Monday, December 15, 2008

Counter-Piracy: The Drug War On Steroids

I wrote something off-handed the other day over at USNI's new blog that appears to fit more and more: "The piracy problem in the Horn of Africa looks more and more like the drug smuggling problem on the American coasts every day. The application of maritime forces can change the way pirates operate and influence to pace of pirates’ operations, but as long as there’s money to be made and the risk of death or arrest is acceptable, the pirates will be there".

This just helps confirm my suspicions:

Ahmed Dahir Suleyman is cagey as he talks about the global network that funds and supports piracy off the coast of Somalia.

"We have negotiators, translators and agents in many areas ... let me say across the world," said Suleyman, a pirate in the harbor town of Eyl, where scores of hijacked ships are docked.

"These people help us during exchanges of ransom and finding out the exact person to negotiate with," he told The Associated Press. Before cutting off the cell phone call, Suleyman snapped: "It is not possible to ask anymore about our secrets."

The dramatic spike in piracy in African waters this year is backed by an international network mostly of Somali expatriates from the Horn of Africa to as far as North America, who offer funds, equipment and information in exchange for a cut of the ransoms, according to researchers, officials and members of the racket. With help from the network, Somali pirates have brought in at least $30 million in ransom so far this year.

"The Somali diaspora all around the world now have taken to this business enterprise," said Michael Weinstein, a Somalia expert at Purdue University in Indiana. He likened the racket to "syndicates where you buy shares, so to speak, and you get a cut of the ransom."

Weinstein said his interviews with ransom negotiators and Somalis indicate the piracy phenomenon has reached Canada, which is home to 200,000 Somalis.

John S. Burnett, a London-based author working on a book about hijackings off the Somali coast, said there is no doubt Somali pirates are part of "transnational crime syndicates." He said information from sources, including people involved in ransom negotiations and payouts, indicates the money goes as far as Canada and capitals in Europe.

"Places like Eyl are getting only a portion of the millions in ransom being siphoned off," he said. "The Somali diaspora is huge."

Sheik Qasim Ibrahim Nur, director of security at Somalia's Interior and National Security Ministry, said evidence points to Somali expatriates in Kenya and the United Arab Emirates, but declined to give further details. He said there is "no doubt" the pirates have links outside Somalia.

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