Tag Archives: somalia

Slyly Conquering East Africa

The rulers of United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of whose components, Dubai, own a majority stake in DP World, one of the world’s largest maritime firms with perations in 40 countries.It is one of several Gulf states trying to gain a strategic foothold in east Africa through ports. Controlling these offers commercial and military advantages but risks exacerbating tensions in the region…

DP World thinks the region from Sudan to Somalia needs 10-12 ports. It has just half that. The firm’s first foray was on Djibouti’s coast. When DP World won its first concessions there in the 1990s, the Emiratis were among the few investors interested in the small and poor former French colony. DP World built and operated a new container terminal, Doraleh,and helped finance roads and other infrastructure. Doraleh is now the country’s largest employer and the government’s biggest source of revenue. It runs at nearly full capacity, handling 800,000 containers a year. Much of its cargo travels along a Chinese-built railway from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

Djibouti’s profile rose further after the terrorist attacks on America of September 11th, 2001, when America opened a military base there. France and China also have bases; other navies patrol off its coast to deter Somali pirates. But when the Emiratis wanted to open their own naval base they were rebuffed, partly because of their close ties to Djibouti’s rival, Eritrea (the two states had a bloody border dispute in 2008). In 2015 the UAE started building a naval base in Assab, in southern Eritrea. The base has been used in the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen….In 2016 DP World won a 30-year concession to operate the port of Berbera in Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991 (though no foreign government recognises it). Critics said the deal would hasten the break-up of Somalia.

The Horn ports all sit near the Bab al-Mandab strait, a vital choke-point at the mouth of the Red Sea: 4.8m barrels of oil passed through it every day in 2016. Competition is getting fierce, though. Qatar and its ally, Turkey, are building ports in Sudan. Saudi Arabia is in talks to set up a naval base in Djibouti. All three Gulf states are trying to snap up farmland in east Africa, part of a broader effort to secure food supplies for their arid countries. Emirati-built ports could one day export crops from Emirati-owned farms…

Gulf states could also find themselves in competition with China…In February 2018 Djibouti seized the Doraleh port, a concession to the UAE… Shippers believe it took Doraleh as a sop to China, to which it is heavily indebted. In July 2018, Djibouti opened the first phase of a new $3.5bn free-trade zone, set to be the largest in Africa when it is finished. Built mostly by state-owned Chinese firms, it sits next to Doraleh. DP World says the project violates the terms of its concession and is threatening to sue.

Excerpts from Red Sea Scamble: Ports on the Horn, Economist, July 21, 2018, at 33

Corruption in Somalia

Somalia_map_states_regions_districts

A United Nations panel that monitors compliance with U.N. sanctions on Somalia has accused Somalia’s  president, a former minister, and a U.S. law firm of conspiring to divert Somali assets recovered abroad, according to a new report.  The Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, an 8-person committee, disclosed the findings in a confidential report to the U.N. Security Council’s Somalia/Eritrea sanctions committee. Reuters reviewed a copy of the 37-page document.  The U.N. Monitoring Group said the information it has gathered so far “reflects exploitation of public authority for private interests and indicates at the minimum a conspiracy to divert the recovery of overseas assets in an irregular manner.”

Most of the overseas assets were frozen at the outset of the civil war in 1991 and include cash and gold held in banks during two decades of chaos and conflict in Somalia, as well as government properties on foreign soil.  What the monitors describe as a conspiracy involved the U.S.-based law firm Shulman Rogers, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his office, former foreign minister Fawzia Yusuf H. Adam, as well as two other individuals whom the monitors said acted as liaisons between Shulman Rogers and Somalia…

All those accused of involvement in the plan to divert assets have denied any wrongdoing. Several accused the chairman of the Monitoring Group, Jarat Chopra, of dubious investigative methods and making baseless assertions….

A 2013 U.N. Monitoring Group report said individuals in Mohamud’s government used the Somali central bank as a personal “slush fund”, with an average 80 percent of withdrawals made for private purposes. The presidency and the then-central bank governor Abdusalam Omer have strongly denied that accusation..  In its latest report, the Monitoring Group said that “a complex architecture of multiple secret contracts, which defied a separation of powers between the Presidency and the Central Bank, created the opportunity and rationalization for the misappropriation of public resources.”  “‘Pie-cutting’ of overseas assets by those involved in the project entailed retention of excessive percentages and direct payments from recovered assets as well as attempts to circumvent deposits in the Central Bank of Somalia,” it added.

Abrar, the former central bank governor who was also a former Citigroup vice president, quit last October after seven weeks on the job, alleging she had been pressured to sign a contract with Shulman Rogers that she feared could invite corruption at the central bank.According to the new report, she sent her resignation from Dubai after fleeing from Mogadishu out of fear for her safety.The Monitoring Group said it had followed up on a number of Abrar’s allegations and her concerns about the contract and the planned scheme for the recovery of Somalia’s overseas assets. One of her main worries, the monitors said, was a clause in a July 2013 contract with Shulman Rogers that gave the law firm a bonus of 5 percent of recovered assets in addition to its fees and for Shulman Rogers to retain a further 6 percent of recovered assets for undefined costs and expenses.

“Ms. Abrar considered this clause for undefined costs and expenses to be for hidden fees and ultimately understood that it was meant as a side payment to be divided two percent each between Foreign Minister Adam, Musa Haji Mohamed Ganjab and Abdiaziz Hassan Giyaajo Amalo,” the report said…

After consulting with the World Bank, the Somali president’s office said in a statement to Reuters that it revoked a power of attorney it had granted to Shulman Rogers in May and was renegotiating its contract with the law firm.

Excerpts from LOUIS CHARBONNEAU AND DRAZEN JORGIC. Exclusive: U.N. monitors allege ‘conspiracy’ to divert Somali assets, Reuters, July 15, 2014

The Covert War in Somalia 2012

According to the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea,-

The Kill List and Drone Body Count

Just days after taking office, the president [Obamaa] got word that the first strike under his administration had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis. “The president was very sharp on the thing, and said, ‘I want to know how this happened,’ “ a top White House adviser recounted.  In response to his concern, the C.I.A. downsized its munitions for more pinpoint strikes. In addition, the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a “near certainty” that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide personally whether to go ahead.

The president’s directive reinforced the need for caution, counterterrorism officials said, but did not significantly change the program. In part, that is because “the protection of innocent life was always a critical consideration,” said Michael V. Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush.  It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.  Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.  “It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

Excerpt, JO BECKER and SCOTT SHANE, Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will, NY Times, May 29, 2012

Why the CIA Loves Somali Warlords

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and US military special operations teams carried out frequent espionage and counter-terrorism missions inside Somalia starting in 2003, according to a recent series of articles in a newspaper focused on the US Army.Secret operatives who flew or swam to Somalia planted cameras and phone-tapping devices and paid local warlords to help hunt for key figures in Al Qaeda’s East African network, the reports in Army Times reveal.

Sean Naylor, a reporter for the privately owned Virginia-based newspaper, attributes the disclosures mostly to anonymous sources currently or formerly affiliated with US military or intelligence services.  For example, he quotes “an intelligence source with long experience in the Horn” indicating that although Al Qaeda’s “centre of gravity” was in Mogadishu, “there was a huge support cell split between Nairobi and Mombasa.”  Some of the clandestine missions inside Somalia yielded important results, Army Times reports.

In late 2003, CIA agents persuaded warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed to sell them about 40 surface-to-air missiles, each capable of shooting down a civilian jet liner, the newspaper recounts.  It was a weapon of this type that was fired at, but missed, an Israeli aircraft taking off from the Moi International Airport in Mombasa in 2002.  The CIA paid about $360,000 for the missiles — a sum described by a US intelligence source as “peanuts.” They were taken initially to the US military base in Djibouti and later flown out, Army Times writes.  American agents were flown into Somalia from Kenya on civilian turboprop planes loaded with miraa, the newspaper says.  “The safest flight you can be on in Somalia is the miraa flight,” a source is quoted as explaining.  The planes are said to have landed at the K50 airport, about 50 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu.  From there, CIA case officers and “shooters” from a US special operations force travelled to Mogadishu in small convoys escorted by militants loyal to one or another warlord, Naylor reports.

Devices for eavesdropping on mobile telephone conversations were seeded in several locations in the Somali capital. “The ability to listen to Al Qaeda in East Africa’s phone calls paid big dividends,” Naylor writes.  The ultimate aim of these undercover missions was to capture or kill the 20 or so most important Al Qaeda figures in Somalia, Army Times says. “But rather than use US forces to do this, the CIA’s plan would have Somali warlords capture the Al Qaeda personnel before turning them over to the US to send — or ‘render’ — them to an American ally or one of the agency’s secret prisons,” according to Naylor’s account. At least two of the targets were subsequently hit.

Saleh Ali Nabhan, described as a key Al Qaeda operative in East Africa, was killed in a 2009 raid by US Navy special forces; Aden Hashi Ayro, a leader of Al Shabaab, was among several militants who died in a US airstrike in 2008.  In southern Somalia, US intelligence agents paid local spies up to $2,000 a month, Army Times reports.  A key point of interest was a rumoured Al Qaeda training camp in Ras Kamboni, a coastal town three kilometres from the Kenya border.  But it was not until 2007 that the US became convinced that “hundreds” of fighters were indeed training in and near Ras Kamboni, the newspaper says.

Somali warlords who did not agree to co-operate with the US in exchange for payoffs were threatened with the possibility of air strikes, Naylor reports. That was supposedly a bluff on the part of the CIA, however.

In the first of his articles, published in Army Times on October 31, Naylor describes an operation involving about a dozen forays into Somalia to plant cameras that had been disguised to look like natural or man-made objects.  These “Cardinal” devices were put in place by special forces who travelled via small submarines to within a mile of the Somalia coast and then swam to shore through what the newspaper describes as some of the world’s most shark-infested waters.  The cameras were placed near suspected militant training sites as well as in Kismayu and other ports where foreign fighters were believed to be arriving.

The missions were opposed by then-US ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy as well as by the CIA station chief in the Nairobi embassy, Naylor reports.  On the other side was US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. President George W Bush was eventually persuaded to approve the missions, Naylor reports.  One of the devices was discovered in January 2004 by fishermen from Ras Kamboni, Army Times says, citing a report on a Somalia news website.  “Nothing” came out of these operations, however, says a source cited by Naylor. A “senior intelligence official” offered the same verdict: “If it were a business, it’s not making any money.”

Seven or eight years ago, “the warlords’ fear of being whacked by US air power was groundless. There were no US aircraft overhead,” Naylor writes.  He quotes a US source as saying, “We had very, very few imagery assets available — everything was still dedicated to Iraq.”  It was the lack of pilotless aircraft and a shortage of reliable local spies inside Somalia that led the US to undertake risky espionage missions that, in some cases, produced no useful information.

KEVIN KELLEY, Reports detail past CIA operations in Somalia, East African, Nov. 20, 2011

Killing Civilians, Somalia

African Union peacekeepers known as AMISOM on Friday expressed concern over the repeated civilian casualties committed by Somali government soldiers.  The spokesman of AMISOM forces in Somalia, major. Brigye Bahuko said in an interview with Shabelle, a local radio station based in Mogadishu, that AU troops in Somalia are very sorry the arbitrary killings against ordinary people by Somali government forces in TFG controlled districts.  Mr. Bahuko said AMISOM will not tolerate the continuation of meaningless killing against Somali innocent civilians.  He indicated that Somali people in the areas under Al Shabaab control are facing more problems that they encounter in Somali government controlled districts.

Separately, Sheikh Ali Mohamed Rage, the spokesman of Al shabaab told reporters that AMISOM statement of Al shabaab bothering sthe civilians who live in the areas they control is baseless and false.  Rage pointed out they run 10 districts in the war-ravaged Mogadishu at the same time people don’t face any promlem from the fighters of Al Shabaab.

Somalia: Amisom – We Are Sorry for the Civilian Casualties Committed By TFG Soldiers, allAfrica.com, Feb. 18, 2011

Piracy: why it makes sense for all involved

The first successful pirate attack of 2011 could scarcely have come more promptly. In the early afternoon of January 1st, monitors at the Maritime Security Centre-Horn of Africa, based in Northwood near London, picked up distress signals from the MV Blida.

Somali pirates had hijacked the Greek-operated, Algerian-flagged 20,586-tonne bulk carrier, its crew of 27 (mainly Algerian and Ukrainian) and its cargo of clinker. The ship was some 150 nautical miles south-east of the Omani port of Salalah and heading for Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Four days later the Blida’s Ukrainian captain sent word that the ship was berthed off the Somali coast near the pirate lair of Garacad. The crew, he said, was safe and unharmed but the pirates had yet to start haggling with the owners over the ransom.

The Northwood centre was established in late 2008 as part of Operation Atalanta, a European Union (EU) naval initiative against Somali piracy. It works with the Royal Navy’s UK Maritime Trade Operations office in Dubai as a reporting hub for pirate activity and as a communications hub for the multinational naval forces in the area. The seizure of the Blida was the fourth attack on New Year’s Day; the other three were unsuccessful, thanks to evasive action and other protective measures.

Since then attacks have been running at the rate of more than one a day. According to the International Maritime Bureau, which posts live data on raids, Somali pirates hold 33 vessels and 758 hostages. In January alone the bureau recorded 35 attacks. The raiders took seven ships and 148 new hostages. The United Nations estimates the annual cost of piracy in the Indian Ocean at between $5 billion and $7 billion. Later this month, as the monsoon ends and the seas calm, attacks will multiply and the numbers of ships and hostages held will rise (see chart).

Only a handful of attacks make headlines. The British media got into a state about a failed bid in mid-January to hijack The Spirit of Adventure, a cruise ship with 350 British pensioners aboard. A particularly violent rescue carried out by South Korean commandos a few days later attracted coverage, too: they killed eight pirates who had hijacked the Samho Jewelry. Anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and the southern Indian Ocean now comprise up to 30 naval vessels. Even so, 2011 is set to be the worst year since Somali piracy revived following the collapse of the short-lived government of the Union of Islamic Courts three years ago.

Somali piracy takes the form of hijacking and extortion, rather than conventional robbery at sea. This predatory pattern evolved from “defensive” piracy that began early in the last decade as a response by local fishermen, mainly of the Hawiye clan, to unlicensed foreign trawlers and the dumping of toxic waste. These outsiders exploited the absence of a functioning Somali state capable of protecting its coastal waters. The Hawiye briefly ceased their activities in 2006 when the anti-piracy Union of Islamic Courts occupied their Haradheere stronghold in central Somalia, but the Darod clan, with bases around Bosasso and Caluula on the Gulf of Aden in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, energetically took up the slack.

Initially, almost all the attacks were in the calm, target-rich waters of the Gulf of Aden—a passage for 20% of the world’s commercial shipping. When anti-piracy naval flotillas began arriving in force a couple of years ago, the pirates quickly worked out ways to roam farther by using “mother ships”, often powerful deep-sea fishing vessels seized earlier, as floating bases for their fast skiffs . With no government willing or able to stop them, the pirates found they could operate with impunity, refining a simple but devastatingly effective business model.

Working capital used to come from Somali criminal networks in Dubai, Nairobi and Lebanon. But increasingly the pirates are able to finance missions from their own earnings, which may have reached $238m last year. The business is disciplined. The pirates usually aim to take vessels without having to fire more than warning shots or harm the crew after boarding. The goal is to extract the highest possible cash ransom and return the ship, its cargo and its crew in decent condition. The pirates tend to keep hostage crews on board their own ships and feed them—sometimes by bringing live goats for slaughtering on board.

What happens next depends on the ransom negotiations. According to Stephen Askins of Ince & Co, an international law firm, the the last six ships released endured hijackings lasting an average of 213 days. The record belongs to the Win Far 161, a Taiwanese fishing vessel that was held for ten months and used as a mother ship with the original crew held captive on board. Three of them died of malnutrition and disease before their release in February last year. Although most of the 1,600 or so seamen captured since 2008 have safely returned from their ordeal, about 30 are thought to have perished from neglect or violence.

Watch our videographic on the recent history of piracy around the world.Ransoms are paid in cash, partly because Somalia has no functioning banking system, and partly to hamper American anti-money-laundering investigators. Once the professional negotiators who work for both sides have agreed on a sum, the money is usually dropped from a light aircraft. Increasingly, however, the pirates accept money using electronic funds transfer. Colonel Richard Spencer, the British chief of the EU’s naval force, says the size of ransoms is rising inexorably.

Mr Askins notes that the average ransom rose from around $1.5m at the beginning of 2009 to $3.5m at the end. In early 2010 Maran Centaurus, a Greek-owned tanker, was reported to have fetched between $5.5m and $7m after being held for 50 days. In November last year a South Korean oil tanker, the Samho Dream, captured in April, set a new record when it was released after a payment of $9.5m. The pirates who hijacked her at first demanded $20m, an indication both of their growing confidence and a form of score-keeping. New records this year seem certain.

The efforts of governments and industry to curb piracy have had mixed results. Three main naval task forces now operate in the area: Operation Atalanta, the EU contingent, which was originally created mainly to protect the UN’s World Food Programme shipments to Somalia, but has expanded to take on a general anti-piracy role; Operation Ocean Shield, a NATO standing maritime group with a similar remit to the EU force and with overlapping national contributions; and CTF-151, a wider international effort based on a 25-nation coalition under American command and headquartered in Bahrain. China, Japan, India, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia, among others, deploy their own naval forces under national command.

Since late 2009 all the ships in counter-piracy operations have had access to Mercury, a secure internet-based communication system set up by the British. This helps co-ordination. Ships from one navy or task force can request information or help from another, whatever the state of relations between their two countries. Even Iranian warships can discreetly work together with their American counterparts.

The combined naval forces have had some successes. World Food Programme supplies, on which nearly 2m Somalis depend, are getting through. There are now proportionately fewer attacks in the strategically important Gulf of Aden, thanks in part to escorted convoys and to a transit corridor set up in 2009. By registering his passage, the captain of a commercial vessel can trade information about pirate activity with naval patrols. Task-force commanders gain a clearer picture of vulnerable ships’ locations. Naval intervention disrupts around a fifth of the attacks. The UN estimates that about 700 suspected and convicted pirates are held in 12 countries.

Yet satisfaction at such successes is mixed with frustration and an overwhelming feeling that naval deterrence is doing little more than prevent piracy from getting out of control. Colonel Spencer says: “The military resource is finite and only treats the symptoms. We’re only holding the line.”

The biggest difficulty is that by squeezing the pirates hard in the Gulf of Aden the naval task forces have created a “balloon effect”, spreading attacks out to the middle of the Indian Ocean. In March last year an attack took place 975 nautical miles south of Haradheere, close to Madagascar; and in April the pirates struck 1,300 nautical miles east of Haradheere, nearer the coast of India than Somalia.

The result is that the area of pirate operation is now about the size of western Europe. Policing it, says Colonel Spencer, would require five times as many warships as the task forces can muster, each one with its own helicopter. Even then, a helicopter would typically need around an hour to get from a warship to the scene of an imminent attack. In reality, patrolling frigates get less than ten minutes’ notice of an attack.

By using bigger and better equipped mother ships, pirates can often stay at sea for more than a month at a time, launching a series of raids. They also use more sophisticated equipment, such a GPS tracking devices and radar, to stalk their prey.

A further problem for the task forces is that the pirates are all too aware of the restrictive rules of engagement that bind most of their foes. If a vessel attached to one of the three main flotillas believes that pirates have hostages under their control, it is under orders not to launch an attack. That is why the recent South Korean rescue was exceptional and controversial. Once pirates have taken a ship, they are usually in a strong position. By keeping the original crews captive aboard the mother ships, the pirates largely safeguard themselves from disruption even when their criminal intent is clear.

If they are caught in the middle of an attack, the pirates have no hesitation throwing their weapons—typically AK47 machine guns and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers—and their scaling ladders overboard to destroy evidence of their intentions. Even when a ship succeeds in capturing pirates, both sides know that the legal complexity of bringing prosecutions means the prisoners will probably be quickly released. Naval forces have let between 500 and 700 pirates go over the last three years, mostly ensuring they have enough fuel and other supplies to get home and, on more than one occasion, helping with engine repairs. Some pirates have been arrested several times.

The problems in bringing pirates to justice are numerous. They start with a lack of political will to prosecute them. Rich countries fear that, apart from the trouble and expense of putting pirates on trial, convictions will not deter them. Some may even see a short spell in a western jail followed by an application for political asylum as enticing. Much of the focus has therefore been on persuading regional states such as Kenya, Tanzania and the Seychelles to prosecute and imprison pirates.

Kenya has borne the brunt of the pressure. Eighteen Somalis are serving long prison sentences there and more than 100 are awaiting trial. In exchange for Kenyan help, the EU has invested about $3m in the country’s judicial system through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, some of which went on building a special court for piracy trials.

However, on September 30th the Kenyan government said that it was ending the agreement with the EU, accusing the outside world of failing to keep its side of the bargain. The internal security minister, George Saitoti, had complained several times that, without more support, Kenya’s justice system could not cope with the influx of pirate captives. The decision was popular with ordinary Kenyans, who felt uncomfortable with the role their country was being asked to play.

The EU, which has put much stress on judicial “capacity-building” in the region, points out that the economic interests of Kenya and neighbouring countries, such as Tanzania, depend on dealing with the threat of piracy, which is having an increasingly chilling effect on their ports. But unless outsiders stump up a lot more money, countries in the region will remain reluctant partners.

There are no easy answers. Outlawing the payment of ransoms seems unfeasible unless there is clear evidence (none exists so far) that some of the money is finding its way into terrorist hands. Making ransoms illegal would only add to the stress and uncertainty that hostage crews face. Although everyone agrees that the answer to endemic piracy ultimately lies on shore, not even the Americans are in favour of taking out the pirate bases. Apart from the pirates’ ability to regenerate quickly, making any such fix temporary, Western military forces have no desire to become embroiled in Somalia. One concern is that a foreign presence there would boost support for the Islamist Shabab militia, which has links with al-Qaeda.

The most encouraging development has been the spread of “best management practices” for deterring piracy. The naval forces and the shipping industry have worked together to advise ship operators and captains crossing the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea on how they should prepare their vessels and crews for the pirate threat. It seems to be working. In 2008 the target ship managed to beat off a pirate assault half the time. Now, three-quarters of the assaults end in failure.

The latest set of guidelines recommend hindering the pirates by maintaining a high cruising speed (supposedly, no pirates have succeeded in boarding and taking a ship doing more that 18 knots); practising evasive manoeuvres; erecting physical barriers, such as concertina razor wire along a ship’s side; and using hoses and foam cannons to deluge pirate skiffs with water when they are close.

Despite some calls to arms, the shipping industry is against stationing armed security guards on board, because of the risk that crews will be caught up in a lethal firefight. But there is growing enthusiasm for ships to have a “citadel”, a fortified area to which the crew can retreat during an attack and from which the sailors can control the ship’s engines and communicate with the task forces and the shore. A citadel needs to be strong enough to withstand the pirates’ determined assaults and to have emergency rations and air conditioning, so that the crew can stay safe for at least 24 hours. The idea is that citadels will give naval forces enough time to arrive and to protect the crew if fighting breaks out. In the past few months several attacks have been foiled this way. The worry is that before long the pirates will bring high explosives with them.

Ultimately, the only way to turn the tide against piracy would be to offer pirates and their families a better way of life. Sadly, there is little prospect of a functioning Somali state—such a thing has not existed for 20 years. Despite signs that an African Union “peacemaking” force is making progress against the Shabab in Mogadishu, the capital, the jihadists still control most of the south. The key, therefore, lies in breakaway Puntland in the north, where nearly all the piracy originates. It is no coincidence that piracy is almost unknown in neighbouring Somaliland, which, though still diplomatically unrecognised, makes a relatively good fist of government.

Weaning Puntland off piracy will be tricky. Investment in the region as an oil and gas producer and aid to rebuild its decayed ports might help in theory. However, Martin Murphy, a scholar of piracy, argues that its “corrupting tentacles” may have wrapped themselves too tightly around Puntland’s political leadership for such an approach to work. Instead, he suggests, support should be directed towards local leaders and clan elders. The money saved, he says, from naval vessels ceasing to plough the seas would be enough to build a civil infrastructure in Puntland.

Unfortunately, too many people like things as they are. Pirates gain wealth, excitement and glamour. Marine insurers, which last month extended the sea area deemed to be at threat from Somali pirates, are making good money from the business that piracy generates. At least for the time being, shipowners are willing to take the calculated risk of sailing in pirate-infested waters; so long as everyone bears his part of the extra $600m a year in premiums, they can pass the bill on to their customers. Patrolling foreign navies can demonstrate their usefulness to their sometimes sceptical political masters, while countries such as China and Russia are strengthening their operational experience.

Heading for the end of the worldOn January 25th Jack Lang, the UN’s special adviser on piracy, presented a report to the Security Council, outlining new security and legal weapons against piracy and calling for economic development in Puntland. Sadly, the extortion and violence will probably have to worsen before the outside world makes a coherent attempt to deal with the pirates. That is no comfort to the crews facing the constant threat of attack or to the mounting number of hostages, living in squalor, fearing for their health and their lives.

Piracy: No Stopping Them, Economist, Feb. 5, 2011, at 69