like the way the fight against piracy ought to work- nations affected by disturbances in this chokepoint with the capability to respond ought to be involved and not relying on others to protect their sea lines of communication.

It seems to me, at first blush, to be very speculative that the Russians are going to deal with either an Iranian ship or a Belize flagged Ukrainian ship in which they have no known interest. Especially with one frigate.

But it is, as I've said before, a situation worth keeping an eye on.

Ship photo from Shipspotting.com credited to Reinier Meuleman. Larger image available there.

Somalia: $35 million demand for ship full of tanks?

An alleged ransom demand for the Kenya bound Ukrainian ship reported here:
A man claiming to speak for pirates holding a Ukrainian ship laden with tanks said Saturday that they want US$35 million for its release. It was not immediately possible to confirm the claim by Ali Yare Abdulkadir, or his status.

Speaking by telephone with The Associated Press, he said the pirates want to negotiate with the Kenyan government, and he warned against any military action to release the ship.

He would not reveal his whereabouts. The tanks aboard the ship, which was hijacked Thursday, were ordered by Kenya. Kenyan Defense Department spokesman Bogita Ongeri said on Saturday that Kenyan authorities have had no contact with the pirates who seized the vessel and its cargo, and have not received any demands for ransom.

Ongeri said that the Ukrainian vessel was seized in international waters in the Gulf of Aden. He said that the pirates hijacked the ship beyond 200 nautical miles (230 miles, 370 kilometers), away from the coast of the northeastern Somali region of Puntland. Two hundred nautical miles in maritime law mark the end of a country's territorial waters.

Ukraine's defense chief said Friday that the Faina was carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts. Russia's navy said it dispatched a warship to the area, and the United States said U.S naval ships were monitoring the situation.
Another report on this ship contained in this:
A man who spoke to the Associated Press in Somalia by telephone and claimed to be a spokesman for the pirates said they were seeking a ransom.

"We want the Kenyan government to negotiate with us about a $35 million ransom we want for the release of the ship and the cargo without any other intervention," said the man, who identified himself as Ali Yare Abdulkadir. "If not, we will do what we can and off load the small arms and take them away."

Abdulkadir, who local residents in the northeastern Somali region of Puntland said represented the pirates, declined to reveal his whereabouts. He said the ship is somewhere along Somalia's northeastern coast and warned against any military action to liberate it.

"Any one who tries it will be responsible for the consequences," Abdulkadir said.

A Russian Web site posted on Saturday what it said was an audio recording of a telephone conversation the Ukrainian ship's first mate. He said the hijackers are seeking a ransom and have anchored close to the Somali shore.

There was no way to immediately confirm the authenticity of the report on Web site Life.ru. Calls to the phone number listed on the site went to an answering machine at the publisher of two established tabloids that have reportedly reliably on news in the past — one of them also called Life.

On the recording, a man who identified himself as first mate Vladimir Nikolsky said the hijackers were asking for a ransom but he did not know how much. Life.ru showed images of what it said were the Russian passports for both Nikolsky and the ship's captain, Vladimir Kolobkov.

Nikolsky said the Faina was anchored near the Somali town of Hobyo and that two other apparently hijacked ships were nearby. Most of the 35 people on the ship — 21 of them crew — were being kept in a single room, he added.

Ukrainian officials had said there were 21 people aboard — 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and a Latvian.

Nobody aboard the Faina was injured, but the captain was suffering from heatstroke and his condition was "not so good," the man identified as Nikolsky said. It was unclear exactly when the purported conversation took place.
UPDATE: A U.S. Navy destroyer seems to be keeping an eye on the Faina, as set out here:
A U.S. defense official said the destroyer USS Howard is pursuing the hijacked Ukrainian vessel and is now within a few thousand yards of it. The hijacked ship is anchored a few miles off the Somalia coast, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the situation.

The destroyer is watching to make sure the pirates do not try to remove anything, the official added.
Howard website. Post on Russian frigate enroute here. It won't be in the area for a couple of days...

UPDATE2: In the meantime, a Japanese ships has been released after a $2 million dollar ransom payment, according to this.

UPDATE3: And an Egytian ship also has been released.

UPDATE4: The Kenyans, for whom the tanks were intended, have apparently dispatched their navy toward the captured Ro-Ro as set out here:
All branches of the Kenyan Armed Forces were on full alert on Sunday night and heading for a showdown with the pirates who seized a cargo ship carrying battle tanks for the army.

The Navy put to sea and was racing to take up position in a joint operation to recover the hijacked Ukrainian cargo vessel, which was also carrying arms and ammunition.

“All branches of the military are working with partners to solve the problem,” said a senior government official, who did not wish to be quoted discussing an ongoing, security operation.

The official would not say which units were involved and what actions they were taking.

The Forces were ordered into action even as a heavily armed Russian warship entered Somalia waters and was preparing to rescue the crew of 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and a Latvian aboard the hijacked ship, the MV Faina.

A United States warship was also in the area and said by Pentagon officials to be tracking both the Faina and the Russian missile frigate, the Neustrashimy.
UPDATE5: Yet more reportage here:
Warning France and the United States, which have warships in the area the Faina was seized - in the Gulf of Aden as it opens into the Indian Ocean - the pirate spokesman said: "Anything that happens is their responsibility."

He said the ship's crew initially fought against the pirate assault, but the attackers, estimated to have been about 100-strong, eventually succeeded in using "tactical manoeuvres" to overpower the crew.

An aide to the Faina's captain told a Moscow news service in a satellite call from the ship's bridge that the vessel is anchored offshore, as the pirates await answers to their ransom demand, and that none of the crew had been injured in the attack or subsequently harmed.
"Tactical manoeuvers" - heh.

UPDATE5: Pirates have released a Malaysian ship for a $2 million dollar ransom.