Richard Lough of Reuters has just opened the ugly can of worms no one in the maritime shipping industry ever wanted to see opened. Make no mistake, the Obama administration didn't want to see this report either.
Ransoms paid to Somali pirates to free merchant vessels are ending up in the hands of Islamist militants, laying shipping groups open to accusations of breaching international sanctions, U.N. officials told Reuters.Remember, this is the United Nations, which is not so small a thing.
John Steed, the principal military adviser to the U.N. special envoy to Somalia and head of the envoy's counter-piracy unit, said links between armed pirate gangs and Somalia's al Qaeda-affiliated rebels were gradually firming.
"The payment of ransoms just like any other funding activity, illegal or otherwise, is technically in breach of the Somalia sanctions regime if it makes the security situation in Somalia worse," said Steed.
"Especially if it is ending up in the hands of terrorists or militia leaders -- and we believe it is, some directly, some more indirectly," said Steed, a retired military officer.
The U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says pirates are increasingly launching their cross-ocean raids from the al Shabaab-controlled southern coastal city of Kismayu. Recruitment for pirates from the region was also on the rise, it said.How about some excellent investigative reporting.
"Detained pirates tell us that some level of cooperation with al Shabaab is necessary to run a criminal enterprise," said Alan Cole, piracy programme coordinator at UNODC.
Al Shabaab sources agree.
"If there was no relationship between us, there is no way the pirates would be able to operate, or carry their weapons within zones we control," said an al Shabaab militant based in the pirate haven of Haradhere, north of Mogadishu.
A Reuters investigation found the following payments had been made to al Shabaab's "marine office":There is more - read the entire article.
On Feb. 25: $200,000 from the release of the Japanese-owned MV Izumi after pirates received a $4.5 million ransom.
On March 8: $80,000 from the $2 million release of the St Vincent & Grenadines-flagged MV Rak Africana.
On March 9: $100,000 after the Singapore-flagged MV York was freed for $4.5 million.
On April 13: $600,000 from the release of the German ship Beluga Nomination after a $5.5 million ransom was paid.
On April 15: A $66,000 share of the $3.6 million ransom handed over for the Panama-flagged MV Asphalt Venture.
On May 14: $100,000 from the release of two Spanish crew of the Spanish-owned FV VEGA 5.
The amounts were corroborated by pirates, al Shabaab militants and residents of Haradhere.
Piracy just took a strange turn, and it would be nice to hear from someone whose title begins with "Admiral" or whose name is Ray Mabus.
Do people realize that it is a big damn deal that the United Nations would casually discuss the connections between Somali pirates and Al Shabaab? No government has ever officially claimed such a link exists. This would mean piracy is a direct funding mechanism for Al Qaeda, and every ransom payment is illegal.
We appear to now be at a point in time with piracy where if a company tries to free captured mariners with ransom money, the company would be subject to prosecution for illegally financially supporting global terrorism. That's a pretty big deal, and really bad news if you are a hostage.