Somali Pirates Directed By British Consultants!

May 11, 2009

Graphic showing details of pirate attacks of Somalia. Note the huge spike in attacks in 2008.

Graphic showing details of pirate attacks of Somalia. Note the huge spike in attacks in 2008.

Yup. Somali pirates are back in the news. After a brief hiatus (and an appearance on South Park), the Guardian reports on an intriguing development. Apparently, a “European military intelligence document” obtained by a Spanish radio station relates how “Somali pirates attacking shipping in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean are directed to their targets by a “consultant” team in London.”

This team allegedly relays information about vessels passing through the Gulf of Aden in painstaking detail, although how they come across that information is unclear. Cadena, the radio station that broke the story, suggests that “information that merchant ships sailing through the area volunteer to various international organisations is ending up in the pirates’ hands” presumably quoting from the intelligence document, but how that data passes from those organizations to consultants with tight links to pirates half a world away is a mystery.

Whatever the mechanism, this network has allowed the pirates to strike efficiently and frequently, much more so than in the past. It has also allowed them to discriminate between the vessels based on their nation of origin. As the Guardian’s Giles Tremlett reports, “Captains of attacked ships have found that pirates know everything from the layout of the vessel to its ports of call” and “In each case, says the document, the pirates had full knowledge of the cargo, nationality and course of the vessel.”

Yet “The national flag of a ship is also taken into account when choosing a target, with British vessels being increasingly avoided.”

The paper rather lamely suggests that “It was not clear whether this was because pirates did not want to draw the attention of British police to their information sources in London.”

The other possibility, not mooted by the Guardian, is that those launching the attacks avoided British vessels because they did not want to damage British trading interests, having the national interest at heart. That is, this extremely well organized and well informed matrix of “consultants” could have links to the British state and British business.

Another thing that the Guardian doesn’t mention, and which no doubt reflects a lack of time to properly research the story, is that a British firm is very well placed to act as go between in the Gulf of Aden. In November 2008, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Somalia’s fledgling coastguard. Well, coastguard is somewhat complimentary to the outfit, which consisted of “three elderly gunboats.”

Yet behind that ramshackle facade the coastguard had interesting mentors. As reporter Colin Freeman related, “the only law-and-order presence on Somalia’s coastline” was “trained by Hart Group, a British security company.”

Is it likely that Hart has been training three “elderly” gunboats with such poor results? After all, since November, pirate attacks have continued apace. It seems much more likely that Hart has been successfully training local mariners, although not perhaps for “law enforcement” purposes.

It isn’t an amateur outfit. Hart was founded in 1999 by Richard Bethell (later Lord Westbury), an ex SAS man and became prominent in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, using a large number of South African mercenaries. Success in the War on Terror allowed Bethell to expand the firm, forming a maritime subsidiary, Global Marine Security Systems Company, in conjunction with Tufton Oceanic Limited and Energy Transportation Group, Inc. Sourcewatch describes that the firm would “address the dangers imposed on the transportation of hazardous and explosive materials like Liquified Natural Gas.”

The Gulf of Aden is a key shipping route for liquified natural gas (upon which the UK is becoming more dependent with the development of Milford Haven as a major LNG-ready port) among other things, such as oil.

Last year, Hart also announced the formation of a partnership with insurance firm Swinglehurst Limited that would see “the benefits of security and insurance combined to offer the best all round protection on voyages in the Gulf of Aden.” With Swinglehurst offering “War Risk Cover including the risks of Piracy,” Hart Security would provide protection.

It’s also quite possible that Hart has been involved in Somalia before, handling security for aid agencies. As its website states, “Hart conducts detailed, multi-layered security risk assessment programmes that cover all aspects of World Food Programme activities in many different countries.”

90 percent of the WFP’s aid effort to famine stricken Somalia travels via sea but, strangely, “since the first naval escorts provided by the French in November 2007, no ship carrying WFP food has been attacked.”

It’s important to add, however, that Hart Security are far from alone in seeking to benefit from insecurity off Somalia’s coast. The much maligned, even widely detested, private military firm Blackwater has dispatched a boat to manage its operations in the region, while Israeli commandos are manning cruise ships. The public sector is well represented too, with a sizable French, American, British, Chinese, Spanish, Russian and Indian naval presence.

But the expansion of private military firms into Somali waters has been spearheaded by Washington and Westminister, leaving other nations to wield their taxpayer funded navies to protect shipping interests. As Washington’s piracy point-man, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, commented last December, “I’m a firm believer…(in) armed security guards, because that’s what we’d do ashore…You’re working against criminal activity. That’s what I’m pushing.”

More recently, Michael Mullen, the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has ordered a review into the way in which America deals with piracy. As NPR reported, “Pentagon sources say…options in Mullen’s piracy review include placing U.S. Navy security teams of a half-dozen armed sailors or Marines aboard some commercial ships.”

Another option being floated is what Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff calls “going ashore big” to destroy pirate camps. As an ex-commander of the U.S. Navy in the Indian Ocean region, Cosgriff’s words have weight, and may signal an eventual policy goal although, as NPR also reports, “Pentagon sources say Mullen’s review is looking at military strikes ashore, but that option is highly unlikely considering the risk to civilians.”

Regardless of whether a U.S.-led land invasion of Somalia is planned, it is clear that the U.S. military favors the increasing militarization of shipping off the coast of Somalia and is fully behind firms like Hart or Blackwater who stand ready to make millions from their “expertise.”

But, all of this may seem far-fetched. After all, haven’t we been told that the Somali pirates are either bands of criminals out for a quick buck or, failing that, impoverished ex-fishermen, disgruntled at years of war, poaching of their fish and toxic waste dumping?

There is, without doubt, an element of the latter characterization in the piracy phenomenon. Many of the boats seized by pirates in 2008 were fishing trawlers, probably fishing illegally in waters that rightfully should be fished by Somalis.

According to the Guardian’s Xan Rice, “The Seafarers’ Assistance Programme in Mombasa says that at any one time there can be hundreds of foreign trawlers, mostly from Europe and the east, fishing for tuna, shrimp and shark within in Somalia’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.”

Moreover, as the Christian Science Monitor reported back in November, “A longer-term solution [to piracy] may prove simpler and less costly: Forget about freight and focus on fishing” suggesting that “a coalition force tasked with fishery protection should be deployed.” Such a force “[would] address a root cause of the piracy problem, rob the modern-day buccaneers of their legitimacy, and be more acceptable to the region as an enduring part of the solution” yet it hasn’t yet been attempted.

And there is, of course, a huge amount of poverty in Somalia, which has seen almost two decades of civil war and repeated (and incompetent) foreign interventions. The latest, which involved a U.S.-coordinated “Ethiopian” invasion, has led to tens of thousands of deaths and set back what had seemed like moves towards a viable Somalian state.

Yet the information about UK-based information networks and the less well known role played by Hart Security in training the Somali “coastguard” suggests that the recent wave of pirate attacks has different origins.

There is other suggestive evidence which points to a deeper U.S. state involvement in Somalian affairs, and which is also barely known about.

In 2005, as the U.S. organized a group of Somali warlords to march on Mogadishu (which was falling into the hands of the Union of Islamic Courts), it was reported that a small Virginian firm called Top Cat Marine had bagged an extremely unlikely prize. Top Cat would be paid $50 million to “defeat the pirates and put an end to the illegal fishing and poaching of our precious natural marine resources” according to Somalian “prime minister” Mohamed Ali Geidi.

Geidi was then the PM of the “Transitional Government” (TG) which was kicking its heels in Kenya. Ethiopia would soon invade Somalia (with the U.S. backed warlords having been embarassingly defeated) in order to impose the TG upon the Somali people. Yet the TG had signed away its right to patrol the nation’s coast to an obscure American firm.

As it turned out, Top Cat seem never to have been able to take up their responsibilities, as Somalia descended into renewed violence and chaos, helped along by a brutal Ethiopian occupation and periodic American air raids on “terrorist” targets. But it was clear as early as 2005 that the U.S. was interested in controlling the Somali coast.

That’s one thing that reporting about Somalian pirates often misses.

Another thing is evidence that the U.S. has a deep and possibly crucial intelligence network within Somalia that is in contact with the “pirates.”

This came to light in November 2008, when ABC News reported on the capture of the Sirius Star, a Saudi Arabian oil tanker. As the network reported “An American businesswoman with connections to U.S. intelligence and the military has been talking with the Somali pirates who have commandeered the Saudi oil tanker” while “the pirates, who have halted all talks with the ship’s owners, are talking to a woman named Michele Lynn Ballarin, instead.”

A “business colleague” of Ballarin told ABC that Ballarin “has gone over there for five years on her own, built a network of clan and sub-clan leaders in every region of the country” while she “is greeted like royalty in Somalia…[and] is reportedly known in Somalia as Amira, or “Princess” in Arabic.”

According to, “To help encourage Somalis to patrol their own waters and discourage locals from turning piracy Ballarin has a plan to recruit 500 men and women to serve as a Somali coast guard operating out of Berbera, the country’s major port.”

What a kind, extraordinary woman. Or perhaps not. In reality, Michele Ballarin, a horse breeder from Virginia, is also a likely U.S. agent who was flagged in 2005 as seeking to organize an invasion of Somalia. That story is covered elsewhere by myself, and I urge you to read those pieces to get a flavor of how closely involved Ballarin, her business associates and the U.S. itself have been in guiding Somalia back into chaos.

Now, a woman involved in launching the war which has devastated Somalia’s people, is claiming to want to save the world from piracy while she has also miraculously conjured up a network of loyalists across Somalia. It’s all very hard to believe.

Today’s revelations about the information network linking international maritime organizations, UK “consultants” and Somali pirates may be intermeshed with the operations of Ballarin and the U.S. in Somalia. Hart should be seen as continuing the job that Top Cat were supposed to do, which is to protect the British-American position in Somalia.

Somalia, although this is also rarely mentioned in the media, is strategically vital, as long as the Suez Canal is a key part of global shipping. We’ve seen panics about Saudi oil tankers being captured, or Ukrainian arms shipments being sequestered – much of interest passes through the Gulf of Aden. The Gulf is a choke point that can be used – covertly if done well – to exert pressure upon other nations. Hence the importance of the “piracy” issue to global navies, who steamed towards Somalia when things really began to heat up late last year.

Mounting evidence suggests that such “piracy” is being managed and manipulated by British and American interests to further their geostrategic aims.

We shouldn’t be all that surprised.


3 Responses to “Somali Pirates Directed By British Consultants!”

  1. 迷你倉 Says:

    British yacht couple in Somali pirate lair

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    A British couple whose Indian Ocean yachting holiday was cut short when their yacht was hijacked have joined hostages on another captured ship at the Somali pirate lair of Harardhere.

    Paul Chandler, 58, and his wife Rachel, 55, have not been heard from since last Friday when they set off a distress signal from the Lynn Rival, on its way from the Seychelles to Tanzania.

    The British Ministry of Defence confirmed that their abandoned yacht had been sighted.

    Pirates continued their rampage around the Seychelles and seized a Thailand-flagged trawler yesterday, bringing to nine the number of hijacked ships held off Somalia.


    The European Union’s anti-piracy naval force said the Thai Union 3, believed to be crewed by Russians, came under attack from two pirate skiffs.

    The developments came as China prepared to deploy a fresh naval convoy to the Gulf of Aden to protect vessels from Somali pirates, just 10 days after a Chinese bulk carrier was hijacked.

    The flotilla setting sail today will consist of two missile frigates tasked with replacing two other Chinese frigates patrolling shipping lanes in the gulf.

    The capture of the De Xin Hai with 25 crew last week prompted Beijing to vow to rescue the vessel and crew.


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