Saturday, 14 November 2009

Somali pirates capture ship carrying cargo of missiles

SOMALI pirates may now have their hands on short- and medium-range missiles, after the capture of an unnamed vessel laden with weapons yesterday morning, according to private security sources with good connections in the Gulf of Aden.

Nick Davis of the UK-based Merchant Maritime Warfare Centre identified the vessel as Al Mizan, a name that does not occur on either the Lloyd’s Marine Intelligence Unit or Equasis databases. This may suggest that the ship, reportedly flagged in the United Arab Emirates, was using a false name to facilitate contravention of a United Nations arms embargo.

Whatever the case, the ship was yesterday reportedly being unloaded while anchored off Garacad, near to Eyl.

The International Maritime Bureau said it could not confirm the seizure, and military sources were not immediately available for comment.

According to a non-governmental organisation active in the region, the weapons consignment was bound for al Shabab, an Islamist militia group operating inside Somalia. The question of whether it has links with the pirates is controversial among specialists, with the current consensus of opinion being that it does not.

Al Shabab is known to be equipped with rocket propelled grenades, but not short- or medium-range missiles of either surface-to-air or surface-to-surface type.

Another former military source, Graeme Gibbon Brookes, who is now managing director of Dryad Maritime Intelligence, said that he doubted whether either the pirates or the militia would have the ability to use missiles, which are too sophisticated for their needs.

“To effectively use a surface-to-surface missile, you need a launcher platform and Istar [a military acronym for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance]. It would be like you or I trying to remove someone’s appendix. The mechanics of doing it are so complicated, invariably it would fail.”

Meanwhile, it has also emerged that Somali pirates on Sunday night mounted an unsuccessful attack on a very large crude carrier located a full 1,000 nautical miles off the Somali coast.

EU Navfor has confirmed that the attacked ship was the 2004-built, 298,563 dwtBW Lion, which the Lloyd’s MIU database associates with BW Maritime of Hong Kong. A European Union spotter plane was sent to hunt for the pirates, a statement added

According to Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, the vessel caught fire after being hit by bullets and a rocket-propelled grenade. However, there were no known injuries. “There have been 12 pirate events in this area in the last 30 days. There is a high probability of attacks in this area for at least the next 24-48 hours. Weather conditions are expected to remain favourable for piracy through this period,” Mr Mwangura said.

Pirates now hold at least 11 vessels and more than 200 crew.

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