Somali pirates rich with ransoms from hijacking
By Abdiqani Hassan
August 06, 2008
A trader samples khat, a narcotic leaf, at a market in the northern port town of Bosasso August 5, 2008. Somali pirates are investing heavily in trafficking the narcotic khat, along with other businesses, as they seek to spend big profits from ransom payments after months of attacks. Picture taken August 5, 2008.
BOSASSO, Somalia, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Somali pirates are investing heavily in trafficking the narcotic khat, along with other businesses, as they seek to spend big profits from ransom payments after months of attacks.
Maritime officials say at least 26 ships have been hijacked off the coast of the Horn of Africa country so far this year.
Most of them brought ransoms of at least $10,000, and in some cases much more. A lot of that money is now in the hands of pirates in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland.
Siyad Mohamed and his gang recently shared a $750,000 ransom after releasing a German ship they seized in May. Mohamed said they decided to invest in trafficking khat, a mild narcotic leaf that is very popular in the region.
"We`ve started importing," Mohamed told Reuters by telephone from Garowe, Puntland`s capital.
"We bought it from Kenya after normal supplies dwindled due to delays. We saw an opportunity and took it."
Mohamed said he earned $75,000 from the German ransom, a large amount in such a poor region.
"We work in three groups. One group is at sea now looking for ships to hijack. The other two, including mine, are next in line. We all share the ransom money," the 30-year-old former fisherman said. "Fellow pirates get free khat supply."
Banned in many Western countries, khat is a flowering plant that is native to east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and is believed to have originated in Ethiopia. Users, mostly men, chew the fresh leaves to get a mild amphetamine-like high.
Other pirates have benefited even more from the trade. And residents of Garowe and Bosasso, Puntland`s other main town, say most of the hijackers are well known.
Following this year`s sharp increase in attacks at sea, the wealthy pirates have attained near-celebrity status in the area, building palatial beach villas and other buildings, cruising around town in expensive cars and marrying additional wives.
VILLAS, CARS AND GIRLS
Some residents expect them to take over more local businesses soon, and say that gangs threaten local authorities and can pay for impunity -- further worsening security in one of Africa`s most lawless corners.
Piracy has flourished in Somalia since warlords overthrew Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, plunging the country into chaos.
But it has reached unprecedented levels since the start of last year.
Among the most recent victims are a German couple who were abducted in June and are still being held by Puntland gunmen demanding a $2 million ransom. Most of the pirates treat hostages well in the hope of a good pay-off.
And experts say hijackers are getting bolder.
"They have gained experience and hijack big ships that fetch them good money," said Andrew Mwangura, a maritime official based in Kenya. "They are getting smarter and smarter."
The pirates typically use speedboats, normally dropped from bigger "mother ships". The hijackers then use the faster craft to intercept commercial vessels before boarding them brandishing assault rifles, and sometimes rocket-propelled grenades.
Locals in Puntland say there will be no shortage of new recruits as long as gangs reap the rewards.
Jama Shino, another pirate, recently threw one of Garowe`s most lavish weddings for years. Hundreds of guests attended as the 35-year-old father-of-two married his second wife.
"We don`t fear the government. Girls here are not afraid of us. They love us because we have lots of money so they really want to marry us," Shino said with a grin.
Rodo Abdullahi, a 19-year-old who attended last week`s party, said it was every local girl`s dream to have such a grand wedding, But she said only pirates now had the funds to do it.
"If I marry a man who doesn`t have enough money, he cannot organise such a big wedding," she told Reuters.
"That is why girls here prefer to be married to pirates." (Additional reporting and writing by Guled Mohamed in Nairobi; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
© 2008 Reuters Limited
WFP lauds Canada`s move to protect food shipments to Somalia
August 06, 2008
The Canadian frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec will escort ships carrying food aid to Somalia.
NAIROBI, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- The UN World Food Program on Wednesday welcomed Canada`s decision to deploy a frigate to Somalia to protect WFP food ships against piracy.
The UN food agency said ninety percent of WFP food assistance for Somalia arrives by sea.
"WFP is grateful for Canada`s leadership in protecting our maritime lifeline from piracy -- this is a critical moment when more food is needed for a growing number of hungry," said WFP Country Director Peter Goossens in a statement.
Since a naval escort system began last November, WFP said no escorted ships carrying agency`s food have been attacked. The last escorted ship loaded with WFP food arrived in Mogadishu in late June.
Canada stepped forward after WFP made a strong appeal for naval escorts in July. WFP said that it hoped other governments would step forward to take over from Canada once it completes its mission in a few weeks.
Frigates from France, Denmark and the Netherlands in succession have provided escorts for WFP ships from November last year until late June.
The naval escorts proved to be an effective deterrent against pirates, who have launched at least 24 attacks so far this year off Somalia`s coast.
There were a total of 31 incidents off Somalia in 2007 -- the worst year on record for Somali piracy.
Without escorts, WFP`s whole maritime supply route is under threat. Since naval escorts ended in late June, some shippers have refused to load WFP food for Somalia.
Canada has given 15.7 million U.S. dollars to WFP operations in Somalia since August 2006 including 5.4 million dollars in 2008, making it the third largest donor to WFP`s operations in Somalia, as well as worldwide.
WFP said it urgently needs to double the amount of food it delivers to Somalia through the coming months so it can feed 2.4 million people by December.
Insecurity, drought, a succession of poor or failed harvests, the weakness of the Somali shilling against the dollar, coupled with rising food and fuel prices, are deepening the suffering of millions of people in Somalia and pushing hundreds of thousands into destitution.
Somalia has been devastated by conflict since 1991, when former President Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.
© Copyright 2008 Xinhua News Agency