Islamic group ready to fight pirates

Says Muslims were victims of one seizure

Police guarded suspected Somalian pirates in Bassaso, Somalia, yesterday. Pirates have seized eight ships, including a Saudi Arabian oil tanker, off the Somalian coast in the last two weeks. Police guarded suspected Somalian pirates in Bassaso, Somalia, yesterday. Pirates have seized eight ships, including a Saudi Arabian oil tanker, off the Somalian coast in the last two weeks. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
By Mohamed Sheikh Nor
Associated Press / November 22, 2008
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MOGADISHU, Somalia - A radical Islamic group in Somalia said yesterday that it will fight the pirates holding a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil.

Abdelghafar Musa, a fighter with al-Shabab who claims to speak on behalf of all Islamic fighters in the Horn of Africa nation, said ships belonging to Muslim countries should not be seized.

"We are really sorry to hear that the Saudi ship has been held in Somalia. We will fight them [the pirates]," Musa told AP Television News.

In the past two weeks, Somalia's increasingly brazen pirates have seized eight vessels including the Saudi tanker. Several hundred crew are now in the hands of Somalian pirates. The pirates dock the hijacked ships near the eastern and southern Somalian coast and negotiate for ransom.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said yesterday that the Saudi government was not negotiating with pirates and would not do so but what the ship's owners did was up to them.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. When an umbrella Islamic group, which included al-Shabab, controlled most of southern Somalia for six months in 2006, there were few reports of piracy.

The United States, however, considers al-Shabab a terrorist organization and accuses the group of harboring the Al Qaeda-lined terrorists who allegedly blew up the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing more than 230 people.

In recent weeks Islamists have again seized control of most of southern Somalia, with al-Shabab holding the largest territory.

Kenya's foreign affairs minister said yesterday that all nations should work together to curb piracy because it can disrupt world trade, adding that the pirates have reaped as much as $150 million over the past year.

Most of the attacks have taken place in the Gulf of Aden, which links the Indian Ocean with the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. About 20,000 vessels pass through the gulf each year.

"Major trading countries - India, Malaysia, China - your vessels are in danger. Our major trading partners - Germany, Britain, and others - our cargo is in danger. We must act now and not tomorrow," Moses Wetangula told diplomats meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to discuss the increased threat of piracy.

He also called on ship owners not to pay ransom because such payments have emboldened the pirates.

The Somalian pirates have the support of their communities and rogue members of the government.

Often dressed in military fatigues, pirates travel in open skiffs with outboard engines, working with larger ships that tow them far out to sea. They use satellite navigational and communications equipment and an intimate knowledge of local waters, clambering aboard commercial vessels with ladders and grappling hooks.

They are typically armed with automatic weapons, antitank rocket launchers, and grenades - weaponry that is readily available throughout Somalia.

Also yesterday, one of the world's largest oil tanker companies warned that it may divert cargo shipments, which would boost costs up to 40 percent.

Frontline Ltd., a shipping company that sends five to 10 tankers of crude a month through the Gulf of Aden, said it was negotiating a change of shipping routes with some of its customers, including oil companies Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron.

Martin Jensen, Frontline's acting chief executive, said navigating around South Africa instead would extend the trips by 40 percent.

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