Somali pirate leader retires; 20 pirates captured in last three weeks


A Somali pirate leader known as Afweyne has announced his retirement after eight years of attacking ships, while International warships operating in the Gulf of Aden region have apprehended 20 pirates in the last three weeks as Somali piracy continues its steady decline.

“After being in piracy for eight years, I have decided to renounce and quit, and from today on I will not be involved in this gang activity,” Mohamed Abdi Hassan, known as Afweyne or ‘big mouth’, said yesterday.

Afweyne’s group of pirates were, according to Agence France Presse, involved in the 2009 hijacking of the MV Faina carrying 33 T-72 battle tanks, and the capture of the Sirius Star supertanker, which was released for several million dollars.
“I have also been encouraging many of my colleagues to renounce piracy too, and they have done it,” Afweyne said at a ceremony in central Somalia.

The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea called Afweyne, “one of the most notorious and influential leaders of the Hobyo-Harardheere Piracy Network (HHPN)” and accused him of enjoying protection from the highest echelons within the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia as he had diplomatic status. However, the TFG President told the Monitoring Group that Afweyne’s official diplomatic status was one of several inducements intended to help dismantle his pirate network.

Piracy has reached a three-year low in part due to better security on board vessels and beefed up patrols by international warships.

The most recent success against pirates came several days ago when the European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) French Frigate Surcouf and NATO Warship USS Halyburton worked together to apprehend twelve suspected pirates.

In the evening of January 5, a merchant vessel sailing 260 miles off the Somali Coast, made a distress call, reporting that she was coming under attack by six men in a fast moving boat, armed with rocket propelled grenades. By employing avoidance tactics, the merchant vessel was able to repel the attack, the EU Navfor said.

Upon hearing the distress call, USS Halyburton, operating as part of NATO’s counter piracy operation Ocean Shield, and on patrol 80 nautical miles away, launched her helicopter and was able to quickly locate a suspect boat – which was by now towing another vessel, with several men on board.

Surcouf made best speed to the area, as a German EU Navfor maritime patrol aircraft kept watch overhead. Upon arrival, and in full cooperation with the NATO warship, the boarding team from Surcouf boarded the two suspect vessels and apprehended twelve men in total. All twelve men are currently being held on board Surcouf for evidence collection in order to fully assess the possibility of legal prosecution, the EU Navfor said.

At the end of 2012 another three suspected pirates were captured, by the Belgian EU Navfor warship BNS Louise Marie. On the morning of December 27, a Swedish EU Navfor maritime patrol aircraft located a skiff 400 miles off the Somali coast. BNS Louise-Marie quickly located the vessel, after which her boarding team apprehended three suspect pirates. The men were subsequently put ashore on a Somali beach.
“BNS Louise Marie’s crew was able to quickly locate these men, and with reasonable grounds to suspect piracy, quite rightly took away their equipment that they may have used to prey on ships at sea,” said Rear Admiral Gualtiero Mattesi, the Deputy Operation Commander of the EU Navfor. “The EU always seeks, where possible, a legal finish, however, this time, whilst there were reasonable grounds to suspect piracy, it was felt that there was insufficient evidence to secure a prosecution. The European Union’s intent is clear – to be tough on piracy, whilst helping Somalis to regain peaceful control of their own country”.

Less than two weeks before, on December 15, the BNS Louise-Marie intercepted one skiff with five suspected pirates on board. It had been spotted three days before by a Swedish maritime patrol aircraft. The skiff was equipped with a ladder and a boarding hook.

In a recent press conference held on board Surcouf during her port visit to Port Victoria, Seychelles, the Commanding Officer, Commander Hugues Lainé stressed the importance of not lowering the guard towards piracy, as the threat remains, despite the drop in pirate attacks during the past year.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, there have been two unsuccessful pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden region this year. For the first eleven months of 2012, Somali pirates were responsible for 71 attacks against ships, capturing 13 vessels and 212 hostages. As of December 3 they were holding nine vessels and 147 hostages.