Why Somalis seize ships

by Abayomi Azikiwe

somali-pirate-abduwali-abdukhadir-muse-16-captured-maersk-alabama-arrives-in-us, Why Somalis seize ships, World News & Views After the execution of three Somalis and the wounding and capturing of another in the Indian Ocean on April 12, a leader of the so-called pirates vowed to avenge the deaths of these youth who held the U.S. captain of a cargo vessel known as the Maersk Alabama for five days. Capt. Richard Phillips was released while the U.S. military and the corporate media hailed the killings of the Somalis, saying the actions were justified.

[The mother of the 16-year-old youth who was captured is appealing to President Obama for the release of her son. See the sidebar below, followed by a video of her appeal. – ed.]

The Maersk Alabama was never taken over by the Somalis, even though the captain remained in the custody of the pirates for five days. The captain was not harmed during the five-day standoff, and the ship was later docked at the port of Mombasa in the East African nation of Kenya.

Abdi Garad, a spokesperson for the group of Somalis that attempted to seize the Danish-owned 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama about 450 kilometers off the coast, told the French Press Agency (AFP) on April 13 from the eastern coastal town of Eyl, “The American liars have killed our friends after they agreed to free the hostage without ransom. But I tell you that this matter will lead to retaliation, and we will hunt down particularly American citizens travelling our waters.”

Garad went on to say, “We will intensify our attacks even reaching very far away from Somalia waters and next time we get American citizens … they [should] expect no mercy from us.” Garad claimed that after dropping the ransom demand, the Somalis had asked that Capt. Phillips be moved to a Greek ship held by the group.

‘The American liars have killed our friends after they agreed to free the hostage without ransom. But I tell you that this matter will lead to retaliation, and we will hunt down particularly American citizens travelling our waters. – Abdi Garad

Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old Somali from the town of Eyl, stated in Inside Somalia on April 13, “From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them. U.S. forces have become our number one enemy.”

Another Somali, Abdulahi Lami, said in the same article that the pirates would not be intimidated by U.S. military actions in the Indian Ocean. “Every country will be treated the way it treats us. In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying. We will retaliate for the killings of our men.”

According to the official reports issued by the U.S. military, snipers positioned on the Naval warship the USS Bainbridge shot and killed three Somalis after monitoring their movements for several days. The plan to kill the Somalis was reportedly approved by President Barack Obama.

U.S. Navy spokespeople claimed that the snipers fired on the Somalis when Phillips’ life was endangered. “They were pointing AK-47s at the captain,” said Vice Admiral William Gortney, who heads the U.S. Naval Central Command. His statement was made in a Pentagon briefing from Bahrain and reported by Al Jazeera on April 13.

However, this version of events has been disputed by Somalis who support the vessel seizures. They contend that the three young men were killed after they agreed to end the standoff and release Phillips. This operation took place only two days after similar actions were carried out by French military commandos who stormed a yacht held by Somalis, which resulted in the death of one of the French nationals being held.

maersk-alabama-cargo-ship-arrives-mombasa-kenya-041109-by-sayyid-azim-ap, Why Somalis seize ships, World News & Views Mohammed Adow, a correspondent for Al Jazeera, said in the same report, “U.S. forces are reported to have attacked the lifeboat when the pirates were expecting a diplomatic exchange … [and] have taken the remaining pirate to one of their ships in these waters.”

In another development that further escalated tensions in the region, two low-flying U.S. military helicopters flew over areas at the port city of Harardhere in the northeast of Somalia on April 12. The U.S. military claims that this area is a base for pirate operations against vessels traveling in the Gulf of Aden.

Local residents of the area believed that the U.S. helicopters were planning an air raid on the port. According to a Somali journalist, “The fishermen decided not to fish in the morning because of the helicopters; they are scared.” (Inside Somalia, April 13)

Behind the escalation in ‘piracy’

Over the last several months, Somali pirates have alleged that European corporations are unloading toxic waste off the coast of this Horn of Africa nation. A Ukrainian ship which was held and released by the Somalis garnered a multimillion-dollar payment by the owners, which is reportedly being utilized to clean up the waste being dumped in the area.

In a statement reported by Al Jazeera on Oct. 11, Januna Ali Jama, a spokesperson for the Somali pirates, said that the ransom acquired serves as a means of “reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years.”

A Ukrainian ship which was held and released by the Somalis garnered a multimillion-dollar payment by the owners, which is reportedly being utilized to clean up the toxic waste being dumped in the area.

Jama, who is based in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, continued, “The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas.”

Further evidence of toxic waste dumping came from the United Nations envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who told Al Jazeera in the same article that the international body has “reliable information” that both European and Asian corporations are unloading toxic chemicals, including nuclear waste, off the Somali coastline. “I must stress, however, that no government has endorsed this act and that private companies and individuals acting alone are responsible.”

In the aftermath of the tsunami in late 2004, evidence began to appear confirming such illegal dumping activity in the region. The United Nations Environment Program reported that the tsunmai washed up old, rusting containers of waste on the shores of Puntland, which was formerly part of Somalia prior to the collapse of the Western-backed government of Mohammad Siad Barre in 1991.

A UNEP spokesman, Nick Nuttall, told Al Jazeera in the same article that when the rusting barrels were opened by the force of the waves, dumping that had been occurring for many years was revealed. “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there. European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a ton, where waste disposal costs in Europe are something like $1,000 a ton,” said Nuttall.

Nuttall went on to say that there are “many different kinds” of waste. “There is a uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.”

Since the containers have come to shore, there has been a sharp increase in various illnesses among the population, including such symptoms as oral and abdominal bleeding, skin infections and other ailments.

“We [the UNEP] had planned to do a proper, in-depth scientific assessment on the magnitude of the problem. But because of the high levels of insecurity onshore and off the Somali coast, we are unable to carry out an accurate assessment of the extent of the problem,” Nuttall continued.

Nonetheless, Ould-Abdallah said that the practice of illegal dumping of toxic waste continues in the region. “What is most alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste is potentially killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean.”

Mohammed Gure, chair of the Somalia Concerned Group, said in the same Al Jazeera article that the social and environmental impact of this toxic waste dumping will be felt for decades. “The Somali coastline used to sustain hundreds of thousands of people, as a source of food and livelihoods. Now much of it is almost destroyed, primarily at the hands of these so-called ministers that have sold their nation to fill their own pockets.”

‘What is most alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste is potentially killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean.’ – U.N. envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah

Other factors involved in the exploitation of Somalia are that the Gulf of Aden shipping lane transports billions of dollars of goods through the region every week. Almost none of these funds are utilized for the benefit of the Somali people, who are still suffering from underdevelopment resulting from U.S. interference in their internal affairs.

The U.S. administration under George W. Bush financed and engineered an invasion and occupation of the country by the Western-allied state of Ethiopia in December 2006. As a result of fierce resistance, the Ethiopian military withdrew from the country in January 2009. The formation of a new coalition government has failed to bring all the various political groupings into the regime.

Consequently, Ugandan and Burundian troops remain in the capital of Mogadishu under the auspices of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The leading resistance group, Al-Shabab, is continuing to demand the withdrawal of the AU forces before it agrees to enter the coalition government headed by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

The fledging government in Mogadishu, which has been endorsed by the U.S., applauded the attack on the Somali pirates on April 12. “We are very happy at this action and the outcome,” said Foreign Minister Mohamad Abdullahi Omaar. “I am not surprised, nor will anyone by surprised, at the actions of the American government to save its citizens and ensure the security of its people,” Omaar told Reuters. (April 13)

Increased U.S. military presence must be opposed

Recent reports coming out of the White House indicate that the Obama administration is divided over how to carry out its foreign policy in the Horn of Africa. Some elements want a more diplomatic approach to the problem of piracy as well as a concerted effort to bring more European and Asian nations into patrolling the waters in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

However, other advisers within the White House want to see a more direct U.S. military involvement on land and off the coast of Somalia. The recent incident involving the Maersk Alabama prompted the dispatching of additional warships to the Indian Ocean region. (Washington Post, April 12)

According to the figures issued by the International Maritime Bureau, at least a dozen cargo ships and more than 200 crew members are being held by Somali pirates in the region. At the same time, fighting inside of Somalia is continuing between the Al-Shabab resistance fighters and the AMISOM forces, which are working in conjunction with the troops loyal to the new coalition government in Mogadishu.

On April 13, Garowe Radio reported that three people had been killed over a two-day period resulting from mortar fire in the capital of Mogadishu. “Suspected insurgents launched at least 10 mortars at the main port in the Somali capital Mogadishu on April 11.”

The report noted: “Islamist rebels vowed war against the Horn of Africa country’s interim government. Witnesses and workers at Mogadishu’s main seaport said AMISOM peacekeepers closed off roads near the port and entered nearby neighborhoods as a ship docked.”

The report continued: “There were many AMISOM soldiers in our area … on top of buildings and they refused to allow us to leave our homes, a witness said. Port workers said the ship unloaded military hardware, including vehicles, which were transported to AMISOM bases in Mogadishu.”

Based on these reports and the U.S. administration’s framing of the killing of the three Somalis, it is vital that anti-war and anti-imperialist forces in the United States emphasize that greater U.S. military involvement in the region will not create a more stable political situation in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa.

In fact, as history has proven, the role of U.S. imperialism in the Horn of Africa has created greater instability and underdevelopment in the region. As a result of the Bush administration policy toward Somalia, the worst humanitarian crisis on the continent of Africa came into existence.

During the present period, progressive forces must demand a shift away from militarism in the Horn of Africa and insist on the right of self-determination including reparations for the people of Somalia and the Horn of Africa as a whole.

© 2009 Workers World. This story was originally published April 13, 2009, by Workers World, 55 W. 17th St., New York NY 10011, ww@workers.org, www.workers.org, at http://www.workers.org/2009/world/horn_of_africa_0423/. Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of Pan-African News Wire, an extraordinarily valuable news source designed “to foster intelligent discussion on the affairs of African people throughout the continent and the world.”

Mother of young ‘pirate’ appeals for his release

by Mary Ratcliff

A very thin but broadly smiling Somali teenager, the sole survivor of the four Somali teenagers who seized the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama on April 8, arrived Tuesday in the U.S. – the place he had told a crew member he dreamed of visiting to attend school.

He will be the first alleged pirate to stand trial in this country in more than a century. The last pirates to stand trial in the U.S. were the captain and 11 crew members of the Confederate vessel Savannah.

“I cried when I saw the picture of him,” said his mother, Adar Abdirahman Hassan, who sells milk at a small market in Galkayo, central Somalia, when relatives showed her the photo.

“The last time I saw him he was in his school uniform,” she said. The photo shows a chain wrapped around his waist and his left hand heavily bandaged. A Maersk crew member tells of stabbing him with an ice pick and capturing him after Capt. Richard Phillips had left with the other three Somali teenagers who were later killed by Navy Seal snipers.

“He was brainwashed,” she said of her oldest son, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse. She insists he is only 16, though a law enforcement official says he is at least 18 and can be tried as an adult in a U.S. court.

“I appeal to President Obama to pardon my teenager; I request him to release my son or at least allow me to see him and be with him during the trial,” said his mother, who described young Muse as a “talented boy” and “a good student.”

She said her son had been doing well in school but late last month had failed to come home. Fifteen days later she heard on the radio that he had been captured.

“Hassan says it breaks her heart to think that he will be tried as an adult criminal in the United States,” writes Alisha Ryu from Nairobi for the Voice of America. He was charged Tuesday with five counts, including piracy. “[H]is mother’s claim that he is a 16-year-old juvenile could pose a problem for prosecutors seeking the maximum sentence of life imprisonment,” Ryu reports. “International law is more lenient toward juveniles.

“Determining Muse’s true age is difficult because birth certificates are rare in Somalia, a country which has not had a functioning government for nearly two decades.”

According to the Guardian of London, Ron Kuby, a New York-based civil rights lawyer, said a legal team to represent Muse is being formed.

uss-bainbridge-tows-maersk-alabama-lifeboat-after-rescuing-capt-phillips-041409-by-us-navy-lance-cpl-megan-sindelar-ap, Why Somalis seize ships, World News & Views “I think there’s a grave question as to whether America was in violation of principles of truce in warfare on the high seas,” said Kuby. “This man seemed to come on to the Bainbridge under a flag of truce to negotiate. He was then captured. There is a question whether he is lawfully in American custody and serious questions as to whether he can be prosecuted because of his age.”

Alleged by Capt. Phillips to be the leader of the four youths, Muse appeared in court Tuesday night. “The court proceedings were quickly thrown into turmoil when his lawyer claimed that he was 15 – too young to stand trial as an adult,” the New York Times reported. “The judge dismissed the claim after speaking with Mr Muse’s father in Somalia, who said that the accused was the first of his 12 children and the fourth was born in 1990. Prosecutors said that Mr Muse had admitted he was 18.”

The lawyers representing him Tuesday night asked that Muse be given painkillers for his hand wound and Muslim meals in jail.

Miguel Ruiz, a member of the Maersk Alabama crew, said he asked one of the pirates, “Why do you do that?” The response: “We’ve got 20 million people in Somalia who are poor, that don’t have education. We don’t have no food.”

‘The most powerful navy in the world against barefoot Somali brigands’

An April 18 New York Times story provides this description of the “battle” between the Navy destroyer and the “pirates”:

“Under cover of darkness dozens of U.S. Navy Seals parachuted into the Indian Ocean and made their way in inflatable boats to the USS Bainbridge.

“The $800-million U.S. Navy destroyer, armed with guided missiles, was shadowing a ragtag band of teenage pirates with AK47s holding an American hostage in a drifting 18-foot lifeboat.

“It was the ultimate assymetric stand-off, pitting the most powerful navy in the world against a skiff-load of barefoot Somali brigands.

“‘It’s almost reminiscent of “Black Hawk Down,” where you have high-tech, highly trained units which get into a situation where there is a low-tech environment but some pretty creative people with a lot of experience in a war zone,’ Jamey Cummings, a former U.S. Navy Seal, said. ‘These highly trained Seals are coming in to take out 17-year-old pirates.'”

Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff compiled this sidebar from several major media sources. She can be reached at editor@sfbayview.com.