The following synopsis of a talk by Wolf Lange has been extracted from the minutes of U3A general meeting held at Muizenberg Pavilion on Thursday, 5th April 2012
Wolf Lange is a writer, who, although retired, still works at the Planetarium. This was his second lecture to U3A. The lecture was entitled “An Illustrated Talk on Somalian Piracy”.
Wolf commenced with a brief history of Somalia, the name in Arabic meaning ‘the Horn of Africa’. The earliest Muslim traders arrived in 900 A.D. in Mogadishu, which in Arabic means ‘the Seat of the Shah’. For a few centuries they lived in peaceful co-existence with their Christian neighbours in Ethiopia, until clan wars broke out in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Records show visits by a Chinese explorer in 1413 and also by the Portuguese who never sought to colonise the area. Nomadic invasion at the end of the 17th century brought about rule by the Ottoman Empire. Following the European scramble for Africa in 1892, the Sultan of Mogadishu leased the city to Italy.
A period of economic prosperity followed with immigrant Italians helping to construct new buildings, a road to Addis Ababa and a railway line. To this day, Italian is still spoken in Somalia, although after World War II Italian Somalia was incorporated into British Somalia. Somalia became independent in 1960 and General Siad Barre seized power in a coup in 1969 making Mogadishu the capital and becoming the first legitimate President.
The neighbouring territories have all experienced turmoil with Dijbouti, the capital of Dijbouti, occupied by the French and for a time an American military base. In 1990, the Al-Shabaab rebels – using children in their armies carrying AK 47 assault rifles -overran Mogadishu and installed harsh Sharia laws, forcing President Siad Barre to seek asylum in Kenya. Since 1990 there has been no stable government and no infrastructure has been built. In 1992 a contingent of U.S. Marines landed near Mogadishu to prepare the way for U.N. peacekeeping forces but the resulting disaster led President Clinton to withdraw U.S. troops in 1994 (as depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down”). International peacekeepers withdrew in 1995 leaving competing clans to “govern” Mogadishu and Somalia until 2006. Two hundred thousand Somalis became refugees in Canada.
Three severe droughts, in 1983/1984, 2003 and 2011, brought death and desolation to a once happy land with the largely pastoral economy, forcing Somalians to become refugees and resulting in the establishment of refugee camps. Illegal fishing by Asian and European powers (Korea, Thailand and Spain) decimated the fishing industry. The tsunami of 2004 exposed thousands upon thousands of tons of dumped hazardous waste by Italian-Swiss and an Italian waste broker company which caused skin lesions, ulcers, respiratory problems and bleeding consistent with radiation sickness.
As a result fishermen, joined by the military with ammunition and internet experts, basically became pirates to retrieve via ransoms from hijackings the losses incurred from the destruction of their fishing industry and from the dumping of waste
Three hundred ships daily pass around the Horn of Africa eastwards and westwards through the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea as well as southward around the Cape of Good Hope: oil tankers from the Arabian oil fields and containerships from China, India, Japan, Britain, Western and Eastern Europe, large deep sea fishing trawlers and small coastal traders, fishing boats and sailing boats. In 2003 there were 20 incidents of piracy rising to 240 in 2010.
Annually 100 ships are attacked, more than 60 are hijacked with up to a dozen held for ransom. The methodology is to sail a mother-ship deep into the oceans, lower a skiff with a powerful engine carrying 6 people to board the intended prey with grapples. These attacks result in huge insurance cost increases and major losses to tourism for places like the Commores, the Seychelles, Madagascar, the Maldives, Kenya and Tanzania. Over three hundred million dollars has been paid in ransoms to say nothing about the loss and misery incurred by humans. In 2008 the container ship, the Sirius Star, carrying two million barrels of oil was hijacked and the pirates demanded and received payment in cash dropped by helicopter.
The M.S. Melody atttacked by pirates 100 kms from the Seychelles fought off pirates assisted by an Israeli security group but limped into port with 700 bullet marks.
Wolf cited some famous tragic cases which ended badly as it did for a French couple on the yacht Tanit, when the French Navy intervened. The Chandlers, a seafaring British couple were held for over a year in separate places in 2009-2010 but were released on payment of a ransom. The Danish family Johannsen paid 3 million dollars for release. David Tebbutt, a British citizen was killed and his disabled wife is still held hostage. South Africans Bruno Pelizarri and Deborah Calitz have been held since 2010, their families desparately trying to raise a ransom. Two American couples bringing Bibles to Africa were killed and in February 2012. AVietnamese sea captain had his arm cut off.
Although the new Somali government and President Aden Mohammed are supported by AMISOM (an African Union peacekeeping force), they remain ineffective in combatting Al-Shabaab who now control the entire South and most of Mogadish. Piracy is given free reign with the South used as a land base thus creating streams of refugees, with five hundred children dying in a week.
Is the end of piracy a myth or a possibility? A worldwide attempt in Operation Atlanta is a combined initiative by the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Spain, Italy, Korea, India, China, Japan, France and Germany and others to stem piracy using warships to look for little skiffs carrying six people. A safe corridor below Yemen is used for trade ships patrolled by warships. South Africa’s SAS Amatola, Islandhwana and Mendi patrol between Madagascar and Mozambique and the county has set up specialised maritime surveillance centres against drugs and human trafficking.
Australian and Canadian Marines have been successful in catching pirates with one being sentenced to 33 years in prison. Iranian hostages were released in 2011.
Somalia needs the world to get involved. A start has been made by the U.N. Council for Refugees and the World Food Programme. In South Africa, the Gift of the Givers has worked together with the S.A. Jewish Board of Deputies Refugee Relief Fund and there is an affirmative initiative to hire Somalis.