Pirates versus Weapons Dealers Looking for the Good Guys off the Somali Coast
Part 2: Where Did the Tanks Come From?
Mwangura is tense. Many along the coast here are now nervous. He refuses to meet in his office, because it would mean revealing his address. He prefers a hotel, for reasons that soon become clear. What Mwangura has to say about the cargo of the Faina will create problems for dangerous people.
His informants say that the tanks, after being unloaded in Mombasa, were to be delivered to southern Sudan, where rebels with the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) have been fighting for independence from the central government in Khartoum for the last 21 years. The warring parties signed a makeshift peace treaty three-and-a-half years ago. A referendum for the independence of the south is scheduled to take place in 2011, but some fear it could trigger a renewed outbreak of fighting. The southern part of the country has enormous oil reserves, which have triggered greed. The government and the SPLA are both using the cease-fire to rearm.
The T-72 is a typical Soviet-era shooting machine, with unrefined technology, miserable protection for its crew and enormous firepower. In Sudan, where much of the killing is done with machine guns, 33 of the tanks would be a huge factor.
Although Mwangura has no evidence to support his claims about the clandestine deal, a spokesman for the American Fifth Fleet, of which the USS Howard is a part, backs up his claims, as do intelligence officials in Washington. Another factor supporting the notion that the tanks were bound for Sudan, not Kenya, is the way the Faina was camouflaged.
Investigating the Faina
The trail of this special freighter, which has had various names -- the Marabou, the Loverval and the Matina -- can be found in the databases of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The Ukrainian ship is registered in Belize, but the official owner, a company called Waterlux AG, is registered in Panama. But the IMO lacks even a letterbox address for Waterlux. All it has is the address of a supposed subsidiary in Ukraine called Tomex. Tomex does exist, and its offices are in an elegant building in Odessa, but no one there is willing to discuss the Faina.
All of this secretiveness would be unnecessary if the deal involving the Faina had been normal. However, the excessive caution would make sense if what Nina Karpacheva, the ombudswoman for the Ukrainian parliament, says is true. Karpacheva claims that the man behind the deal is Vadim A., a businessman from Odessa with an Israeli passport, excellent contacts within the government bureaucracy and an unsavory reputation as a juggler of businesses.
The Faina case could also prove to be an international embarrassment for Ukraine in other ways as well. Russia, its more powerful neighbor, has sent the frigate Neutrashimy ("The Fearless") toward Somalia because Ukraine has no ships suitable for such a mission. If the Russians can free the sailors and restore calm to the Horn of Africa, they will have managed to polish up their image in the wake of their invasion of Georgia, as well as to demonstrate who is in charge at home, in a realm that was once the Soviet Union.
The Neutrashimy is likely to face off against thousands of pirates. In addition to Sugule Ali's boats, there are at least four other large groups operating along the Horn of Africa: a band of gangsters called the Somali Marines, a group calling itself the National Volunteer Coastguard, and the Puntland Group and Marka Group.
The pirate gangs can do as they wish along the coast of Somalia, which descended into chaos and civil war after the dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. Since then, unscrupulous dealmakers from Europe and the rest of the world have taken advantage of the vacuum. Some are dumping toxic waste and possibly even nuclear waste in the ocean off Somalia. Others are illegally exploiting the Somalis' fishing grounds. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the United Nations Special Envoy for Somalia, calls it "a disaster for Somalia's coast, the environment and the population." In the beginning, angry Somali fishermen wielding Kalashnikovs took matters into their own hands and drove away the foreign fishing boats.
In the process, some of them apparently noticed how easy it was to attack ships, and they soon made a business of it. Using the ransom money, they bought themselves mansions, SUVs, better boats and weapons. But the hijacking and ransacking of ships off the Somali coast could soon come to an end.
Spurred to action by the attack on the Faina, the defense ministers of the EU agreed last Wednesday to a launch a joint military intervention. Under the plan three EU warships, one of them from Germany, will patrol off the coast of Somalia beginning in December. American and Russian ships will likely join them. This concerted response will likely deter many pirates. The Strait of Malacca off the Malaysian coast, once considered extremely dangerous, became virtually pirate-free after a similar alliance was formed and resolute military intervention began.
Sugule Ali, the pirate, claims that the Somalis have no choice but to take what they can. "An attack on us will not solve the problems," he says. "There should be a joint discussion of a solution to the problems in Somalia." When that happens, he says, "we will return to our old way of life and go fishing again."
His men, says Ali, are in fact nothing but fishermen, all of them decent people. According to Ali, they treat their prisoners well, and "everyone on board is in good shape."
Vladmir Kolobkov, the Faina's captain, died shortly after his ship was invaded, supposedly of heart failure. But instead of throwing his body overboard, the Somalis placed the dead captain into a cooler so that his family can bury him -- if the power doesn't fail on board, if a solution can be found soon and if the Faina makes it back to Odessa.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Looking for the Good Guys off the Somali Coast
- Part 2: Where Did the Tanks Come From?