Somali pirates raise ransom stakes


Somalia’s pirates are turning violent in the face of pressure from foreign navies – and proving as successful as ever, reports Colin Freeman

Three months after he swapped them for a $5.4 million ransom, Budiga the Pirate still dances a wicked jig in the dreams of the crew of the Marida Marguerite. On some occasions, sailor Sandeep Dangwal remembers the day Budiga trussed him up on deck and tortured him. On others, he recalls the day Budiga stripped the ship’s captain naked and forced him into the deep freeze, or the time a fellow crewman was left to hang by his wrists from a 40-foot mast.

“Budiga was the nastiest pirate devil ever,” said Mr Dangwal, 26, who spent eight months as a hostage. “I still have bad dreams about that bastard now, and whenever I hear about a new ship being hijacked it upsets me. I hate to think that other people might suffer what I suffered.”

Talking last week from his home outside Delhi, Mr Dangwal is the first sailor to speak out about a sinister new trend in Somalia’s piracy epidemic, in which the modern-day buccaneers are turning to the kind of brutality more associated with their medieval predecessors.

While the pirate victims of yesteryear might fear the cat o’nine tails or walking the plank, today they risk punishments such as being being “cooled” in a ship’s walk-in freezer, “cooked” on a hot metal shipdeck in the midday sun, or forced to phone a distraught relative while a pirate fires a Kalashnikov in close earshot.

Previously known for treating hostages relatively well, the pirate gangs have adopted a new ruthlessness to pressure ship owners into paying ever higher ransoms, which already total hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Coupled with figures which show that the number of piracy attacks is still increasing, the trend has prompted a new level of alarm through the international maritime world. Leading figures in the British shipping industry have told The Sunday Telegraph that Western naval forces must now take far tougher action to prevent the problem “spiralling out of control”.

At the same time, maritime trade unions have warned that their members may soon refuse to sail through the pirate “high risk” area – which now covers much of the western Indian Ocean. Such a move would paralyse the key global shipping route through the Suez Canal, and also threaten oil supplies from the Persian Gulf.

“It’s not just about the seafarers who are unlucky enough to be hijacked, it is stressful for all sailors who transit through the area, who now face four or five days in fear of their lives,” said Jon Whitlow, of the International Transport Workers’ Federation. “Who would put up with that in any other line of work?”

Uppermost in the unions’ minds is the fate of ships like the Marida Marguerite, a 13,000 tonne chemical container vessel that was taken last May. For the first three months, the 22 crew were treated humanely, but as ransom talks dragged on, the pirates’ patience frayed.

“They took me on deck one day and tied my hands and my legs behind my back for two hours, and also tightened a cable around my genitals,” said Mr Dangwal, an engine technician. “When I screamed, they tightened it more.”

Others suffered even more. The ship’s captain was put naked into the vessel’s freezer with his underwear filled with ice, spending half an hour in temperatures of minus 17C. When the chief engineer got the same treatment, and tried running around to keep warm, the pirates hung him from the freezer’s meathook. The sailor who was suspended by his wrists from the mast, meanwhile, passed out after two hours.

“There was a period when none of us thought we’d come out alive,” said sailor Dipendra Singh Rathore, 22, a devout Hindu, who was so distraught that at one point he gave up praying. “I was not personally beaten much, but hearing what was happening to the others was bad enough.”

According to Major General Buster Howes, the British commander of the European Union Naval Force, there are now “regular manifestations of systematic torture” by pirate gangs. There has even been one incident of “keelhauling”, a 15th century pirate practice in which sailors are thrown over one side of a ship and dragged by a rope under the keel to the other.

“It is barbaric,” said Bill Box, of Intertanko, the international association of independent tanker owners. “If they pull the sailor too quick, he will be ripped apart by the barnacles on the ship’s underside, and if they pull him too slowly, he may drown.”

While still confined to a minority of hijack cases, such brutality runs counter to the pirates’ carefully-cultivated image as African “Robin Hoods”. Until now, they have prided themselves on using only the minimum force necessary, claiming merely to be “taxing” passing vessels in revenge for foreign poaching of their fish stocks.

One theory is that as foreign navies have tried to crack down on the problem, the ex-fishermen who originally dominated the piracy game have been replaced by hardened militiamen, who are also more likely to stand their ground when confronted. Seven hostages have died this year in stand-offs with the 25-odd foreign warships patrolling the region, including four American yachters on the SV Quest in February.

Another evolution in pirate tactics is the use of “mother ships” – hijacked vessels which allow them to range for hundreds of miles, and which serve as floating jails for hostages.

Two weeks ago, the Indian Navy launched an attack on another mother ship, a Mozambican trawler called the Vega 5, arresting some 61 pirates and rescuing 13 hijacked crew members. But up to a dozen others still remain operational, despite the multi-national fleet knowing where they are. European naval commanders insist that attacking them carries too much risk of hostages getting killed, however, such is the threat that the shipping industry says only a “military solution” is now practical.

“The mother ships represent an industrialisation of piracy, and we have to find a way of breaking the cycle,” said Gavin Simmonds, head of international policy at the British Chamber of Shipping.

“The military has got to be more robust, as the consequences of leaving the situation as it is are greater than those of using greater force.”

Hijacking figures appear to back the view that the anti-piracy fleet is having little effect. Last year saw a record 1,016 crew members taken hostage, compared with 867 in 2009 and 815 in 2008, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

“The situation has not improved,” said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, director of the bureau’s piracy reporting centre. “Random demands are higher, and they are keeping ships for longer – some have been held for more than a year.”

Some now go as far as to back a “shoot on sight” policy. Jacob Stolt-Nielsen, a Norwegian shipping magnate, said earlier this year that history proved it to be the only effective way to police areas as large as oceans. “I’m just telling it like it is,” he said. “The way to solve the pirate problem is to sink the pirates and their ships.”

However, any more “robust” approach would involve Western navies reassessing their current rules of engagement, which generally allow lethal force only when they are directly engaged in acts piracy, and which place some emphasis on pirates’ human rights

Not surprisingly, that is a consideration that Mr Dangwal has little time for. Anything that stops Budiga claiming more victims is justified, he says. “These aren’t pirates, they are terrorists. There should be no mercy.”

10 Replies to “Somali pirates raise ransom stakes”

  1. The time for farting around and pussyfooting with the pirate situation is over. The solution is to use the same method used on them centuries ago. These pirates glamorized by the MSM must be eliminated not placated.

  2. But people know that in today’s super-unfair-world, if anybody tries to seriously confront the Somalian pirates they are sure to end up in a great deal of trouble one way or the other. Things have gone completely crazy in a world where truth is no longer a defense in a libel trial and it is forbidden to speak the names of your enemies out loud for fear of making them angry. In this world somebody seems to have gained control over the international media, making them all act as if they are reading out of the same playbook as they paint yet another Muslim Terrorist as just some poor guy with a mental problem. Obviously, they should send in some hard guys and sort out these Somalians, but they can’t, can they? There would be an “international tribunal” of some kind – packed with Muslims and Leftists – and things would go south from there. It’s that nightmare where you are being chased and you can’t run, isn’t it.

  3. Big Frank you are right, but the crews of the ships need to be armed and ready to fight against the pirates. I realize that some of them will be hurt and killed but they are already being hurt and killed, giving them the tools to defend themselves will result in a lot fewer causalities. For the information of the uninformed the crews of the ships don’t need the current generation of military weapons, WWII weapons would work just fine in most situations.

  4. I agree survival and freedom are more important than the constant pompous bluster and flapp lipped jawboning by representatives of various nations, who are talking but not acting. I still say the Russians have the best method of dealing with terrorists and pirates. They eliminate the perpetrators and then advise the MSM of same.

  5. I also agree with the Russians. There’s a video showing the captive pirates insisting they are just fishermen, and a heavily accented Russian voice says “this is not a fishing boat”. Then they put them back on their boat, tied up I think, and blast the boat to smithereens. The sight gave me so much satisfaction, I’ve watched it twice. If the Muslims consistently refuse to behave like decent human beings, they deserve no human rights. It’s time to stop the pussyfooting.
    I wonder if that Dutch teen-ager plans to continue with her boat trip around the world?

  6. All nations use to treat pirates that way, this treatment was what reduced piracy to a small group of people, now the left has pushed the idea that we aren’t to fight back so they would have an easy time conquering the West and the Moslems and other pirates are taking advantage of the lefts actions. Arm the merchant ships and crews and execute all pirates when they are captured, then start burning the towns and cities the pirates live in.

  7. This is a repeat of what happened over 400 years ago with the pirates of the Barbary coast. It wasn’t until the US sent in Marines that the menace to world shipping was stopped. Thats why the US Marine hymn mentions Tripoli. It was the HQ of the major pirates who commandeered fleets of vessels.

    So where are the Marines now?

    Fighting a no-win pair of wars where the ROEs in both are preventing total victory from ever happening. Thanks CiC, you and your friends have not only managed to thwart the Allies from ever defeating the Taliban or stabilizing Iraq, but your non-action against the Somali pirates has given jihadists in Africa many millions of dollars with which to buy arms.

    If history repeats itself, the US should send the 7th Fleet in to clean up. But since the dhimmified leaders of the west have no guts and have forgotten the lessons of the Barbary coast, there will be no glory, either.

  8. If civilization is to survive in any form we will have to start fighting this as a real war, I would be a lot more worried if I wasn’t convinced that all hell is going to break loose some time this summer.

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