Multinational Law Enforcement Is Complicated

There’s an interesting news article from the Associated Press that highlights the complexity of dealing with Somali piracy:

MOGADISHU (Reuters) — Dutch commandos freed 20 Yemeni hostages on Saturday and briefly detained seven pirates who had forced the Yemenis to sail a “mother ship” attacking vessels in the Gulf of Aden, NATO officials said.

In a separate incident, gunmen from Somalia seized a Belgian-registered ship and its 10 crew, including seven Europeans, further south in the Indian Ocean. A pirate source said the vessel, the Pompei, would be taken to the coast.

Somali sea gangs have captured dozens of ships, taken hundreds of sailors prisoner and made off with tens of millions of dollars in ransoms despite an unprecedented deployment by foreign navies in waters off the Horn of Africa.

The attacks have disrupted U.N. aid supplies, driven up insurance costs and forced some shipping companies to route cargo round South Africa, rather than risk approaching Somalia.

NATO Lieutenant Commander Alexandre Fernandes, speaking on board the Portuguese warship Corte-Real, said the 20 fishermen were rescued after a Dutch navy frigate on a NATO patrol responded to an assault on a Greek-owned tanker by pirates firing assault rifles and grenades.

Commandos from the Dutch ship, the De Zeven Provincien, pursued the pirates, who were on a small skiff, back to their “mother ship” — a hijacked Yemeni fishing dhow.

“We have freed the hostages, we have freed the dhow and we have seized the weapons… The pirates did not fight and no gunfire was exchanged,” Fernandes told Reuters. The Corte-Real is also on a NATO anti-piracy mission.

He said the hostages had been held since last week. The commandos briefly detained and questioned the seven gunmen, he told Reuters, but had no legal power to arrest them.

“NATO does not have a detainment policy. The warship must follow its national law,” he said.

“They can only arrest them if the pirates are from the Netherlands, the victims are from the Netherlands, or if they are in Netherlands waters.”

This story underscores the thought behind the suggestion that Galrahn of Information Dissemination made on OTB Radio last week. His suggestion was that the United States would agree to underwrite the insurance of American-flagged vessels carrying cargo off the coast of Somalia. This would encourage more vessels to be American-flagged (there are fewer than 250 American-flagged vessels of over 1,000 tons today). Vessels being American-flagged would give the United States a legal underpinning for apprehending and detaining Somali pirates who attacked or harassed such vessels.

While I’m on the subject don’t miss Galrahn’s recent post drawing a connection between the increase in operational tempo among Somali pirates and their interaction with groups linked to Al Qaeda:

I was reading this CBS World News blog article discussing a new audiotape from the senior Al Qaeda operative Sa’id Ali Jabir Al Khathim Al Shihri (aka Abu Sufian al-Azdi), who you may have heard about considering he was a 6 year resident of Guantanamo Bay before being released to Saudi Arabia last year.

After serving his time in Gitmo, being released in Saudi Arabia, and participating in a repatriation and rehabilitation program, Shihri has popped up in Yemen calling on Somali jihadists to attack “crusader” forces at sea in the Gulf of Aden. The audiotape appears to be a response to the US and French actions against piracy last week. The article discusses the typical Al Qaeda rhetoric then states:

Al Qaeda does have links to Islamic extremist groups operating in Somalia but, thus far, piracy and al Qaeda’s brand of terrorism have remained largely separate. The pirates in the Gulf of Aden have always sought ransom payments or loot — they have not been motivated by Islamic fundamentalism.

That is exactly how I have come to understand the relationship between the Al Qaeda terrorism and pirates in Somalia. However, I had never seen what was reported in the very next paragraph.

Read the whole thing.

FILED UNDER: Africa, ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Davebo says:

    This would encourage more vessels to be American-flagged (there are fewer than 250 American-flagged vessels of over 1,000 tons today). Vessels being American-flagged would give the United States a legal underpinning for apprehending and detaining Somali pirates who attacked or harassed such vessels.

    This reflects a profound misunderstanding of the reasons shipping lines choose Liberia or more recently the Cayman Islands or Panama for registry.

    And this continues despite the Patriot Act which provides for even more disincentives.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Don’t argue with me, Davebo, argue with Galrahn—it’s his argument.

    I’m generally ignorant of why the number of U. S.-flagged ships has dropped from more than 20,000 to just over 200 over the years. I’d guess it was cost—the cost of registry, taxation, and various regulations and work rules.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    We’ve re-flagged ships in the Persian Gulf from time to time, but I thought that was directed towards state actors (Iran and Iraq), for whom detterrence has some bite. But the flip side is it creates duties, or at least perceived duties, that didn’t previously exist. I am not sure that piracy is as important of an issue, particuarly if it’s main problem is increased cost. What is the cost of corruption and instability in the Gulf?

  4. […] Dave Schuler noted in a post yesterday afternoon that, This story underscores the thought behind the suggestion […]

  5. […] law enforcement is complicated, Dave Schuler explains. He’s […]