SNM and SSDF: Were they the earliest predators?
August 06, 2010
The SNM and SSDF campaigns of late 1980s and early 1990s were the prelude to the upsurge in modern piracy.
In Somalia, privateers and sea scavengers have, of course, always existed. At times, it was an honored occupation that only skilled seafarers were allowed to do it. To recall oral history, the earliest sea scavengers in what is now known as Puntland region sprang from swooping down on unsuspected sailing boats as well as shipwrecked sailors.
It was in the beginning of 19th century when Cape Guardafui area became known as the richest and wickedest area in Somalia. Guardafui (which literally means “see and run from it”) was and still is infamous in Somalia for its powerful monsoon storms and swirling sea waves, which have been responsible for the loss of thousands of lives and sailing boats. It was a safe haven for the sea scavengers and pirates. No more suitable location in Somalia for carrying pirate operations could have been found than Cape Guardafui. Within a very short period of time, numerous bustling coastal settlements sprang up near the Cape, with several thousands of people
These remarkable pirate colonies thrived from the riches plundered by the sea scavengers. As long as these sea scavengers enjoyed the support of clan elders, all went well. Some of the scavengers have even ruled these pirate settlements as chiefs and clan-leaders and continued to carry on their scavenging business
Alarmed at the level of pillaging going on around the Cape, historian Wayne Durrill unveils a 40-page letter written by an American expeditionist, Charles Graves, some time in 1878. In his letter, Graves described how sea scavengers preyed on shipwrecks and how the scourge of Cape Guardafui was made sacrosanct. He wrote:
So important did shipwrecks become to the sultanate that in 1878 an American visitor among the Majeerteen reported: “A priest is stationed in the mountains near Cape Guardafui who prays day and night that God will drive Christian vessels ashore that they may plunder them! This was told me by the Chief of Hunda [Hurdia?] who regarded it as a very prudent, proper and pious precaution—he thinking I was a Moslem.”
Such details of ancient piracy seem as if it affected the mentality of today`s Somali armed militias. The earliest of these armed factions who were attracted by the movement of vulnerable sea transports were the predators (pirates) from Somali National Movement (SNM) and Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF).
The information collected by Biyokulule Online from various local sources reveal that the story of maritime predation involves much more than a clash between Somali fishermen and foreign fishing trawlers. Thus, reducing the “out of control” piracy on the Somali coast as “a side-effect of Somali fishermen taking to the seas with weapons as a means of defending their tuna-rich waters” is not acceptable.
Here, we compiled few news-coverage on Somalia, to explain that piracy is a subset of violent maritime predation in which armed factions (such as SNM, al-Shabaab etc) are part of a widely recognized war to overthrow a legitimate regime by any means necessary – including acts of sea piracy.
In the name of “freedom fighters” has generally been held to be the justifications for piracy in the 1980s. And in early 1990s, as the case is in northeastern part of Somalia, pirates claim to be acting on behalf of a regional administration rather than from private motives.
It was precisely the ineffectiveness of regional administrations (Puntland etc), in relation to piracy, which led to the practice of reprisals by the foreign warships.
Rebels report seizure of "ships" carrying Italians.
BBC Monitoring Service: Africa
December 18, 1989
"Units of the SNM Coastguards seized a ship flying a Panamanian flag, along the Somali coast, on 5th December 1989", Radio SNM reported on the 15th. The ship, which was heading for Berbera, was carrying nine Somalis and five Italians and brought to three the number of ships captured by the SNM, the radio said, adding: "The SNM warns all shipping agencies not to co-operate with the dying regime of Mogadishu, because we shall not be able to ensure the safety of ships and their crews against any dangers that they may be exposed to."
© 1989 The British Broadcasting Corporation . All Rights Reserved.
Somali Rebels Say They Seized Ship, Shot Down Jet Fighter
January 22, 1990
NAIROBI, Jan 22, Reuter - The rebel Somali National Movement (SNM) said on Monday it had seized a government cargo ship in the Red Sea and shot down an air force jet which later tried to bomb the vessel.
Radio SNM said rebel forces seized the unnamed ship on January 15. When the government sent two MiG-19 jets to bomb it, one of them was shot down.
The broadcast, monitored in Nairobi, said SNM forces killed 15 government soldiers in a battle at Hantaloo, a village near the town of Upper Sheikh in northwestern Somalia, on January 16.
It said SNM forces also killed 11 soldiers in a skirmish on the outskirts on the northern port city of Berbera on January 18.
There has been no independent confirmation of the SNM`s claim to have seized the ship but in December it hijacked the Italian freighter Kwanda carrying fuel to the East African country.
The ship and its 12-man crew were released unharmed on January 20 after being held for 20 days while the cargo was unloaded.
An Ethiopian rebel group, the Eritrean People`s Liberation Front (EPLF), has intercepted three cargo vessels in the Red Sea recently saying it is trying to stop arms supplies reaching the government.
© 1990 Reuters Limited
Somali rebels claim capture of ship; clashes near Berbera
BBC Monitoring Service: Africa
January 23, 1990
SNM coastguards on 15th January captured a cargo vessel belonging to the regime in Somali waters of the Red Sea, according to an SNM high command report broadcast by Radio SNM on 21st January. Two MiG-19s attacked the SNM base at which the ship was detained; one was shot down. On the same day the radio reported clashes on 18th January between SNM fighters and troops of the regime on the outskirts of Berbera; 11 government soldiers were killed and 15 wounded. On 16th January, the radio reported, a clash between SNM and government forces near the town of Shiikh resulted in the killing of 15 and the wounding of 28 government soldiers.
© 1990 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
SSDF Group Seizes Two Taiwan Fishing Boats
Paris AFP in English 1601 GMT 6 Apr 1992
[Text] Djibouti, 6 April (AFP)-An armed Somali group seized two Taiwanese boats and will put their captains and crew on trial for illegal fishing off the Somali coast, a group statement issued here Monday [6 April] said.
The Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) seized the two vessels, identified as the Cherng of Yue Sa No 3 with 16 crew and the Chian Yuein No 232 with 17 crew, on April 1 off Baila.
The crews would also be tried for using internationally banned fishing practices seriously damaging the environment, the SSDF representative to Djibouti, Mohamed Abshir said.
In its statement, the SSDF said hundreds of fishing boats from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Greece, France, Italy and Russia were "taking advantage of the situation and the distress of the Somali people to exploit and steal their maritime resources".
Somalia has been in the grip of clan warfare since the military dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled early last year.
The SSDF said it could issue fishing permits to those who requested them from regional SSDF headquarters in Bossasso.
Behind the lines of pirates
Daily News (Sri Lanka)
April 09, 2010
Captain Sarath Weerewansa of the ship M.V. Leila. Pictures by Rukmal Gamage
Sri Lanka, April 9 -- Being captive by a ruthless gang of pirates is the worst kind of nightmare one could imagine. For Captain Sarath Weerewansa of the ship M.V. Leila it was an experience of living hell. Being dehydrated for days, not being fed properly and just being treated like slaves in a place where there is no democracy, rules and regulations, is truly something you don`t want to dream of or wake up to. Here he relates in detail how he and his crew were bundled out from the ship he commanded and held prisoner in the most anguishing conditions.
Captain Weerewansa returned to his motherland two weeks ago after being freed from the clutches of Somaliland administration. However, the twist to the tale, according to him is that the Somaliland Government was working hand in glove with the pirates.
Piracy in Somaliland is a great impediment on the cargo movements. The Somaliland Government now in power is not in a position to combat this menace as the pirates are overwhelmingly powerful than the state authorities. But the adventure story woven around Captain Weerewansa has nothing to do with pirates. Actually, it is an exception.
`This was not a dealing I had to do with pirates. We were taken into custody by Somaliland State Government, he added with a feeling of despise.
When asked what took him to Somaliland he said, `Somaliland wasn`t my destination, but the sister ship launched before us was caught up with fire, I was behind them. They met with that accident in Somali waters. So the owner of my shipping company told me to go to them and help in any possible way. When I embarked there the crew of my sister vessel had been taken into custody. So that was the same fate I also had to undergo.
Revealing the reason behind for such an arrest Captain Weerawansa said that Somaliland clamp a US $ 2.5 fine to release the ship. So Somaliland authorities told us to tolerate the things until our shipping company pay the fine.
`But the company was not that quick to pay the fine and release us. We were optimistic of a rapid release. But nothing of the kind happened. They say it is a democratic Government. Their democracy was proved by the way they treated us. They treated us in a very appalling way. Actually they didn`t know what democracy was. It was a bunch of terrorists ruling the country.
The crew of my sister ship was assaulted and tortured by the authorities. August 7 was the day on which we were arrested. Two days after the arrest the ship was taken into the pier. I was able to contact the owner of my ship and he was telling me he was doing his very best to release us. He was asking for time.
A week became a month. Month became many months. To take the ship out of Somali waters we were asked for the port clearance certificate. But we were unable to submit that certificate as we were under arrest. Captain Weerawansa thought it best not to inform the family the circumstance he was under. Now already three months had passed. He was helpless thinking about the plight his family would have had to confront if he was not released forthwith.
`But I didn`t tell them what was happening around me thinking that they will be scared. I expected the company and other accountable authorities to do their best to get us released. But that was not what really happened. `My hopes began waning when I felt the owner ignoring my plight. He avoided answering the phone. Ultimately he severed the connections he had with us.
There was a shortage of food and water. No words can describe the difficulties we had to face, revealed Captain Weerawansa. A Somaliland Journalist got an interview from me. It was published in their paper. Ultimately the plight we were undergoing in this unknown land was leaked to the international media.
They had a field day interviewing me over telephone. `Somaliland State is not doing the right thing, not sending us to our motherlands. This is not a Government but a bunch of terrorists administrating the country. This is not a country of democracy but a country of piracy` was the response he marketed to the international media`
Weerewansa and crew were detained under no court order. He appealed to the international community to stop sending their ships to Somaliland. This is not a court in the real sense of the word. This is a Kangaroo court and only the jungle law reigns in the country. His words went reverberating in the international scene. As a result some countries avoided sending ships to Somaliland. My allegations hurt the Somaliland Government.
The President of Somaliland made a friendly approach towards us. They took us to hotel where a media gaggle was organized. So they told me to speak good about Somaliland letting down my former allegations in the presence of international media. I saw some men who are around us with AK 47s and other arms.
But I was not shaken. I was adamant and repeated my allegations without letting down my criticism against the Somaliland Government. I told the Somaliland government officials to shoot me down without taking me and my crew to task.
The approach the Somaliland Government adopted on us changed its colours meanwhile. They came up with an idea I never expected. They asked me to change my religion, then marry a Somali woman and serve Somaliland. In response to their suggestion I told them that I have a wife and a child back in Sri Lanka. I told what I expected from them was my quick release. But there were only negative answers available; they were actually taking revenge over what I have done. I tarnished their image in the presence of international media. They were penalizing us.
When food and water was running out they took a long time to replenish. I went from pillar to post asking my release. But most of the officials showed their unconcern, most of the discussions I had with them ended up with heated arguments.
If I tell you frankly the helplessness I felt, when the ship`s owner was online I asked what was happening`.
He told me he was not competent to do anything. I demanded why he didn`t tell me earlier about this in which case I could do something worthwhile without having my faith in you. `Is this the way I am rewarded with for looking after your ship? I demanded. Some Indians in my crew thought to take their life in water.
My health condition was deteriorating. I was hospitalized twice. Second time was due to diarrhea. Though they didn`t torture us physically they did mentally.
How they were released
The crew of my sister ship was released under a court order. But still we were detained. I struggled with my argument Law is law. But the official seemed not flexible enough. Ultimately they had to release us as they couldn`t withstand the international pressure unleashed on them. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the High Commissioner in Nairobi, Jayanatha Dissanayaka for his untiring efforts to take me out of that hell. Ultimately on March 24 we came to Sri Lanka. First we arrived in Nairobi, where I can remember how Jayantha Dissanayaka and Deputy High Commissioner Mahesh were there to welcome us. They arranged a party for us. But I was in a critical condition caused by diaherria.
During my detention my family had lot of hardships. My telephone line and the electricity were cut off. But when my wife told Sri Lanka Telecom and Electricity Board the conditions we were in they supplied the facility unhindered, I should admire SLT for providing the facility as it was the only way possible for me to hear the voice of my wife and child - the only solace I had.
Captain Weerawansa has not yet been paid for 7 months by his company. The company owner had changed the name of the company in fear of prosecution. I seek the help of media to go before international human rights.
I need to take legal action against Somaliland Government for torturing me and my crew. But I know next to nothing about the procedure I will have to follow. So I request from able authorities to make me aware of the possibilities bringing those rascals to book,` concluded Weerewansa.
© Copyright 2010. HT Media Limited. All rights reserved.
Crew of MV Leila Finally Freed from Somaliland
by Venatrix Fulmen (ECOP-marine)
April 09, 2010
The rump-crew of three Sri Lankans and two Pakistani nationals which was held with the vessel MV LEILA inside the Berbera harbour entangled in a legal tussle involving burned cargo on her sister ship MV MARIAM STAR has finally been freed today on Monday and could board a plane to Nairobi, where they will arrive this evening.
Mr. Mohamed Ghadeeb of Abu Dhabi, who stands accused as the vessel`s owner and who is behind Al Hufoof Shipping and another company named New Port Shipping - fronting as the owner-managers of these vessels - did never even go to Somaliland to solve the problems his shipping company has with a court ruling subjecting him to pay damages, fines as well as harbour and court charges. That he first of all abandoned the crew of MV LEILA for all that time they were stranded since August last year with their ship on a court-chain, a conning Somaliland port authority and an obvious ignorant governance is not taken lightly.
THE SHIPOWNER ABANDONED THE CREW AND IS NOW BLACKLISTED
Though all crew members had resigned from the company since long, they were illegally held by the General Manager of the Port Authority of Berbera and forced to take care of the vessel - a situation, which only can be described as hostage situation and slave labour enforced on an expatriate crew - a situation which tarnishes the reputation of Somaliland seriously.
The clandestine companies and their ships at the core of the case have in the meantime been blacklisted and every seafarer is aware which trouble he can get himself into, if he would accept to work for that owner - word in the harbours travels fast.
ECOTERRA Intl., who had been requested to help by the crew and their governments, thanked the tireless efforts of the Governments of Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which together with their missions in Nairobi and Dubai and all concerned parties stood together to finally free all the expat crew.
Seven Indian nationals had been channelled out of Somaliland, though the Indian High Commissioner, who first had taken the diplomatic lead, had promised to achieve a release of the whole crew together.
Meanwhile these seven Indians are stuck at home with not only their wages for over six month not paid, but with a bill which was slapped on them from their own ministry, claiming the air-travel costs and restricting the seafarers from seeking any further work until the Indian government gets back these monies.
It is hoped that all the governments involved will show now some further support and assist their seafarers to receive their full payments and dues from the shipowner, who let them suffer for so long.