The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur


The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur

Author:Jay Bahadur [Bahadur, Jay]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2011-07-18T22:00:00+00:00


While pirate gangs have proven remarkably adept at outmanoeuvring the international naval armada, they have no monopoly on the ability to adapt tactics. The Panamanian-flagged cargo ship Almezaan had been hijacked twice, most notably in November 2009 while transporting a consignment of small arms—in contravention of the UN embargo on Somalia—intended for a Mogadishu businessman.5 In the early morning of March 23, 2010, as the Almezaan steamed once more towards Mogadishu, the pirates struck again. On this occasion, however, she was ready to meet them on their own terms, with armed private security personnel stationed on her deck.

When the pirates opened fire, the guards responded in kind, spraying the attackers with their automatic weapons. Initially repulsed, the pirates came about for a second assault and were repelled in the same manner, following which they fled towards the open sea. When a helicopter from the Spanish warship Navarra caught up with them, the two skiffs were riddled with bullet holes and a pirate was shot dead in the bottom of one. It marked the first time that a pirate had been killed by private security guards.

Within the international shipping community, the Almezaan shooting stirred up an already ongoing debate over the use of armed guards on commercial vessels. The standard concerns surrounding private military contractors—their accountability and the rules of engagement under which they operate—are considerably magnified when they are engaged on the high seas. Complicated questions arise over which country has jurisdiction over the contractors: the flag state (in the case of the Almezaan, Panama), the owners (United Arab Emirates), or the nationality of the contractors themselves (undisclosed). These issues are especially worrisome when the victims are Somali citizens, who lack a functioning state to defend their rights. In addition to the legal and moral concerns is the more pragmatic fear that arming the merchant marine will provoke the pirates into increasingly violent behaviour.

“While we understand that owners want to protect their ships, we don’t agree in principle with putting armed security on ships,” International Maritime Bureau director Captain Pottengal Mukundan told the BBC following the Almezaan incident. “Ships are not an ideal place for a gun battle.”6

For a high-risk target like the Almezaan, running guns into Somalia, armed guards were perhaps a prudent choice. But for most shippers, the risk of escalating an incident typically makes hiring private security a poor business decision. No shipping company wants to make headlines because of the body count on the deck of one of its vessels. The added possibility of a firefight resulting in a serious financial or environmental disaster—in the case of expensive or sensitive cargo, such as crude oil or volatile chemicals—makes the potential cost of violence extremely high. Indeed, the risk assessments carried out by marine insurers are as likely to judge the presence of armed guards as a net liability rather than a reason to reduce premiums. “From our point of view, unless you can really guarantee the quality of the armed guards put on board, you’re probably



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