hijacked ship, Somali pirates, Faina
U.S. Navy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky/AP
The crew of hijacked Ukrainian freighter MV Faina stand on deck, accompanied by Somali pirates, on Oct. 19, 2008.

Britain, NATO Prepare to Pursue Somali Pirates

October 26, 2008 01:20 PM
by Emily Coakley

Ships from several countries are heading toward the coast of Somalia, where pirates have hijacked or attacked dozens of ships this year.

Flotilla En Route to Troubled Coast


Britain’s royal navy is allowed to destroy pirate ships off the African coast, The Daily Mirror reported on Sunday.

"The Government's stance on piracy has recently been reviewed. We have issued more robust guidance to deal with any pirates,” said Bob Ainsworth, Britain’s minister of the armed forces. 

The shift in the British government’s policy comes as a flotilla of NATO ships is heading toward the coast. According to The New York Times, the flotilla has ships from the United States, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Italy and Britain.

Some of the details were still being worked out, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

Appathurai told the Times, “This is obviously a very, very complicated thing they are trying to do. There are a host of pirates, but they don’t identify themselves with eye patches and hook hands that they are pirates.”

Over the summer the United Nations approved a resolution allowing other navies to patrol and police Somalia’s waters, and in late September, Somalia’s foreign ministry authorized other governments to act on the troubled country’s soil.

Somalia’s president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed has urged his citizens and other countries to fight piracy.

“I call on the Somali people to fight against the pirates. I also call on the international community to act quickly on what is happening in Somali waters as well as on shore,” he said during a press conference.

Background: Pirates active this year

Earlier this October, one pirate was killed and two were wounded in a shootout aboard the Wail, a Panamanian ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates, Reuters reports.

One member of the Puntland coastguard was killed in the conflict. Although the soldiers took two of the pirates’ smaller boats, the pirates still have control of the Wail, which was carrying cement from Oman to Bosasso, according to Reuters.

In Septmember, pirates captured the Faina, which was loaded with tanks and other weapons. Ransom talks have been ongoing, although at one point,  the pirates threatened to blow up the ship.

"We are ready to blast the ship, the cargo and ourselves if the owners refuse to pay us ransom," a spokesman for the pirates told UPI.
The United States is primarily concerned the weapons on the Faina will fall into the wrong hands.

“Our concern is making sure that this cargo does not end up in the hands of anyone who would use it in a way that would be destabilizing to the region,” said Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for the Pentagon, in a meeting with reporters on Tuesday. “[A]nd we have committed significant resources to make sure those objectives are met.”

DefenseLink said the weapons were on their way to Kenya, which isn’t a problem for the U.S. government.

There were conflicting reports of pirates dying in a shootout, and the Russian media reported that the Faina’s captain’s death was due to illness, according to AFP.

AP reports that the ship has 33 Russian-made tanks, along with rocket launchers and other weapons.

It’s also unclear where the ship was headed. Some reports say Sudan, others say Kenya, according to The New York Times.

On Sept. 30, the Times published an interview with one of the alleged pirates aboard the Faina, who said the world didn’t understand what they were doing. Sugule Ali spoke to the Times via satellite phone, and said he was on the Faina’s bridge.

He was quoted as saying: “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”

He also told the Times that they didn’t want the weapons, and didn’t plan to sell them. They just want the $20 million ransom, in cash.

Opinion & Analysis: Solving the problem of piracy

David Axe, writing on Wired’s Danger Room blog, said foreign navies can’t be everywhere at once, and other ideas, such as putting mercenaries on commercial ships, are fraught with problems.

“In short, there’s no easy seaborne solution to piracy. Experts stress that ending piracy requires law and order on land, where pirates have their bases. But law and order for Somalia, which has lacked a functioning central government since 1991, is no doubt years and years away,” Axe wrote.

Axe also wrote a Popular Mechanics piece that examines what commercial ships can do to protect themselves, and suggests the hijacked Ukrainian freighter may encourage more governments to help patrol the Somali coast.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines