Nearly 100 suspected pirates have been held for over 3 years in Kenyan jails without trial.
But ever since the fishermen of the lawless province of Puntland first turned to piracy, when the chaotic state of Somalia failed to protect their fishing grounds in 2003, only one pirate godfather has ever stood trial.
He is Abshir Abdillahi, known as "Boyah", a 6ft 4in 45-year old former lobster diver who was jailed for 8 years after being arrested in Puntland in May 2010 with 29 million dollars and two pistols in his car.
Conferring later with the US senator Mark Kirk [Republican, Illinois] in the UN-built prison at Bosaso on the Gulf of Aden, Boyah said he had been arrested because “I took one ship too many.”
His militia captured at least 30 ships in 10 years, including the Japanese chemical tanker Golden Nori and the French luxury yacht Le Ponant for which Boyah received 1.5 million dollars and 2 million dollars respectively in ransom payments in 2008.
His sentence has been contrasted with the minimum 33 years handed down in New York to Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, aged about 17 when he was captured at sea as the only survivor of four pirates who attacked the US-registered container ship Maersk Alabama in 2009.
On July 17, Reuters news agency revealed that the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia had confidentially reported to the Security Council in April that the most notorious of all pirate leaders, Mohamed Abide Hassan, known to pirates, seafarers and shipowners worldwide as "Afweyne" [Big Mouth] has actually been travelling the world on a Somali diplomatic passport.
Afweyne was a penniless former civil servant before he arrived in Puntland in 2003. He raised money to train and arm a group of veteran skippers and collected millions in ransom payments from ship owners and cargo insurers. The cash was often parachuted to his men from aircraft overflying the lawless territory.
Without ever going to sea, Afweyne collected 135,000 US dollars in ransom, according to David Marley’s handbook Modern Piracy, after 15 of his barefoot pirates seized the UN-chartered freighter Semlow, loaded with 850 tonnes of German and Japanese-donated rice for victims of the 2004 tsunami.
Afweyne and his son Abdiqaadir held seven ships for ransom at Haradhere and Hobyo in 2009, the year he was invited to celebrations in Libya by the dictator Muammar Gadaffi.
Somali exiles in Sweden say Afweyne’s Hobyo-Harardheere Piracy Network (HHPN) now owns commercial operations in Dubai, India and Kenya.
The UN Monitoring Group found evidence that Afweyne’s diplomatic passport had been provided "with the authorisation of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed".
They say Afweyne presented it to immigration officers in Malaysia when travelling to visit his wife and family.
In response to questions about his diplomatic status and the purpose of his trip he is said to have produced an apparently official document issued by Mohamed Moalim Hassan, director of the Somali Transitional Federal Government Presidency, with the knowledge of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, stating that he was involved in counter-piracy activities for the TFG in the ‘Himan & Heeb’ region.
On Afweyne's return to Mogadishu a week after the Malaysian incident he was apparently called into to the Presidency.
A Reuters correspondent has reported the existence of a letter, dated July 12, from President Ahmed to the Chairman of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee, describing the Monitoring Group report as "one-sided".
His letter complained that the unnamed principal author of the UN report "seems hell bent on soiling the good names of private members of the Somali people by throwing at them unsubstantiated allegations".
The UN monitoring group say the passport had been "one of several inducements" for Afweyne to obtain the dismantling of his pirate network.
President Ahmed was the commander in chief of the Islamic Courts Union when the union virtually stamped out piracy in Somalia during six months in power in Mogadishu before their military defeat in December 2006. President Ahmed is back in power in Mogadishu with UN support but al-Shabab militants remain powerful in some southern and central areas.
Five months after the hawkish US senator Kirk discussed piracy with the jailed pirate commander Boyah at Bosaso prison, Boyah’s younger brother killed judge Abdinasir Haji Aden in front of the courthouse at Bosaso. Jama Abdullahi Abdulle was tried, convicted and shot by firing squad five days later.
Omar Jamal, first secretary to Somalia's ambassador to the UN, said the report was part of a smear campaign.
"The Somali government is now going through a crucial moment of transitioning to permanent governance, and thus is in preparation of forming a new parliament and election in mid August. Therefore the timing of the report is damaging and could possibly create instability and confusion."
The U.N. report says pirate leaders are now involved in land-based kidnapping of foreign tourists and aid workers in northern Kenya and Somalia and are selling their expertise on counter-piracy measures and ransom negotiations.
"This evolution of the piracy business model is being driven largely by members of the Somali diaspora, whose foreign language skills and bank accounts are all valuable assets.”
The Monitoring Group has submitted two confidential cases to the Security Council documenting the flow of piracy proceeds and singling out a Somali businessman with British citizenship who is both part of a piracy ring and runs a counter-piracy business.
The group said that in spite of the three international maritime task forces at sea in the Indian Ocean and despite the efforts of a dozen national governments, serious legal obstacles "impede the prosecution and sanctioning of pirate leaders and kingpins".
They have complained that Britain is continuing to block Security Council proposals to target sanctions against senior Somali pirate leaders, "apparently at the behest of powerful domestic interests in shipping, crisis and risk management consultancies, maritime lawyers and insurance and private maritime security companies who indirectly derive significant profits from the Somali piracy phenomenon."
The Foreign Office admits that Britain is maintaining "a technical hold" on the proposals "as it is necessary to better understand the potential unintended consequences of using sanctions, which include implications for the families of UK nationals captured by pirates".
Prime Minister David Cameron has set up a task force to investigate piracy and kidnap for ransom and examine the option of UN sanctions.
On May 10, 2012, pirates seized the Greek-owned, Liberian-flagged tanker Smyrni off the coast of Oman. The new suezmax vessel, launched in 2011, was making her second voyage. She was loaded with 135,000 tonnes of Azerbaijan crude oil worth 130 million US dollars, bound for Indonesia.
Five days after the Smyrni hijack, the current EU Navfor task force of nine warships and five patrol aircraft sent a helicopter on a midnight operation to destroy pirate skiffs on a beach at Haradhere in Puntland. It was the first-ever EU attack on land-based pirates, mounted under an EU mandate extended in March, with the approval of President Ahmed’s Transitional Federal Government.
Lieutenant Commander Jacqueline Sherriff, a Royal Navy officer with the EU Operation Atalanta, said, “At no point did boots go on the ground… and basically what the guys in the helicopter were able to do was focus on these attack skiffs and fire at them and make them inoperable.”
On June 7, the tanker Smyrni was reported off the Horn of Africa, anchored near the chemical tanker Royal Grace, herself seized by pirates on March 2. There was little news of their combined complement of 48 seafarers of five nations as a leading pirate, named as Isse Yulux was reported awaiting insurance company ransoms for the two ships while he and his men dodged sporadic attacks from a helicopter flown by a South African pilot for the Puntland Marine Police Force. The PMPF men, funded from the United Arab Emirates, have killed a number of pirates in these attacks.
According to the respected Somalia Report news service, active pirates in Puntland now consider Afweyne to be the Transitional Federal Goverment's official anti-piracy campaigner. When attending meetings in Mogadishu between "pirates, retired pirates, TFG officials and elders" he argued for "peaceful negotiation not force". After the veteran pirate Mohamed Garfanje had refused to assist the TFG, Afweyne is said to have begun to describe himself as "an ambassador for the hostages".