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Thursday, October 7, 2010     GET YOUR INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

GAO report: Somali piracy may be part of an international business operation

WASHINGTON — Somali pirates could be working for businessmen or international networks, a report said.


Congressional investigators have assessed that Somali pirates could be linked with unidentified business and insurgency elements in the Horn of Africa. The investigators cited evidence from U.S. and other officials that Somali piracy was being financed from both business interests in Somalia as well as abroad.

"In an ungoverned state with widespread poverty, the potential for high profits with low costs and relatively little risk of consequences has ensured that Somali pirate groups do not lack for recruits and support," the report by the General Accountability Office said.

"Moreover, some U.S. and international officials suspect that Somali businessmen and international support networks may provide financing, supplies, and intelligence to pirate organizations in exchange for shares of ransom payments."

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The report, released on Sept. 30, said Somali pirates have become increasingly effective in their attacks and continued to avoid prosecution. Horn of Africa states were said to be reluctant to prosecute or even imprison piracy suspects.

In March 2010, the U.S. intelligence community determined that Somali pirates were not being funded from abroad. But the Defense Department has supported efforts by U.S. law enforcement and the Treasury Department to monitor U.S.-based support for piracy.

"Treasury, Justice, State, and Defense are monitoring piracy on an ongoing basis to determine if there is a link between pirates and extremist organizations, but as of July 2010 had found no credible link," the report," titled "Actions Need to Assess and Update Plan and Enhance Collaboration Among Partners Involved in Countering Piracy Off the Horn of Africa," said.

GAO assessed that pirates can board and commandeer a target vessel in less than 30 minutes.

"Pirate vessels usually are equipped with grappling hooks, ladders, and other equipment to assist the boarding of a larger craft," the report said. "Pirate vessels vary in sea-worthiness and speed with some able to travel at speeds between 25 and 30 knots and operate in high sea conditions, while others have more restricted capabilities."

So far, Somali pirates, unlike their colleagues in other parts of the world, have seized ships and crews for ransom. GAO said the method has been enabled by the use of land bases, which allow pirates to keep their hostages for long periods of time during negotiations.

"Unlike pirates in other parts of the world, Somali pirates kidnap hostages for ransom and, up to this point, have not tended to harm captives, steal cargo, or reuse pirated ships for purposes other than temporarily as mother ships," the report said. "Mother ships are typically larger fishing vessels often acquired or commandeered by acts of piracy that pirates use to store fuel and supplies, and tow skiffs, which allow them to operate and launch attacks further off shore."

The report said Somali pirates have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea or Arabian Sea because of the feasibility of seizures. GAO said vessels that travel at less than 15 knots per hour have comprised a high risk.

The U.S. Navy has contributed up to five ships to block piracy in the Horn of Africa. In 2009 and 2010, the U.S. Navy has attacked and killed pirates on several occasions in the Red Sea, but did not attack suspected land bases. The report said President Barack Obama has refused to give such an order.

"While the United States and its international partners have made substantial progress overall on the task of providing forces and assets capable of interdicting pirates off the Horn of Africa," the report said, "and have made some progress on the tasks related to seizing and destroying pirate vessels, supporting regional arrangements to counter piracy, and disrupting pirate revenue, U.S. agencies have made little or no progress toward implementing the task related to disrupting and dismantling pirate bases."

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