Monday, February 28, 2011

Somali Pirates: Hijack Danish Family Including 3 Children

BBC reports Somali pirates 'seize Danish children' in Indian Ocean:
Three Danish children and their parents have been snatched by pirates who hijacked their sailing boat in the Indian Ocean, Danish officials say.

Denmark's foreign ministry said the children were aged between 12 and 16, and that two Danish crew members were also captured during the attack.

Pirates seized the boat on 24 February and were said to be heading to Somalia.
The foreign ministry told the AP news agency that the ship sent a distress signal on Thursday: "It has now been confirmed that the sailboat was hijacked by pirates."

The Danes are be the second group of non-commercial sailors seized by pirates in recent weeks.
This is not the time to debate the wisdom of sailing into a known danger zone with your family. Instead, the discussion ought to be about whether the pirates have enough compassion to free the family and, if they don't, what steps need to be taken to (a) get the family released alive or (b) punitive measures to be employed if any harm is done to these and other hostage.

Somali Pirates: Merchant Ship Pirated in North Arabian Sea

EUNAVFOR MSC(HOA) reports MV DOVER pirated in the North Arabian Sea:
At approximately 0600Z on 28 February, the Bulk Cargo Carrier MV DOVER was pirated approximately 260 nautical miles North East of Salalah in the North Arabian Sea.

The Panamanian flagged, Greek owned vessel was on its way to Saleef (Yemen) from Port Quasim (Pakistan) when it was attacked. Details of the attack are not known at this time. The MV DOVER has a crew of 23 (3 Romanian, 1 Russian and 19 Filipinos). There is presently no communication with the vessel and no information regarding the condition of the crew.
NATO Shipping Center report:
February 28, 2011
Latitude: 18°48N Longitude: 058°52E
Alert number 101 / 2011.
At 0606Z UTC / 28 FEB 11 / a merchant vessel was attacked by pirates in position 18°48N 058°25E.
Pirates boarded vessel.
The Pirate action group is still in the area.

Somali Pirates: Madagascar Navy Rescues Pirated Vessal

Following up on a previous post, it's good to note that Madagascar's navy has pulled to shore a Somali pirate "mother ship" along with some hungry pirates, terrorized and abused hostages and crew, as reported in Madagascar navy rescues pirate-seized vessel:
Madagascar's navy Sunday towed into Antsiranana port a hijacked Comoros-flagged vessel almost a week after its captain and two suspected pirates arrived on the island to seek help, an official said.

The MV Zoulfikar was captured by Somali pirates in November while on its way to Tanzania from the Comoros. It had 29 people on board -- 20 passengers and nine crew.

On Monday, six people arrived on a small boat at Madagascar's northern Antsiranana port to seek help. Among them were the MV Zoulfikar's captain and two Somalis suspected to be pirates.

All the six were detained for investigation.

"It was a rescue operation. There were no clashes. The suspected pirates were not armed and they gave themselves up immediately," Rolland Rasolofonirina, the coordinator of Madagascar's anti-piracy efforts told AFP.

"There were 37 people on board, 12 of whom are suspected pirates. The 25 passengers are from Madagascar, Tanzania and the Comoros and three of them are women," Rasolofonirina said.

The three women, weakened by their four months in the hands of the pirates, were given medical treatment as soon as they were transferred to the Madagascar rescue boat.

All of those aboard are being detained by the authorities in Antsiranana's military port.

"We are in the process of deciding on the procedure to be followed ... so that prosecutions can take place," Rasolofonirina said.
Lots of witnesses. Should make for a short trial and long sentences.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fearless Navy Bloggers Take to the Air: Defense Against Piracy

Sunday at 5pm (U.S. Eastern) on Midrats we're going to be talking piracy Episode 60 Defense Against Piracy Tactical Operational 2/27/2011 - Midrats:

Join Navy milbloggers Sal from "CDR Salamander" and EagleOne from "Eagle Speak" as they discuss the tactical and operational steps mariners can take to defend themselves and their ships from pirates - and if their ship is taken - what they can do to best enable coalition forces to re-take the ship. Our guest will Kevin Doherty, former Marine and owner of Nexus Consulting Group of Alexandria.
Former Bad Guys

The Bad Guys

Shipping and Port Security: Drugs and Radioactive Material

Port of Genoa
Interesting book review from the Wall Street Journal on drug smuggling Book Review: I Am the Market. The bottom line appears to be that familiar theme: "If it is financially lucrative enough, drug smugglers will find a way."

This book highlights some of the ways.

Which ought to be a warning about smuggling other stuff.

Recently a reader (thanks, Russ!) sent along an article about a shipping container full of radioactive stuff sitting on a pier in Genoa, Italy. See Italy Seeks Way to Dispose of Radioactive Container:
Italian authorities are looking for a way of disposing of a container containing radioactive material that has been sitting on the dock at the port of Genoa for more than six months.

Coffee bags in container -what else could be in there?
According to news reports, the container arrived from Saudi Arabia on July 20, 2010, but later yard workers discovered it was radioactive. One report said the container held radioactive cobalt.

Italian security officials have approached the problem warily because it is unknown whether or not the container is a terrorist weapon. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., security officials have warned about a “nuke in the box,” a nuclear or radiological weapon delivered through the supply chain.
This is not a new problem - back in 2005, a shipment was returned from Italy to Morocco because it tripped radiation dectectors.

The key question, however, is that implied in a report found at Seaport Security News:
Last year, a shipping container made its way from Saudi Arabia to a dock in Genoa, Italy where it sat idle for several days until dock workers discovered by accident during a “technical review” of the terminal that the container was radioactive. It has been six months since the radioactive container was discovered and it still has not been deactivated. They are currently exploring different methods to deactivate the container, including a robot due to the unknown threat of the materials. They are estimating that the cost of remedying this situation will be €800K, perhaps €1M.
How did this stuff ever make in onto a ship in Saudi Arabia?

Suppose the worst fears of the Italian authorities were realized - that this container contains some sort of "dirty bomb" - and that the trigger was not set for Italy, but for some vital marine chokepoint or other area where it could inflict mass casualties and enduring radiation.

Port of Genoa
Take a look at the original Italian article on this container (Google translation):
A container of radioactive 100 meters distance deliver values five times higher than the "natural background" (those that normally are found). E 'detention in port of Voltri since July, when the alarm went off during a technical review of the Terminal: The Indicators of instruments dedicated to the research of radioactive material went wild, the place was called the fire department and the experts of the Company Regional. The container was isolated, away from the heart of port activities and placed on a pier of the "Sixth Form", pending remedial measures - was guaranteed - would have been very rapid. After six months of strikes and disputes, and city workers are still waiting.

The Technical Unit Complex Regional dell'Arpal has always ensured that the radioactive emissions are not high, but has suggested "appropriate care". It was the Special Unit of Bacteria-Chemical-Radioactive firefighters to identify the nature of the material: cobalt-60, coming from a "source" used by health care facilities to cobalt, or from industries that perform nondestructive testing on metals, ie radiographs. The container had arrived by ship to Genoa from Jeddah - Saudi Arabia - with a stopover in the port of Gioia Tauro. C Official Content ferrous materials, and was landed at the Vte July 14.
Cobalt 60 has a 5 year half life (see Testimony of Dr. Henry Kelly, President, Federation of American Scientists before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, March 6, 2002), and may be a lesser concern than some other radioactive materials, but it is still a concern.

Cobalt 60 Cancer Treatment Device
Cobalt 60 is used in machines designed to kill cancer by focusing the radiation. When these machines are old, they are sometimes scraped without removing the Colbalt 60. See here.

So the real question is - why did it take so long to detect the radiation? What does this say about port security in Saudi Arabia? Were the shipping documents falsified? Was anyone paid off to allow this shipment? What other shipments of hazardous materials would a small bit of Bakeesh allow to go unchecked?

Once again, drug smugglers may help us get a handle on what doors need to be closed to prevent the shipping of potentially terrorist materials.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Where the Somali Pirates Operate and Why

Some people ask, "How do the Somali pirates know where the ships they hijack are going to be?"

There have been allegations of the selling of sailing plans by industry insiders to Somali pirate spies. Not much evidence has been proffered to support that theory, but there may be some truth in it. Another allegation is that the pirates are using Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals to track targets. Others assert intercepted radio signals are being used. All of these assertions may be true in part.

I would argue, however, that the most common way Somali pirates find ships is by the pirates planting themselves on known shipping lanes. Here, let me illustrate:

First, from the ICC CSS/IMB Live Piracy Map 2011, a look at attacks so far in 2010:
Then, from a draft EU MSC(HOA) and ISAF yachting safety guide (see here), a "snapshot" of 2010 shipping in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea area:
 See the major shipping lanes?

Now, with a little Photoshop magic, I combine the two (as well as I can, given the scales and other differences):

What do you end up with? It shouldn't be a surprise - the pirates mostly attack shipping in the heavily trafficked shipping lanes.

Which answers the "where." The "why" is answered by that old Willie Sutton line about why he robbed banks, "because that's where the money is."

Apply "Sutton's Law" to the Somali pirates and the "why" question about where they strike is evident. "That's where the ships are."

Now, how do counter-pirate forces find the pirates who are going to attack ships? Figure it out for yourself. It's not complicated.

Somali Pirates: Guidance to Yachts by EUNAVFOR and ISAF

Last year, the EU's MSC(HOA) and the International Sailing Federation teamed up to produce some guidelines for yachts contemplating transiting the Indian Ocean into the Gulf of Aden. The final version of that effort can be found at Yachting Guidance One (or from MSC(HOA) here). The essence of the good advice is "don't do it":
The danger of piracy and consequent loss of life and property in the GoA (Gulf of Aden), Yemeni and the Somali waters (up to 750 miles offshore), is high. Yachts are strongly recommended to avoid the area.
Of interest to me are a couple of differences between the draft guidelines and what ended up being finalized.

In the draft were two illustrations that show (1) a "snapshot" of the main sea lanes being used by shipping traffic in 2010

Source: EUNAVFOR (click to enlarge)

and (2) the spread of Somali piracy.

Source: EUNAVFOR (click to enlarge)

 The expansion of Somali piracy and the recent hijacking of an American yacht with the subsequent killings of the yacht owners and guests, has caused some yacht owners to load their yachts on larger merchant ships for transport to the Mediterranean:
The dangers of piracy are well-known to most experienced sailors, who monitor reports of attacks closely and often travel in groups through high-risk areas. But the killings have stunned the tiny, tight-knit international community of "blue water" sailors—adventurers and serious sea men and women who sail the globe for years at a time.

Now, many are changing course to avoid parts of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, others are scrambling to arrange transportation for their yachts on cargo ships. Some are demanding government action against the pirates, or escorts across dangerous waters.

"We cannot allow a bunch of thugs to take an entire ocean away from the world. Ignoring this will be disrespecting the deaths of the crew of Quest," said Mr. Rouse, the Texan from his yacht, Bebe, anchored off of Cochin, India. (emphasis added)
Well, Mr. Rouse, apparently we are having trouble not allowing the thugs to have their way.

Somali Pirates: Piracy Alerts and Warnings (25 Feb 11)

From NATO's Shipping Centre: SOMALIA PIRACY UPDATE 25 February 2011:
Regarding all of the following warnings: Vessels are advised to use EXTREME CAUTION when navigating within 100NM of the positions in these warnings and maintain maximum CPA to all vessels acting suspiciously

Alert Number 099/2011
February 25,2011
Latitude: 11°41N Longitude: 061°29E
At 0952 UTC / 25 FEB 11 / a merchant vessel was reported under attack by 2 skiffs in position 11°41N 061°29E
Mother vessel reported, 1 skiff with 5 POB attacked the vessel, small arms and rockets fired.
***This vessel managed to evade hijack***

The Pirate action group is still in the area.
Alert Number 098/2011
February 25, 2011
Latitude: 14°37N Longitude: 058°40E
At 0829 UTC / 25 FEB 11 / a merchant vessel was reported under attack by 1 mother vessel and 1 skiff in position 1437N 05840E.
Mother vessel reported, 1 skiff with 5 POB attacked the vessel, small arms and rockets fired.
***This vessel managed to evade hijack*** The Pirate action group is still in the area.
Alert Number 097/2011
February 25, 2011
Latitude: 14°46N Longitude: 058°39E
At 0530 UTC / 25 feb 11 / a merchant vessel was reported under attack by 1 mother vessel and 1 skiff in position 1446N 05839E.
Mother vessel orange and blue, skiff white with 6POB, rocket fired.
***This vessel managed to evade hijack*** The Pirate action group is still in the area.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Somali Pirates: Pirates Looking for Fuel and Food in Madagascar

Interesting sea tale about a couple of Somali pirates and some of their hostages who were caught in Madagascar looking for fuel and food for a Comoros cattle carrier being used as a pirate "mother ship" found here. Google translation:
Accompanied by a Malagasy hostage, two Somali pirates aboard a speedboat landed Monday morning at the port of Antsiranana to stock up on fuel, spare parts and supplies. This information was revealed by coastguards Madagascar.

Both Somali pirates are coming from a band that has captured the Indian ship MV Ali Zoulfikar November 3, 2010, off Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), with its 29 crew members, including 4 Malagasy. After the attack, the ship carrying a cargo of cattle, served as a platform to Somali pirates off the coast north of Madagascar. According to the coastguard Malagasy, the Zoulfikar crashed in recent weeks on the high seas, following the bad weather caused by Hurricane Bingiza. Similarly, its occupants were short of food and water.

On board a speedboat, two Somali pirates, along with their hostages, in this case, two Comoros (the captain Soulihi Boinaheri), a Tanzanian and a Malagasy called Dodo Leonard (born in Mahajanga) decide to join the city of Antsiranana (Diego-Suarez) to look for supplies. Thus they were intercepted by the Coast Guard Madagascar.

The Malagasy authorities are preparing today for the release of twenty other hostages remained onboard Zoulfikar. A rescue operation that promises to be at high risk for twelve other pirates would be present on board the ship.
A part of the AFP version:
Madagascan authorities launched a search Thursday for a pirated Comoros-flagged vessel after the ship's captain and two suspected pirates arrived at the Indian Ocean island's shores to seek help.

The MV Zoulfikar was captured by Somali pirates in November while on its way to Tanzania from the Comoros. It had 29 people on board.

On Monday, a total of six people arrived on a small boat at Madagascar's northern Antsiranana port town to seek help. Among them were the MV Zoulfikar's captain and two Somalis suspected to be pirates.

All the six were detained for investigation.

"We have not found the boat. We have circled in planes but we have not spotted anything," said Rolland Rasolofonirina, the coordinator of Madagascar's anti-piracy efforts.
The arrival of the suspected pirates has baffled Madagascan officials as the sea bandits, who now prowl as far south as near Madagascar and the Seychelles, never dock at shores where they can be arrested.

"We are really surprised. It is the first time we are seeing suspected pirates giving themselves up to authorities," said Rasolofonirina.
Any port after a storm, I suppose.

If you missed the news about a cyclone near Madagascar, NATO has information:
The after effects of last week’s cyclone in the southern Indian Ocean continue to adversely affect the southern and central Somali Basin as well as the Somali Coast, though conditions are set to improve from 21 Feb onwards.
I guess this saga counts as an "after effect."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coast Guard Ice Rescues Rewarded

With recognition as "Shipmate of the Week," a special airboat ice rescue crew gets noticed:
Ice. Freezing temperatures. Blinding conditions. These are hostile environments to perform the Coast Guard’s missions, but for the men and women of the Great Lakes, it just comes with the territory. A Coast Guard Station Marblehead airboat crew faced these very conditions as they hit the ice to rescue stranded and disoriented fishermen on Lake Erie. The conditions were certainly not ideal, but by day’s end, the airboat crew would ensure 22 fishermen had made it off the ice.
Well Done! to Coast Guardsmen Airboat coxswain Petty Officer 2nd Class James Hassinger and his crew of Petty Officer 2nd Class Gregory Penny, Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Woodring and Seaman David Contreras.

"Combatting Piracy in International Waters"

From the computers of James Kraska (U.S. Naval War College) and Brian Wilson (U.S. Navy Attorney) and found at the World Policy Institute blog: Combatting Piracy in International Waters:
We face an ocean of problems. Naval air and sea operations by even the most capable maritime powers have been unable to slow Somali piracy because they cannot prosecute the endgame. Piracy thus flourishes at the seams of globalization because jurisdiction is unclear and pirates exploit the inherent isolation of individual vessels and nations.
In this setting, international law is more important than adding another warship to the equation—it has become the most effective force multiplier for developing and maintaining maritime security. A truly international process would create a network of interested states that could begin to co- ordinate in real time, working effectively across legal and jurisdictional lines of demarcation to bring collective action against this threat. Long-term maritime security capacity building will make the coordination even more effective. Only greater collaboration and the rule of law will calm the dangerous waters off the Horn of Africa. In the words of Tony Blair: “Our ultimate weapon is not our guns, but our beliefs.” History tells us that piracy along the Somali coast will ultimately subside. Returning to these placid waters, however, requires adaptability, partnering, innovation, and leadership.
Yes, well, the biggest word in the English language is "if" and this article, while valuable, is another "if" effort.

"If" examples from the piece:
"While it is impossible to eradicate maritime piracy completely, the threat can be greatly reduced if we broaden efforts to work with international partners."

"The ability to deal successfully with Somalia’s maritime pirates would improve if the country is stabilized under a responsible government."

"If nations in East Africa develop the legal architecture to deal with piracy, including adequate lawyers, courtrooms, and confinement facilities, they will be more willing and better able to enforce the maritime rule of law in the neighborhood."

Such aspirations of international comity and cooperation always remind me of the problem of mice deciding they would be safe "if" only someone would agree to take the lead in "belling the cat.".

Oh, and, by the way, the Blackwater anti-pirate ship mentioned in the piece no longer exists. Blackwater is now "Xe" and the ship never found gainful employment. Not to fault the authors, because they may have written this piece some time before it was placed on the blog where it resides, but somebody should have fact checked a little.

Despite the demise of Blackwater and its ship, there are a number of active private security companies offering counter-piracy services in the Gulf of Aden/Indian Ocean area and another large number of enterprises offering various forms of defensive tools to ship owner/operators ranging from sonic pirate busters (LRAD) to barbed wire with which to "armor" a merchant ship. I think I've even seen an ad for some sort of boiling oil dispenser, but I might have that slightly wrong.

In any event, the authors raise many good points, full of hope that a coalition of willing pirate fighters might quell the threat raised by Somali pirates. Perhaps I am too cynical, but in my experience, the trouble with coalition warfare is a coalition does not always act like united command and coalition partners have a tendency to decline the hard jobs while being more than willing to accept "being there" as a substitute for "doing things."

The time is past for gathering everything into nice legal bundles.

The 25 to 40 warships bobbing about in the Indian Ocean need to move inshore to Somalia and blockade the pirate base ports (historically 4) and take steps to put a dent in the pirate operations. Cut off the pirate's access to too much ocean, as set out here.

Some countries - England, Turkey, Denmark, Spain, France and the Netherlands- have shown courage in attacking pirate craft inshore and at anchor- and others should follow their lead while acting in a coordinated manner.

Heck, the French took action to retake some ransom paid by actually landing a force to intercept the "getaway" vehicle of the pirates who had the money. See here.

The pirates depend on outboard motors to power their attack craft. How about putting an embargo on such motors heading to Somalia?

I'm for hunting pirates!
Let the Somalis know that every single boat that attempts to leave Somalia must report into a "control ship" for inspection and that failure to do so will result in instant sinking by gunfire. As I wrote earlier:

My own personal option is a blockade of known Somali pirate ports and an announcement of "no warning shots" by the various international naval units in the area if a small boat is found firing on a ship at sea. Aim for the motors on the boat and let the survivors drift home. They better have life jackets and oars.

In any event, the time is now to start shrinking the amount of sea space available to the pirates and begin to push them back to Somali home waters.

No "ifs" "ands" or "buts."

UPDATE: Pirates add ammo, men to ships after 4 US deaths:
Pirates in Somalia said Wednesday they are ferrying ammunition and men to the 30 hijacked vessels still under their control, and they threatened to kill more captives following the violent end to a hostage standoff that left four Americans dead.
A pirate in Somalia who gave his name as Adowe Osman Ali said fellow "soldiers" had ferried the reinforcements to hijacked ships in their hands on Wednesday in a bid to deter more hostage rescue attempts. He said after Tuesday's incident, captains of hijacked ships have been ordered to tell navies not to approach or hostages would be killed.

"In the past, 20 or so soldiers used to guard every ship but now the numbers are ranging between 60 and 70 soldiers," said Ali, a pirate in the coastal village of Gara'ad.

"We are more alert than anytime before," he said. "In the past, we allowed the foreign navies to approach us but now we have warned them to not get nearer to us."
Which may or may not be true, as given that they are holding 37 ships, that's army of over 2000 "ship guards" and must make for a pretty big logistics train to keep them in khat, food and water. Not to mention the portion of the cut of the ransoms these numbers will eat into.

No, I take this as a sign that the pressure by the various coalitions, no matter how uncoordinated, is eating at the pirates.

I don't really see these guys willing to devote months awaiting attacks that may or may not ever arrive.

In which case, more coordinated pressure, sooner rather than later, please.

Voice of America Website Hacked by "Iranian Cyber Army"

Normally the Voice of America News website looks like the Voice of America. This morning some "Iranian" hackers appear to have been at work here:

"Iranian Cyber Army" at Work

If this is the best they can do, it's pretty sad.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Somali Pirates Kill American Hostages from Captured Yacht

Somali pirates reportedly have killed 4 Americans on hijacked yacht off Somalia:
The four Americans aboard a yacht hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia are dead.

Hijacked by Somali last Friday off Oman, the Quest was being piloted toward the Somali coast - and was being shadowed by a U.S. Navy warship.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that gunshots aboard the yacht were heard, and the warship took action.

All four Americans were dead, killed apparently by their captors. There were more than a dozen pirates on board, some dead and others captured, Martin reports
U.S. Central Command report:
At approximately 1 a.m. EST today, while negotiations were ongoing to secure the release of four American hostages, U.S. forces responded to gunfire aboard the pirated vessel (S/V) Quest. As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, the forces discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors. Despite immediate steps to provide life-saving care, all four hostages ultimately died of their wounds.

“We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest,” said Gen James N. Mattis, U.S. Central Command Commander.

During the boarding of the Quest, the reaction force was engaged by pirates on board the vessel. Two pirates died during the confrontation and 13 were captured and detained along with two pirates already in US Forces custody. The US Forces also found the remains of two other pirates already dead aboard the Quest. In total, it is believed 19 pirates were involved in the hijacking of the S/V Quest.

USS Leyte Gulf

USS Enterprise
USS Bulkeley
USS Sterett
US Forces have been closely monitoring the S/V Quest for approximately 3 days, once it became known to be pirated. Four U.S. Navy warships comprised the response force dedicated to recovering the S/V Quest: the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), the guided-missile destroyers USS Sterett (DDG 104) and USS Bulkeley (DDG 84). The ships are deployed to the region to conduct maritime security operations and to provide support to operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.
Piracy and murder trials will surely follow.
UPDATE2: More info from a press brief by Admiral Fox:
Vice Admiral Mark Fox, commander of the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, told reporters at the Pentagon by telephone from Bahrain that the boarding party was U.S. special operations forces and they met no resistance at first. However, during the search of the vessel they killed two pirates, one in a knife fight and the other by gunshot, and they found two others already dead.
Fox said the pirates are in Navy custody and the plan is to bring them “to a judicial process and hold them accountable for their activities.”

The Navy has been tracking the pirated yacht since Feb. 18, when it was spotted by a Royal Danish Navy ship off the coast of Oman, Fox said. “We have seen a growing problem here in terms of the pirate activity off the coast of Somalia,” Fox said.
A knife fight? Transcript of VADM Fox comments here. You can download the audio here.

UPDATE: What law may apply?
It may depend on exactly where the deaths occurred. If in international waters, then international law of the sea (and the treaties, etc that compose that) may apply. While the United States is not a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it is a signatory to the predecessor to that Convention - the 1958 Convention on the Law of the Sea. Article 15 of the 1958 Convention reads:

Article 15
Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(1) Any illegal acts of violence, detention or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(a) On the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(b) Against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
(2) Any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
(3) Any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph 1 or subparagraph 2 of this article.
Under U.S. law, piracy is punishable by life imprisonment.

Murder, on the other hand, may be punishable by death.

It may depend on whether or not the boat was U.S. flagged. If it was U.S. flagged, U.S. law will apply. The FBI says
When a crime does occur at sea, several factors determine whether the U.S. has legal jurisdiction. A complicated weave of international law applies, but as a rule, the FBI leads investigations of the following scenarios:
If the ship is U.S.-owned, regardless of the nationality of the victim or perpetrator;
If it's an act of terrorism against the U.S.
UPDATE3: Looks like the FBI is involved.

There is a nice bit of legislation that may apply, US Code, Title 18, Ch. 111, Sec. 2280:

§ 2280. Violence against maritime navigation

(a) Offenses.—
(1) In general.— A person who unlawfully and intentionally—
(A) seizes or exercises control over a ship by force or threat thereof or any other form of intimidation;
(B) performs an act of violence against a person on board a ship if that act is likely to endanger the safe navigation of that ship;
(C) destroys a ship or causes damage to a ship or to its cargo which is likely to endanger the safe navigation of that ship;
(D) places or causes to be placed on a ship, by any means whatsoever, a device or substance which is likely to destroy that ship, or cause damage to that ship or its cargo which endangers or is likely to endanger the safe navigation of that ship;
(E) destroys or seriously damages maritime navigational facilities or seriously interferes with their operation, if such act is likely to endanger the safe navigation of a ship;
(F) communicates information, knowing the information to be false and under circumstances in which such information may reasonably be believed, thereby endangering the safe navigation of a ship;
(G) injures or kills any person in connection with the commission or the attempted commission of any of the offenses set forth in subparagraphs (A) through (F); or
(H) attempts or conspires to do any act prohibited under subparagraphs (A) through (G),
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both; and if the death of any person results from conduct prohibited by this paragraph, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
(2) Threat to navigation.— A person who threatens to do any act prohibited under paragraph (1)(B), (C) or (E), with apparent determination and will to carry the threat into execution, if the threatened act is likely to endanger the safe navigation of the ship in question, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a)—
(1) in the case of a covered ship, if—
(A) such activity is committed—
(i) against or on board a ship flying the flag of the United States at the time the prohibited activity is committed;
(ii) in the United States; or
(iii) by a national of the United States or by a stateless person whose habitual residence is in the United States;
(B) during the commission of such activity, a national of the United States is seized, threatened, injured or killed; or
(C) the offender is later found in the United States after such activity is committed;
(2) in the case of a ship navigating or scheduled to navigate solely within the territorial sea or internal waters of a country other than the United States, if the offender is later found in the United States after such activity is committed; and
(3) in the case of any vessel, if such activity is committed in an attempt to compel the United States to do or abstain from doing any act.(emphasis added)
Of course, some would rather see these pirates hanging from yardarms after a brief trial at sea.

Our ancestors had their own techniques for dealing with murder at sea:
In England in the 13th century it was enacted that anybody who committed murder on the king's ships would be tied to their victims body and thrown into the sea to drown.
Of course, we live in the 21st century. I'll bet some government lawyers are working overtime on this.

UPDATE4: Naturally, there are reports that it was all started by the U.S.. This report should be judged on the basis of the veracity of some unknown pirate accomplice who has no reason to portray the incident in any light unfavorable to his companions. Even if true, the U.S. did not pirate the boat and was not holding 4 people hostages. The U.S. would have been within its rights to kill all the pirates as they came into sight.

Remember that these pirates, who now range across the Indian Ocean, claim justification for their acts because of illegal fishing and dumping in Somali waters, neither of which the 4 Americans were involved with.

Iranian Ships to Enter Mediterranean

Iranian Navy Ship Kharg (AOR-431), an oiler/ammuntion ship
For the first time since 1979, it appears that a couple of Iranian Navy ships will enter the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal (see here where it is reported they entered the Suez Canal on 22 Feb):
Two Iranian naval ships have entered Egypt's Suez Canal and are heading towards the Mediterranean, a canal official said.

"They entered the canal at 5:45am," the official told Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

The two vessels, Alvand, a patrol frigate and Kharg, a supply ship, are the first naval vessels to go through the canal since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, after which diplomatic ties between Egypt and Iran were strained.

Egypt's ruling military council, facing its first diplomatic challenge since taking power on February 11, approved the vessels' passage through the canal.

The canal is a vital global trading route and a major source of revenue for the Egyptian authorities.

Israel takes a "grave view" of the passage of the ships.

On Sunday, after a weekly meeting of his cabinet, Binyamin Netanyahu , Israeli prime minister denounced the ships' arrival in the region as an Iranian power play.

And last week, the prospect of the Suez crossing was described by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's far-right foreign minister, as a "provocation" by Iran.

But an Iranian diplomat said that, "This will be a routine visit, within international law, in line with the co-operation between Iran and Syria, who have strategic ties.

"The ships will spend a few days in Syrian ports for training purposes, having already visited several countries including Oman and Saudi Arabia," the diplomat added.

Alvand, a Iranian frigate,
The prospect of these ships making it through the canal and heading for their announced destination of Syria has many people at increasing flail levels, especially the Israelis.

The ships themselves are a small frigate and INS Kharg a fleet oiler/ammuntion ship that has served as the flag ship of the Iranian Navy (see USNI Guide to Combat Fleets of the World by Eric Wertheim here).

The ships themselves pose little threat to anyone, unless, in a repeat of a famous incident in the Canal's past, they drop mines along the way, as Libya is suspected of doing in 1984. That incident, which damaged 18 or so ships was denounced at the time by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeni, though praised at lower levels in Iran (see here). Given that record and the scrutiny that will be given these ships, a mining mission seems unlikely.

No, the concern is that these vessels, both "warships," may be carrying some cargo dangerous to Israel to Israel's enemies in Syria. Presumably, the oiler, being larger may be carrying a large amount of something that would improve the military position of anti-Israel forces. Perhaps a batch of rockets? New warheads of some sort?

Unlike merchant ships, it is unlikely that the threat of force would allow these ships to be searched. Further, in this particular chess game, it seems as likely as not that there is nothing on these ships.Does it matter? The Iranian goal is to set a precedent - to allow for the free movement of its naval vessels on the high seas to a sovereign nation that is not under blockade. That sovereign nation being, of course, Syria.

There is that the magic word "blockade."

As you may recall, Israel has indicted ships attempting to carry supplies into Gaza. As noted in an earlier post (), this seems to be a legal blockade of Gaza. There is an interesting piece by a Israeli legal scholar Ruth Lapidoth, The Legal Basis of Israel's Naval Blockade of Gaza, which lays out the argument that the blockade of Gaza is perfectly legal under international law.The piece cites the San Remo Manual as setting out the appropriate rules for parties to an armed conflict:
93. A blockade shall be declared and notified to all belligerents and neutral States. 94. The declaration shall specify the commencement, duration, location, and extent of the blockade and the period within which vessels of neutral States may leave the blockaded coastline.
95. A blockade must be effective. The question whether a blockade is effective is a question of fact.
96. The force maintaining the blockade may be stationed at a distance determined by military requirements. 97. A blockade may be enforced and maintained by a combination of legitimate methods and means of warfare provided this combination does not result in acts inconsistent with the rules set out in this document. 98. Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked. 99. A blockade must not bar access to the ports and coasts of neutral States. 100. A blockade must be applied impartially to the vessels of all States. 101. The cessation, temporary lifting, re-establishment, extension or other alteration of a blockade must be declared and notified as in paragraphs 93 and 94. 102. The declaration or establishment of a blockade is prohibited if: (a) it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it other objects essential for its survival; or(b) the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade. 103. If the civilian population of the blockaded territory is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival, the blockading party must provide for free passage of such foodstuffs and other essential supplies, subject to: (a) the right to prescribe the technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted; and(b) the condition that the distribution of such supplies shall be made under the local supervision of a Protecting Power or a humanitarian organization which offers guarantees of impartiality, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. 104. The blockading belligerent shall allow the passage of medical supplies for the civilian population or for the wounded and sick members of armed forces, subject to the right to prescribe technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted.
A possible route from the north end of the Suez Canal to Syria
Professor Lapidoth finds that these rules applied to a blockade of Gaza.

Syria, on the other hand, may be a different kettle of fish. As the Professor notes in her piece, the definition of "armed conflict" that justifies a blockade does not require a formal declaration of war in these times. Certainly, Israel and Syria have not been peaceful neighbors but the imposition of a blockade on Syrian ports is, without a doubt, an act of war that may bring consequences that Israel and the rest of the world mat not be willing to pay at this time.

So, I expect that a war of words will continue and these ships will be allowed their "peaceful" transit in the Mediterranean this time. You may count on them being closely watched by every one with a stake  in this iteration of Iran's war with Israel.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Ship History: Robot "Glides" Across the Atlantic and Beyond

Rutgers "Gliding" Robot (Rutgers U. photo)
Maybe you missed the story at the time, but a group of Rutgers University research successfully piloted a robot "glider" across the Atlantic Ocean on a multi-month journey that took the eight foot ling research robot from the U.S. coast to Spain. The experiment ran from launching on April 27, 2009 to December 4, 2009.

More on the journey at Flight Across the Atlantic - Scarlet Knight. What's an underwater "glider?" As explained on the Rutgers' web site:
Most underwater vehicles, like submarines, use a spinning propeller to move around in the water. Propeller driven vehicles are fast, but they also require a lot of energy to maintain their speed. Smaller vehicles like the glider only carry enough battery power to drive a propeller for a few days at most.

Instead, underwater gliders move around by changing their buoyancy, that is they change their density such that they alternate between more dense and less dense than the surrounding ocean water. This change in buoyancy causes the glider to rise and sink in the ocean. The glider changes its density by moving a small piston forward and back that increases and decreases its volume. You may remember that you can calculate the density of an object by taking its mass and dividing that by the object's volume. Since the mass of the glider remains constant, all we need to do is change its volume. A small change in volume (about a half cup of water) is all the glider needs to change its density enough to rise and sink in the ocean.

As the glider goes up and down, its wings give it a forward motion just like the wings on an airplane glider, which is why these robots are also called gliders. But airplane gliders can only "glide" as they fall downwards due to gravity. Underwater gliders can glide forward both as they rise and fall.
Path of the "Scarlet Knight" (Rutgers U. image)
It took 7 months for the "Scarlet Knight" to make the crossing, all the while promoting new techniques of gathering information about the ocean.

The Rutgers University site has video, photos and much more about this historic effort.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, the glider will be on display in the Sant Ocean Hall, Natural History Museum, Washington until mid-2012.

NOAA reports that some of the technology demonstrated during the mission was deployed during the Gulf Oil Spill:
“Gliders sample the ocean in places it is impractical to send people and at a fraction of the cost,” said Zdenka Willis, director of the U.S. IOOS Program. “Using robots to collect scientific data is the wave of the future in terms of ocean observing.”

Gliders collect data such as temperature, salinity, currents and density that describe conditions below the surface of the sea and at varying depths.

As part of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill response effort, IOOS partners deployed a fleet of gliders equipped with sensors to help indicate the presence of oil. Although scientists must still confirm the oil through water sampling, the gliders narrowed the search zone for subsurface oil.
Now, that's a science project.

And a bit of history.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Somali Pirates: Yacht Hijacking (UPDATE: 4 Americans Reportedly on Yacht)

Reported Yacht Hijacking (click to enlarge)
UPDATE: According to this report, the yacht has 4 Americans aboard:
SV Quest from SV Quest.com, the sailing diary of the yacht owners
Somali pirates on Friday hijacked a yacht with four Americans on board in the Indian Ocean, a non-governmental organisation monitoring regional maritime activity said.Ecoterra International said the S/V Quest was seized in the afternoon 240 nautical miles (275 miles) off the coast of Oman.
"S/V Quest was attacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean and the four Americans on board are being held hostage," it said.
"The sailing yacht was reportedly now en route from India to Mina Raysut, the industrial port of Salalah, Oman," Ecoterra added.
The S/V Quest's owners, retired couple Jean and Scott Adam, have been sailing around the world for more than seven years and detailed in a December update on their website what their travel plans would be for 2011.

Pre-UPDATE: NATO report here:
February 18, 2011
Latitude: 18°00 N Longitude: 061°02 E
Alert number 092 / 2011.
At 1323 UTC / 18 FEB 11 / a Yacht was reported Hijacked by pirates in position 18°00 N 061°02 E.
***This vessel has been hijacked***

NATO Standing Warning to Yachts:
The danger of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin is high and continues to increase. Naval forces strongly recommend that yachts do not transit this area. Merchant ships use Best Management Practices (BMP) to win time for the naval forces to assist them. With a low freeboard and slow speed, yachts are particularly vulnerable to pirate attack. Any direct response from naval assets will depend on the proximity to the incident and may not occur. BMP3 and the self protection measures described in them were not designed for cruising yachts nor will they be sufficient to prevent boardings by Somali pirates.
UPDATE: MSC(HOA) reports a hijacked Yemeni fishing boat here
EU Map of Alfardous Hijacking Locale
On the 13 February, the Yemeni Fishing Vessel ALFARDOUS was believed to have been pirated close to Socotra Island in the Gulf of Aden.

The vessel has a reported crew of 8, nationalities presently not known. There is no further information on the condition of the crew.

EUNAVFOR is monitoring the situation.

No One Escapes Budget Cuts - Oh, Wait . . .

Electronic front page of today's Raleigh, NC, News and Observer:

Red arrows added

If you can't read what's by the lower arrow, even after clicking on the above to enlarge, here's a larger excerpt:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Somali Pirates- An Asian Concern?

Admiral Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command says Somali pirates threaten Asia. Reported as Somali pirates heading to Asia: US:
Admiral Robert F. Willard
A US military commander warned Thursday that Somali pirates were skirting pressure by moving deeper into Asian waters and said the only solution was to restore stability in the African nation.

Suspected Somali pirates sit with their faces covered during a media interaction on board an Indian Coast guard ship off the coast of Mumbai on February 10. A US military commander warned Thursday that Somali pirates were skirting pressure by moving deeper into Asian waters and said the only solution was to restore stability in the African nation.

Admiral Robert Willard, head of the 300,000-troop Pacific Command, voiced exasperation at years of naval efforts to stem the flow of pirates from Somalia -- which has been effectively without a central government for two decades.

"It's remarkable that 28 nations combining their maritime forces together in the Gulf of Aden have not been able to defeat this challenge," Willard said at the Asia Society on a visit to Washington.

Due to the naval campaign, "the pirates are just ranging farther out into the Indian Ocean -- hundreds of miles, quite literally," Willard said.

Willard said the pirates posed particular problems for Maldives, a sparsely populated Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,192 tiny coral islands best known for its upmarket beach resorts.

Willard said he recently visited Maldives and President Mohamed Nasheed told him that "his problem was that either abandoned pirates or pirates that were lost in the middle of the night in their activities, or otherwise detached from their motherships, were now landing in the Maldives."

The commander also saw problems with piracy in southern India and as far away as the South China Sea.
Foreign navies have stepped up operations off the Gulf of Aden since 2008. But Willard said that there was ultimately not a naval solution.

"I don't think you're ever going to defeat this threat at the far extremes of their operations on the sea lanes," Willard said.

"But rather you have to go to the centers of gravity -- the source on land in the Horn of Africa -- and put a stop to that," he said.
Sounds familiar.

Somali Pirates: Tanker Attacked Near India

Early reports of a tanker attack approximately 40 nm off India.

The tanker NS Century reportedly used onboard armed guards to fend off the attack.

NS Century seems to be in the fleet of JSC Novoship.

Details to follow as I learn them.

NS Century photo by Oldkayaker from Shipspotting.com.

Red arrow points to attack location

More from ICC IMB's Commercial Crime Services IMB Piracy Map 2011
Three skiffs were noticed at a distance of 6.3 nm ahead of a tanker underway. A suspected mother vessel without AIS signal was also noticed via radar around 17nm ahead. The skiffs increased speed and headed towards the tanker. One of the skiffs increased its speed to around 20knots.There were 6-8 persons in each skiff. Master commenced evasive manoeuvres, alerted all crewmembers. The skiffs closed to around three cables and the armed security team onboard fired warning shots.
For those who wonder about such things, a cable is more or less 200 meters (219 meter U.S./185 Brit) or 660 feet +/-).

Crazy Stealth Guided Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles Fresh From Iran

Steeljaw has been having a little fun with the wild and crazy Iran Not-So-Republican Guards and their recent announcement, here, of a new wonder weapon - "IRGC Mass-Producing Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles":
"The IRGC's smart ballistic missiles are now in mass-production and this type of missiles can hit and destroy targets with high-precision," Jafari told reporters in a news conference here in Tehran on Monday.

"These new missiles enjoys supersonic speed and cannot be tracked or intercepted by enemy," the commander said, adding that missiles can hit targets 300km away with high-precision.
Elsewhere, Jafari also announced that the IRGC has just finished designing and developing long-range passive radars and will soon start production, adding that this new radar system covers within a 1,100km-radius.

Galen Wright of the blog Arkenstone has a post up analyzing the possible use of tactical ballistic missiles as anti-ship missiles. Might be worth a look.

As for the claims of stealth, accuracy and all that . . .

The point? I dunno, why would the IRGC be interested in threatening ships in the Arabian Gulf?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Somali Pirate Convicted and Sentenced to 33 Years - But Not for Piracy

Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, Somali Man Accused In Ship Hijackings Sentenced to Over 33 Years In Prison:
Muse pleaded guilty last May to hostage taking, kidnapping, hijacking and conspiracy and was sentenced to 33 years and nine months in prison on Wednesday.
Muse now is entitled to free cable TV, 3 squares a days, legal aid, education, books and a cot.

Which, not surprisingly,  is better than what he had in Somalia.

Except for that confinement thing.

Stone walls can a prison make.

Somali Pirates: Brits Take Down "Mother Ship", Rescue Hostages

HMS Cornwall in background as her boarding team investigates
From the Royal Navy's web site:
A request for assistance from a South Korean Merchant Vessel in the Indian Ocean on 10th February led to Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) warship HMS Cornwall securing the release of Yemeni crew of a pirated dhow from their 17 Somali captors and returning the fishing vessel to its rightful owners. Items found with the dhow confirmed that it was acting as a ‘mother ship’ for Somali pirates who had captured it on 11th November 2010.

HMS Cornwall is currently the Command Platform for Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, the counter-piracy mission of CMF. On 10th February Cornwall’s Officer of the Watch observed a dhow acting suspiciously and received a distress call from the South Korean Merchant Vessel Yong Jin reporting a potential pirate threat.

HMS Cornwall’s arrival on scene disrupted the attack, and the warship’s boarding teams, supported overhead by her Lynx helicopter, searched and secured the Yemeni-flagged dhow. An initial search found 22 people on board, three skiffs, powerful outboard motors and various items of equipment associated with pirates boarding merchant vessels, such as ladders, enabling the dhow to act as ‘mother ship’ for a group of pirates operating in the area.

Five of the people on the dhow were the original Yemeni crew who had been held hostage for 92 days.

HMS Cornwall’s commanding officer, Commander David Wilkinson, said:

“Our presence in the area has had a hugely significant effect on the lives of five Yemeni fishermen, who have been freed from over three months of pirate captivity and can now return to their families.

In addition we have restored a merchant vessel to legitimate use on the high seas and my highly trained team have conducted a very slick boarding operation which has ensured that this pirate vessel is no longer able to operate.

This demonstrates the reassurance and security offered by the presence in these waters of HMS Cornwall and other warships from Combined Maritime Forces“
 BZ Cornwall!

All photos from the Royal Navy.