The deaths of the hostages taken aboard the SV Quest is a good indication that the rules in the hostage manual used by the Somali pirates have well and truly been re written.
The new paradigm is venturing completely into new territory as the moderate treatment which the hostages have previously benefitted from and which the world has now come to expect has now evolved into hard core brutality and murder. Several months ago this analyst put forward the supposition that Somali activity should no longer be considered modern day acts of piracy but maritime terrorist activity by its simplest definition.
The definition of this activity as piracy is itself a stretch. Piracy by definition is an act which takes place outside the territorial waters of a sovereign state. It is only since the advent of the International NATO and ATALANTA operations which drove the hijackers further offshore and certainly, in some cases outside the territorial waters of any countries that Somali activity could fall into the definition of piracy,which is,strictly speaking, violent acts against ships carried out on the high seas.
Prior to this this activity was quite clearly in the first instance territorial maritime crime but more importantly violent maritime crime carried out with the express intent of raising awareness of a political issue and designed to instill fear into seafarers.
Such activity must be viewed,treated,defined and mitigated against for what it is if there is to be any hope of resolving the issue. Only by correctly naming the crime can we effectively mitigate against it.
While a great deal of effort and time is put into looking for connections with Al Shabaab so that it may be confirmed as terrorist in nature the fact remains that this activity has been nothing but terrorist from its very out set. It is in fact a type of terrorism that is not unique to Somalia but to West and East Africa as a whole. It is terrorism Inc….whereby the act of making money using terrorist methods has been rewarded repeatedly.
Using ‘ response’ to stop crime and illegal activity is by its nature reactive. By framing strategic policy within the context of responding to crime we will never stop it completely. If we take an aggressive stance and design a proactive mitigation such as identifying and stopping the activity at it’s point of origin before it can be carried out,will there be any real impact.
In Somalia we need to be proactive not responsive and this begins with reevaluating our strategic decision making and indeed re assessing the entire range of options available.This includes reframing both response and definition of the problem. With the correct definition of the activity comes the ability to frame international requests for capacity building assistance which is relevant and appropriate to the nature of the illegal activity at the heart of this problem. Capacity building is crucial to enable the regional authorities in Somalia to develop law enforcement infrastructure and appropriate human and technical ability.
This capacity building allows for intelligence collection and an internal security training program and infrastructure.Additionally, at sea terrorist activity is infinitely simpler to arrest and charge for.The jurisdictional issues plaguing the justice systems of arresting nations become an irrelevancy. The vessel upon which a terrorist act is committed is the jurisdiction in which it occurs.
By designating the pirates as maritime terrorists we immediately stop the free flow of ransom money which has been feeding this industry. If there is no chance of getting ransoms then there is no need to keep hostages. The pirates will stop hijacking ships.
Existing hostages, apart from those on board pirated motherships are currently being held on shore. This situation can be remedied on shore by local police work in conjunction with tribe elders and the local marine police-a unit which should be stood up with immediate effect. These hostages must be freed by dialogue or by whatever action is needed immediately. This can only effectively be done by somalis trained and equipped by the same money so freely and easily given out to the hijackers. The fact that ransom money has been shared with al shabaab is yet another reason to ensure that policy makers pause and consider the full scale implications of our implicit approval of the actions of the hijackers.
The violence has escalated so dramatically recently that it is only a matter of time before the nature of this criminal activity changes in entirety. As increased ransoms are paid, the pace of activity will increase however other elements will be introduced as well. The confidence levels of the hijackers increase as will the sense that they are the makers of their own destiny and their behaviour will become increasingly erratic and in time unpredictable.Evidence of this trend is already presenting itself with the latest developments on board the Asphalt Venture where both ship and crew have been released except for Indian crew members in retaliation for the fact that India are holding over one hundred Somali hijackers. The hijackers now want a straight exchange of hostages for prisoners.
At sea Vessels need to to have appropriate security on board. Not short cuts or designated security officers but real maritime security experts. There are hundreds of ex marines and naval security trained men and women who understand what is required when it comes to securing a vessel at sea. Further this does not have to involve arming guards and shoot to kill policies. Tasers and other non lethal weapons immobilize and incapacitate intruders. Electrifying access along areas of lower freeboard will not allow unauthorized access to the ship.
The reluctance to spend money on security while freely paying increased insurance policies in the event of being hijacked all imply that clearly we are not addressing this problem head on.Now that routine murder and torture have become a part of this scenario we need to have an abrupt about face on how we deal with it.
As military responses have been scaled up so too have the violence and firepower of the hijackers. We are slowly and imperceptibly moving toward an endgame where routine murder of hijacked hostages becomes commonplace.
The money we continue to pay will continue to be used against us and once the dots have been joined by the terrorist networks in this highly volatile region it is a matter of time before we begin seeing martyrdom activity. This holds true if even carried out in desperation during a confrontation with military forces. The end results here will affect us all in a far more material manner not at sea but in our homes, in the long term cost of energy and in the cost of the very food on our plates.The after effects of an oil tanker or LPG or LNG carrier sunk or blown up in Bab el men dab will reverberate around the world.
The next phase is where all crew are killed summarily and the ship and cargo is negotiated for. This will not be new. This is the kind of piracy which occurred in the south china sea before the boxing day tsunami wiped out the human and physical resources involved in that brand of piracy. The fact remains that the main proponents of that typology of piracy started life as fishermen and by the time the activity reached its height In 2003 it was predominantly the members of the GAM or free Banda Aceh movement who were the main protagonists. All money obtained went to funding the terrorist fight for the freedom of Banda Aceh from Indonesia. We were afraid to call it terrorism then and all the patrolling of the joint Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian forces did not stop it. Once again we are in the samesituation,different place and different cause . Will we wait for another natural disaster to avert this or should we act now, on shore.