There is an interesting twist bubbling up to the surface regarding an Iranian ship that was hijacked off the coast of Somalia back in August. The ship in question is the MV Iran Deyanat, a 44468 dead weight tonnage bulk carrier. The Long War Journal has some interesting details.
The MV Iran Deyanat is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) - a state-owned company run by the Iranian military that was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on September 10, shortly after the ship's hijacking. According to the U.S. Government, the company regularly falsifies shipping documents in order to hide the identity of end users, uses generic terms to describe shipments to avoid the attention of shipping authorities, and employs the use of cover entities to circumvent United Nations sanctions to facilitate weapons proliferation for the Iranian Ministry of Defense.This is a very interesting article, and you should read it all, because this is the context at which point the story begins to get very interesting. Back on September 7th, Reuters ran an article that suggested Puntland authorities were requesting pirates to hand over the ship. At the time, the pirates in Eyl were very busy.
The MV Iran Deyanat set sail from Nanjing, China, at the end of July and, according to its manifest, planned to travel to Rotterdam, where it would unload 42,500 tons of iron ore and "industrial products" purchased by a German client. Its arrival in the Gulf of Aden, Somali officials tell The Long War Journal, was suspiciously early. According to a publicly available status report on the IRISL Web site, the ship reached the Gulf on August 20 and was scheduled to reach the Suez Canal on August 27 - a seven day journey. "Depending on the speed of the ship," Puntland Minister of Ports Ahmed Siad Nur said in a phone interview on Saturday, "it should take between 4 and 5 days to reach Suez."
He said the Iranian ship with 28 crew members including two Russians, two Pakistanis and a Syrian would soon be freed once the $2 million ransom agreed upon was paid.The Puntland officials were alerted shortly after the ship was captured that weapons were onboard. This is an important point, the pirates of Somalia often claim legitimacy by stating their purpose is to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Somalia, just like they often claim legitimacy by suggesting they insure no illegal fishing takes place in Somalian waters. While clearly piracy is not legitimacy, and the pirates of Eyl are a far cry from a Coast Guard, the claims of illegal fishing or weapons on ships have been proven true in the past. Whenever the pirates make these claims, they call in Puntland officials to investigate and put the word out in the media. In this case, something odd is happening in regards to this specific Iranian ship. The Long War Journal continues the story.
"The bargaining about the ransom is over and pirates are just waiting for the money," he said.
"Puntland requested the pirates two weeks ago to hand over this Iranian ship, saying that it is carrying weapons to Eritrea. I have seen food and other odd items on the ship but I do not know what is hidden underneath."
The MV Iran Deyanat was brought to Eyl, a sleepy fishing village in northeastern Somalia, and was secured by a larger gang of pirates - 50 onboard and 50 onshore. 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.Follow the time line. The ship was hijacked around August 23rd. Before the end of August, several of the pirates who took the ship began suffering from serious sickness, in some cases resulting in death. On September 4th, Puntland government authorities were brought in, and they witnessed some of the deaths due to exposure to something on that ship.
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."
Pirates have stated unable to open the hold without causing extensive damage to the ship, and have threatened to blow it up if anyone tries to inspect the ship. The statements by the captured crew has been inconsistent regarding what is carried on the ship. The $2 million dollar ransom agreement, which was supposedly secured on September 6th, never took place for reasons unknown. After September 10th, when sanctionso on IRISL were applied specifically because the company is said to smuggle for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, negotiations have all but broken off completely.
Then things get really wierd. Two days later, Iranian press runs a report that the US has offered $7 million for the ship, $5 million more than what the Iranians were offerning. The reason cited by the Iranian press report was so the US could "receive entry permission and search the vessel." According to the Long War Journal story, Puntland officials are convinced the ship is carrying weapons for Eritrea Islamist insurgents.
Clearly this is a strange story, and there is no clear resolution in sight regarding the ship now that Iran seems unable to do anything with the ship now on the sanctions list. Let me add a few details to this story...
The US Navy (and the French) are sitting off the coast of Eyl, and that ship isn't going anywhere once released, it will be siezed once it gets to sea. The specific clauses that have been approved in both the UN and in Congress would allow the US Navy to sieze the ship under the suspecion clause. The claims that there are weapons onboard, and the possibility there might be chemical weapons, will insure there is at minimum an inspection of the ship.
And that should have the US Navy worried a bit. If there are chemical weapons onboard, which is the least likely scenario but the prevailing rumor, what is to stop Iran from sending one of its Kilo class submarines down to put several torpedos into the hull? We know the hostages have been moved off the ship, that is standard operating procedure now thanks to the French, who will perform a rescue operation anyway.
This is a very strange story worth keeping an eye on. It is unlike pirates to say no to a $2 million ransom, which they apparently did. It is very odd to see an Iranian press report that suggests the US is offering $7 million for the ship, but apparently that wasn't denied when questions were asked of US officials by The Long War Journal. This might turn out to be a whole lot of nothing, but when it comes to Somalia, anything can happen.
It is worth noting that Russia announced this week they are sending warships to Somalia. The Russians do not intend to operate with Task Force 150, and could be the force sent to take military action and rescue the Iranians. Of all the naval deployments Russia has made this year, including the Pyotr Veliky deployment to Venezuela and the Admiral Kuznetsov to the Mediterranean Sea, we see this naval deployment by Russia the most noteworthy to date, because it is a true logistics mission.
In the case of the other two naval deployments, Russia was able to make a number of friendly ports to supply vessels, and the ships never spent long periods of time at sea. Not in this case, this will be a major logistical undertaking by the Russian Navy, with the only port option available perhaps, maybe, being Eritrea. It is also very possible Russia could take military action including hostage rescue operations against the pirates, and that would certainly be worth watching.
Others are also looking into sending ships. Norway is planning a deployment next year, and the Indian government is under some domestic pressure, including a potential strike by major mariner unions, if they don't take action against Somalian pirates. The Indian government has not made a decision yet.
With the United States fighting a war in Iraq and a war in Afghanistan, it remains the activities around Somalia that is slowly becoming a major challenge for the US Navy. With a Greek ship hijacked this week, there are at least 10 ships near Eyl under pirate control. That town is litterily a shit hole on a hill, one imagines it looks very odd to see 10 ships sitting off the coast. In the meantime, the effect to the global economy based on insurance premiem costs alone remains somewhere around half a million dollars a day.