Somali pirates may be dropping their ransom demands by up to 50% following the Kenyan invasion, as Kenyan troops disrupt pirate bases and supply lines and patrol the Somali coast.
According to the Kenyan Business Daily, pirates’ ransom demands could
fall further once Kenya’s Operation Defend the Country is completed.
Kenya says it will only exit Somalia once the al Shabaab threat has been
Andrew Mwangura, the Seafarers’ Assistant Programmes (SAP) coordinator
told Business Daily that, “Initially, the pirates holding captive the
Algerian flagged MV BLIDA were demanding US$6 million to release the
vessel and her multi-national crew. But a package of US$3.5 million was
delivered on the vessel and they freed it.”
“Pirates are keener than before to make sure that negotiations for the
release of at least nine vessels held in Somali are completed,” a
manager at one of a Mombasa-based shipping agents told Business Daily.
“It is clear the trend is due to the military operation in Somalia.”
Kenyan navy vessels have sunk two al Shabaab boats this month, killing
more than 20 militants as the navy attempts to secure the coastline
around the Kenyan border.
Last month Kenya launched a cross-border incursion into Somalia to flush
out rebels from its frontier area after a series of kidnappings of
foreigners in Kenya. The abductions were carried out by gunmen thought
to be linked to al Shabaab.
Last month the United Nation’s counter-piracy unit said that cooperation
between militants and pirate gangs is growing as al Shabaab becomes
more desperate for funding.
"There is a growing link and growing cooperation between al Shabaab who
are desperate for funding and resources with other criminal gangs and
with pirates," said Colonel John Steed.
Steed, the principal military adviser to the U.N. special envoy to
Somalia and head of the envoy's counter-piracy unit, said pirates were
not part of al Shabaab.
"Pirates are one of those potential sources of large amounts of money so
there a natural linkage between Shabaab's desire for funding to support
their activities and money that pirates are getting from ransoms," he
The President of the semi-autonomous Somali state of Puntland Abdirahman Mohamud Farole believed the two had links.
"We are almost sure about that otherwise in the Shabaab held areas pirates will not operate," he told Insider.
A senior Somali commander has said the Kenyan-Somali operation's aim was
to rid Kismayu, a port city that serves as the rebels' nerve centre for
operations, of the militants.
"We have seen people taken from the coast of Kenya and then facilitated
all the way through al Shabaab held areas and delivered to an area held
by pirates and negotiated by pirate gangs," Steed told the conference.
"They have been taken there to be used as human shields to prevent attacks from other states."
Analysts and diplomats in the region have warned that Somali pirates
were likely to turn to softer targets, such as tourists in Kenya, in
response to more robust defence of merchant vessels.
Steed told Reuters that pirates taking ships and their crews hostages
for lucrative ransoms would remain their main focus. He said
international military forces were looking to target gangs not just at
sea, but in air operations and using Somali forces on the ground.
"Clearly the conclusion will be that the pirates when they are forming
up on the beaches are at their most vulnerable and that's the point
where they need to react," he said.
Farole said Puntland, which has arrested hundreds of pirates in its
territory although is struggling with a lack of resources, would back
such operations "if required in cooperation with the local Somali
"Within our limits we will do everything we can but we are appealing to
the international community to support us in establishing our marine
police force to be operative now," Farole said.
Earlier in the year Steed said that ransoms paid to Somali pirates are
ending up in militants’ hands, laying shipping groups open to
accusations of breaching international sanctions.
Ransom demands have risen steadily in recent years. According to one
study, the average ransom stood at US$5.4 million in 2010, up from
US$150,000 in 2005, helping Somali pirates rake in nearly US$240 million
Some political analysts said the policy of some Western governments to
endorse the payment of ransoms, seen as fuelling the insecurity, is at
odds with their financial support for the Somali government and the
African troops propping it up.
"Detained pirates tell us that some level of cooperation with al Shabaab
is necessary to run a criminal enterprise," said Alan Cole, piracy
programme coordinator at UNODC.
"If there was no relationship between us, there is no way the pirates
would be able to operate, or carry their weapons within zones we
control," said an al Shabaab militant based in the pirate haven of
Haradhere, north of Mogadishu.
Natznet Tesfay of Executive Analysis said al Shabaab was heavily
involved in smuggling through Kismayu, slapping taxes on illegal
charcoal exports to the Gulf, arms shipments from Yemen and electronic
goods destined for the region.
"Piracy and contraband smuggling are the two biggest games around," said Tesfay at the specialist intelligence company.
Tesfay said she had yet to see evidence of an "operational relationship"
between the pirates and al Shabaab but that the militants had a
reputation for monopolising key income-earning sectors once they had
taken control of an area.
In February al Shabaab seized a number of pirate gang leaders in
Haradhere and forced them to accept a multi-million dollar deal under
which the pirates would hand over 20 percent of future ransoms.
A Reuters investigation found the following payments had been made to al Shabaab's "marine office":
On February 25: US$200,000 from the release of the Japanese-owned MV Izumi after pirates received a US$4.5 million ransom.
On March 8: US$80,000 from the US$2 million release of the St Vincent & Grenadines-flagged MV Rak Africana.
On March 9: US$100,000 after the Singapore-flagged MV York was freed for US$4.5 million.
On April 13: US$600,000 from the release of the German ship Beluga Nomination after a US$5.5 million ransom was paid.
On April 15: A US$66,000 share of the US$3.6 million ransom handed over for the Panama-flagged MV Asphalt Venture.
On May 14: US$100,000 from the release of two Spanish crew of the Spanish-owned FV VEGA 5.