Shipowners paying ransoms to pirates are unwittingly supporting the Islamist group al-Shabaab, according to the President of Puntland State of Somalia, Abdirahman Mohamud Farole.
Speaking in London, President Farole issued a strong condemn-ation of pirates operating within Somalia but advised the only way to completely stop vessels being hijacked was to stop paying ransoms.
Pledging support to Somalia’s embattled Transitional Federal Government, President Farole said his government would continue to fight piracy with the meagre resources at its disposal but demanded that ransom payments to pirates should stop immediately. He added that he is lobbying internationally to ensure that ransom payments are made illegal.
“If we stop the ransom payments we will eradicate the problem,” he told the meeting held at Chatham House.
Despite close attention from intelligence agencies and private security investigating the links between Somali pirate gangs and the terrorist al-Shabaab network, no firm evidence of financial support or operational co-operation has yet been made public. Speaking at the meeting, however,
President Farole insisted that money paid to pirates was filtering through to terrorist cells and destabilising his country as a result.
According to the president a total of 240 pirates are currently being held in Puntland prisons, but he conceded that there was an overwhelming lack of correctional facilities available within the state.
Puntland’s attempts to fight piracy have been limited but regional sponsorship of a private security-backed training programme and coastguard force to combat piracy ashore had gained momentum recently.
That programme, backed by the United Arab Emirates government, is still on ice following political pressure, thought to have emanated from the US state department.
Saracen International, the private security firm widely linked to Erik Prince who founded the international security giant Xe Services formally known as Blackwater, signed a letter of intent last year to train more counter-piracy troops with the backing of the regional authorities and funding from an undisclosed Arab state.
As Lloyd’s List revealed earlier this year, the firm had already trained several hundred troops in counter-piracy and the letter of intent was for a further contract to train around 1,000 more. That process has now stopped thanks to what President Farole described as political interference from outside states.
The interference President Farole was referring to came from the US State Department and the UN Political Office Somalia where high-level diplomats had privately raised serious concerns about the lack of legal infrastructure to support any privately trained domestic anti-piracy forces.
Saeed Mohamed Rage, Puntland’s minister of marine transport, ports and counter-piracy, told Lloyd’s List that he had invited UN agencies to inspect the Saracen-trained forces, but until approval had been given, the contract remained in limbo. Mr Rage confirmed yesterday that the contract had not changed and that no further activity had been allowed to take place while negotiations were continuing.
While Mr Rage had previously refused to reveal where the financing to establish the counter-piracy force had come from, he confirmed that the money had in fact come from the UAE government, which had pledged support to fight piracy within the state.
Mr Rage said he was unclear whether the piracy force would now be allowed to proceed and declined to offer any details regarding current private security involvement in the country.