Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Motherships and Sattlelites, Tactics of Modern Pirates

Since the capture of La Ponant, African Pirates have been more present in the news. A few months ago I reported that US led forces off Somalia were searching for pirate mother ships that have been harrying UN food shipments. But what does that mean?

Pirates have been using a high tech distributed structure for their operations which has made it possible for them to attack ships more efficiently and to limit the capture of the higher-ups in their organizations:
The [Somali] "marines", to paraphrase the words of The Pirates of Penzance, are the very model of a modern pirate enterprise. They use converted fishing vessels as "mother ships", from which small boats are directed by satellite telephone to menace targets.

They are believed by Somali and international officials to be responsible for many of the estimated 150 attacks on ships off the Horn of Africa last year. Captured ships and their crews are then ransomed back to their owners. Contacts are in progress between the French owner of the 88-metre yacht Le Ponant, seized last Friday and representatives of the pirates. The French government has refused to rule out the payment of a ransom for the vessel and its mostly French crew of 30. On past experience, officials warn, the negotiations are likely to take several weeks.

There are said to be four major pirate groups off the Somali coast and they have reputations as shrewd businessmen who are courteous to hostages, with excellent communications and military discipline.

A French journalist, Gwen Le Gouil, was held for eight days by the "marines" in December. He said they were "former fishermen, who have converted to illicit operations of various kinds, including hostage-taking and trafficking in people, money and archeological remains. They have no particular political allegiance. Only money counts as far as they are concerned."

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