Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: A High Risk Area for Piracy

Leaving Aqaba, we all received this letter along with our daily newsletter, The Current:

The Nautica actually was attacked by pirates several years ago and used both speed and a water cannon to avoid being boarded by Somali pirates. (Travel Weekly: Oceania Outruns Pirates:

Suddenly, too, on the very sedate walking path overlooking the swimming pool area, we found very fit young men, running the course. They had boarded, maybe in Aqaba, and left the ship when we were no longer in the pirate area.

Meanwhile, for the duration of our time in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, we were under strict orders to close our curtains at sunset and to keep them closed. We were to stay off our balconies after dark. The curtains in the restaurants were closed, and night lighting was minimized. We were told that if there were any kind of challenge to the ship, we were to go into the hallway, or to where our crew told us to go to keep safe.

The issue with pirates – specifically Somali pirates – is more complex than you would think.

We were delighted to have young men on board who looked entirely capable of manning a water cannon and successly challenging any invaders.

February 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Counter-terrorism, Geography / Maps, Social Issues, Sunsets, Survival, Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Somalia Returns to Stoning

What gets me about this article I found on BBC News is buried way down is a detail that a 13 year old girl was recently stoned for adultery. What does a 13 year old know? Some say she was raped. What kind of protection is this, for a little girl, to be stoned for something over which she had no control. Oh? She was just so tempting, she must be punished?

Somali adulterer stoned to death

Islamists in southern Somalia have stoned a man to death for adultery but spared his pregnant girlfriend until she gives birth.

Abas Hussein Abdirahman, 33, was killed in front of a crowd of some 300 people in the port town of Merka.

An official from the al-Shabab group said the woman would be killed after she has had her baby.

Islamist groups run much of southern Somalia, while the UN-backed government only control parts of the capital.

This is the third time Islamists have stoned a person to death for adultery in the past year.

Al-Shabab official Sheikh Suldan Aala Mohamed said Mr Abdirahman had confessed to adultery before an Islamic court.

“He was screaming and blood was pouring from his head during the stoning. After seven minutes he stopped moving,” an eyewitness told the BBC.

The BBC’s Mohammed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu says that if the woman is also killed, her baby would be given to relatives to look after.

Meanwhile, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has accused al-Shabab of spoiling the image of Islam by killing people and harassing women.
“Their actions have nothing to do with Islam,” said the moderate Islamist during a ceremony at which he nominated a new administration for the capital, Mogadishu.

“They are forcing women to wear very heavy clothes, saying they want them to properly cover their bodies but we know they have economic interests behind – they sell these kinds of clothes and want to force people to buy them.”

Last month, two men were stoned to death in the same town after being accused of spying.

A 13-year-old girl was stoned to death for adultery in the southern town of Kismayo last year.

Human rights groups said she had been raped.

Another man has also been punished in this way in the Lower Shabelle region.

Mr Sharif, a former rebel leader, was sworn in as president after UN-brokered peace talks in January.

Although he says he also wants to implement Sharia, al-Shabab says his version of Islamic law would be too lenient.

The country has not had a functioning national government for 18 years.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Community, Crime, Cultural, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Social Issues, Women's Issues | | Leave a comment

Old Fashioned Piracy Goes High Tech

Thanks to blogger BitJockey, and news service Reuters for this update on the Somali pirates:

MADRID (Reuters) – Somali pirates are planning attacks on shipping using detailed information telephoned through by contacts in London, according to an intelligence report cited by Spanish radio on Monday.

The pirates have built up a network of informants in London with access to sensitive data from shipping companies about vessels, routes and cargoes, according to a European military intelligence report that Cadena Ser radio said it had seen.

The pirates receive their information by satellite phone and use sophisticated equipment to locate their targets, Cadena Ser said.

The intelligence report also said that the pirates seem to avoid attacks on ships of some nationalities, including British ships.

It listed several attacks in which the pirates had surprised crew with detailed information of their prey, including the nationalities of those on board.

Cadena Ser did not provide any more details about where the report originated, identifying it only as “European.”

Western nations have sent warships to try to stop the pirates, who have made millions of dollars from ransoming ships and their crews in strategic shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa that connect Europe to Asia.

They are currently holding about 20 vessels with nearly 300 hostages, according to monitoring groups.

Efforts to fight the pirates have been hindered by the gaps in international maritime law, which have sometimes left it unclear who, if anyone, can put them on trial.

Spanish authorities have disagreed among themselves over what to do with 14 Somalis caught last week by a Spanish warship. A judge tried to bring some of them to Spain while the government argued they should be sent to a court in Kenya.

(Reporting by Jason Webb; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

May 12, 2009 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Crime, Financial Issues, Law and Order, Leadership | | Leave a comment

Somali Pirate Code of Conduct

Ever since I was a kid, I found pirates interesting and exotic and adventurous. The truth is probably that those olden day pirates had bad teeth, scurvey – they had lived hard and fast and they probably aged quickly.

Of course, today we have Johnie Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which makes pirating look mostly like a lot of fun.

So a year or so ago, I wrote a post on the Somali pirates, and got an interesting response. It got me started looking more deeply into what is going on with the pirates there.


Yesterday, in the paper was an article about the Somali pirate code of conduct – with fines and punishments for infractions. I found a complete article in Newsweek, April 27.

What is bothering me now is that the one pirate captured by the US when it retook the captured US freighter (in the report filed by one BBC reporter) said he was just a frail teenager, a kid, and that the pirates had already agreed to surrender when they were blown out of the water. You could hear her attempting to control her rage.

I know it is a thorn in the side for all shippers and freighters and passenger ships who travel through waters anywhere near to Somalia. And yet . . . I kind of ask myself what the options are? Somalia is a for sure failed-nation. They haven’t been able to cobble together a government for over twenty years. Deadly, long lasting poisons have been dumped along their shoreline – and major industrial nations paid Somalis a pittance to dump their wastes there. Their coastline has been overfished. Families are starving, live is – or was – dismal.

I think it is pretty cool that they developed an enforceable – and enforced – code of conduct.

Here is the article from Newsweek:

It was a hit with the U.S. public, but president Obama’s decision to authorize the Pentagon to kill three Somali pirates who took an American sea captain hostage sent shudders through the world’s shipping and insurance industries. Because the pirates are motivated chiefly by money, maritime experts say, they have—at least until now—taken good care of the crews they hold captive. A document retrieved from a ship hijacked last year contained a “list of written rules” of conduct pirates had to follow, according to a maritime security expert who requested anonymity when discussing sensitive material. The document included a series of “punishments” to be imposed on any hijacker who struck a hostage.

Shipping companies and insurers are far more likely to fork over large ransoms if they have confidence that their personnel and cargo will be released unharmed, and while the scourge of piracy has been disruptive, so far there have been virtually no casualties among innocent people. According to estimates, there were 111 pirate attacks off the Somali coast in 2008; 42 were successful, resulting in the capture of 815 seamen. As of last week, according to one estimate, all but 37 had been released, and two had died—one reportedly of illness. Experts say the rate of attacks has increased sharply this year, and “the more [authorities] shoot, the more the pirates will shoot back,” says Tom Wilson, a Somalia analyst for the British consulting firm Control Risks.

Protecting the 23,000 merchant vessels sailing annually near the Horn of Africa would require a naval fleet of at least 60 ships, according to U.S. government and private experts; the existing international antipiracy task force has about 20. And attacking the Somali coastal villages where the pirates are based could potentially radicalize generations of Somalis. “That would be a 19th-century solution,” says Neil Roberts, a marine insurance expert with Lloyd’s Market Association in London. Industry experts say the only solution to piracy is the creation of a viable Somali government back on dry land.

According to industry officials, ransom demands have ranged as high as $25 million—but in most cases they are negotiated down to about $2 million to $3 million, and insurers then pay out claims to the shipping companies. As hijackings have increased in frequency, pirates have become fussier about how their money gets delivered. Initially, said a shipping-industry source who also asked for anonymity, ransoms were often handed off to shady Somali expats in places like Kenya. After Kenyan authorities cracked down, the pirates began insisting on airdrops via parachute into the ocean near Somali coastal villages, where they have cash-counting machines ready. Until the U.S. opened fire, one of the pirates’ biggest headaches had been dealing with the sheer volume of money they’ve collected. Last year, according to an insurance-industry official, one pirate’s boat capsized because he had overloaded it with cash.

I found this on National Post dated April 30, 2009; it is a copy of what I had read in the newspaper:

MOGADISHU — A mobile tribunal, a system of fines and a code of conduct: the success of Somali pirates’ seajacking business relies on a structure that makes them one of the country’s best-organised armed forces.

A far cry from the image conveyed in films and novels of pirates as unruly swashbucklers, Somalia’s modern-day buccaneers form a paramilitary brotherhood in which a strict and complex system of rules and punishments is enforced.

They are organized in a multitude of small cells dotting the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden coastline. The two main land bases are the towns of Eyl, in the breakaway state of Puntland, and Harardhere, further south in Somalia.

“There are hundreds of small cells, linked to each other,” Hasan Shukri, a pirate based in Haradhere, told AFP in a phone interview.

“We talk every morning, exchange information on what is happening at sea and if there has been a hijacking, we make onshore preparations to send out reinforcement and escort the captured ship closer to the coast,” he explained.

Somali piracy started off two decades ago with a more noble goal of deterring illegal fishing, protecting the people’s resources and the nation’s sovereignty at a time when the state was collapsing.

While today’s pirates have morphed into a sophisticated criminal ring with international ramifications, they have been careful to retain as much popular prestige as possible and refrain from the violent methods of the warlords who made Somalia a by-word for lawlessness in the 1990s.

“I have never seen gangs that have rules like these. They avoid many of the things that are all too common with other militias,” said Mohamed Sheikh Issa, an elder in the Eyl region.

“They don’t rape, and they don’t rob the hostages and they don’t kill them. They just wait for the ransom and always try to do it peacefully,” he said.

Somalia’s complex system of clan justice is often rendered obsolete by the armed chaos that has prevailed in the country for two decades, but the pirates have adapted it effectively.

Abdi Garad, an Eyl-based commander who was involved in recent attacks on U.S. ships, explained that the pirates have a mountain hide-out where leaders can confer and where internal differences can be solved.

“We have an impregnable stronghold and when there is a disagreement among us, all the pirate bosses gather there,” he told AFP.

The secretive pirate retreat is a place called Bedey, a few miles from Eyl.

“We have a kind of mobile court that is based in Bedey. Any pirate who commits a crime is charged and punished quickly because we have no jails to detain them,” Mr. Garad said.

Some groups representing different clans farther south in the villages of Hobyo and Haradhere would disagree with Mr. Garad’s claim that Somalia’s pirates all answer to a single authority.

But while differences remain among various groups, the pirates’ first set of rules is precisely aimed at neutralizing rivalries, Mohamed Hidig Dhegey, a pirate from Puntland, explained.

“If any one of us shoots and kills another, he will automatically be executed and his body thrown to the sharks,” he said from the town of Garowe.

“If a pirate injures another, he is immediately discharged and the network is instructed to isolate him. If one aims a gun at another, he loses 5% of his share of the ransom,” Mr. Dhegey said.

Perhaps the most striking disciplinary feature of Somali “piratehood” is the alleged code of conduct pertaining to the treatment of captured crews.

“Anybody who is caught engaging in robbery on the ship will be punished and banished for weeks. Anyone shooting a hostage will immediately be shot,” said Ahmed Ilkacase.

“I was once caught taking a wallet from a hostage. I had to give it back and then 25,000 dollars were removed from my share of the ransom,” he said.

Following the release of the French yacht Le Ponant in April 2008, investigators found a copy of a “good conduct guide” on the deck which forbade sexual assault on women hostages.

As Ilkacase found out for himself, pirates breaking internal rules are punished. Conversely, those displaying the most bravery are rewarded with a bigger share of the ransom, called “saami sare” in Somali.

“The first pirate to board a hijacked ship is entitled to a luxurious car, or a house or a wife. He can also decide to take his bonus share in cash,” he explained.

Foreign military commanders leading the growing fleet of anti-piracy naval missions plying the region in a bid to protect one of the world’s busiest trade routes acknowledge that pirates are very organised.

“They are very well organized, have good communication systems and rules of engagement,” said Vice Admiral Gerard Valin, commander of the French joint forces in the Indian Ocean.

So far, nothing suggests that pirates are motivated by anything other than money and it is unclear whether the only hostage to have died during a hijacking was killed by pirates or the French commandos who freed his ship.

Some acts of mistreatment have been reported during the more than 60 hijackings recorded since the start of 2008, but pirates have generally spared their hostages to focus on speedy ransom negotiations.

With the Robin Hood element of piracy already largely obsolete, observers say the “gentleman kidnapper” spirit could also fast taper off as pirates start to prioritize riskier, high-value targets and face increasingly robust action from navies with enhanced legal elbow room.

They have warned that the much-bandied heroics of a U.S. crew who wrested back control of their ship and had their captain rescued by navy snipers who picked off three pirates could go down as the day pirates decided to leave their manners at home.

I used to read science fiction novels about a diplomat named Retief, I think they were by Keith Laumer. He would find himself in an alien environment with a horrible unsolvable problem and he would find a great solution, where everyone walked away OK. I wish there were a Retief who could negotiate a win/win out of this situation.

May 1, 2009 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Bureaucracy, Character, Crime, Cultural, Political Issues, Social Issues, Travel | , | 11 Comments

Somalia: Pirates – and Dumping

This is a report from BBC News. I published a piece previously on Somalia on March 11, and blogger Shafi said the following:

“When wealthier nations align their fleet of vessels at Somali coast to fish illegally (estimated at around $6 million as the article says) and dump toxic waste in some parts of the water, aren’t they doing a greater evil and a major harm to the shell-shattared country and her people than the pirates for whom piracy is itself a survival method?”

The statement caught me totally by surprise. I went looking to see if it was true, and it was.

Shafi has a fascinating blog, and if you have some time, go take a look. Meanwhile, I am happy to see glimpses of a fuller picture coming forth in the news:


Ex-Somali Army Colonel Mohamed Nureh Abdulle lives in Harardhere – the town closest to where the hijacked Saudi oil tanker, Sirius Star is moored. He tells the BBC, via phone from his home, that the town’s residents are more concerned about the apparent dumping of toxic waste than piracy.

The Harardhere-born military man advises the town’s elders on security matters and is in his fifties.
Somalia has been wracked by conflict since 1991 – when its last national government was forced from power.

The super-tanker is close to our coast. It is a very, very long ship. Some time ago we had our own problems of piracy in our town but that has not happened lately.

The people who have been hijacking these ships in our seas are not from our region. We do not know any of the guys on the super-tanker and they haven’t made any contact with us.

You know, our problem is not piracy. It is illegal dumping.

These problems have been going for sometime and the world knows about it. The Americans have been here in the region for a long time now – they know about the pollution.

Instead, no, the world is only talking about the pirates and the money involved.

Mysterious illnesses
Meanwhile, there has been something else going on and it has been going on for years. There are many dumpings made in our sea, so much rubbish.

It is dumped in our seas and it washes up on our coastline and spreads into our area.

A few nights ago, some tanks came out from the high sea and they cracked it seems and now they are leaking into the water and into the air.

The first people fell ill yesterday afternoon. People are reporting mysterious illnesses; they are talking about it as though it were chicken pox – but it is not exactly like that either. Their skin is bad. They are sneezing, coughing and vomiting.

This is the first time it has been like this; that people have such very, very bad sickness.

The people who have these symptoms are the ones who wake early, before it is light, and herd their livestock to the shore to graze. The animals are sick from drinking the water and the people who washed in the water are now suffering.

TimesOnline ran an article on Somalia after the tsunami, and the contaminants that had been washed ashore:

“The current situation along the Somali coastline poses a very serious environmental hazard not only in Somalia but also in the eastern Africa sub-region,” the report says. Toxic waste was first dumped in Somalia in the late 1980s, but accelerated sharply during the civil war which followed the 1991 overthrow of the late dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Local warlords, many of them former ministers in Siad Barre’s last government, received large payments from Swiss and Italian firms for access to their respective fiefdoms.

Most of the waste was simply dumped on remote beaches in containers and leaking disposable barrels.

Somali sources close to the trade say that the dumped materials included radioactive uranium, lead, cadmium, mercury and industrial, hospital, chemical and various other toxic wastes. In 1992, Unep said that European firms were involved in the trade, but because of the high level of insecurity in the country there were never any accurate assessments of the extent of the problem.

In 1997 and 1998, the Italian newspaper Famiglia Cristiana, which jointly investigated the allegations with the Italian branch of Greenpeace, published a series of articles detailing the extent of illegal dumping by a Swiss firm, Achair Partners, and an Italian waste broker, Progresso.

The news is so much more complicated than it appears. How do we stop all these wrongful, hurtful things? Do not we have a responsibility toward the poorest nations? If we – meaning the richest nations – don’t stop this dumping now, is there not every chance in the world that it will come back to haunt us?

November 21, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Health Issues, Law and Order, Living Conditions, News, Social Issues | | 11 Comments


BBC has been running a radio series on pirates, how we came to see pirates mostly deriving from Treasure Island, and romantic literature. Here is a recent article, however, on modern day piracy, which is alive and well, particular off the Horn of Africa / Somalia. Scary stuff. Did you know that 90% of the world’s cargo is moved by sea? And I recently heard that for Kuwait, the percentage of goods delivered by sea was 99%. This article begins a three part series on modern day piracy:

No vessel is safe from modern pirates
By Nick Rankin
BBC World Service

Pirates are not just mythological characters with peg legs, parrots and pistols. They now carry AK-47s and use speedboats to rule the high seas of the world.

Robbery of the high seas is not confined to 18th-Century history and literature or Hollywood films – it is still very much alive today.

Ninety percent of the world’s trade is still moved by sea, so it is not surprising that piracy against cargo vessels remains a significant issue.

It is estimated that seaborne piracy amounts to worldwide losses of between $13bn and $16bn a year.

Piracy peaked in 2003 with 445 attacks around the world and since then, they have more or less steadily come down.

In 2006, there were 239 attacks. Last year, the number increased slightly to 249.

Although attacks have decreased from the early 1990s, Rupert Herbert-Burns, a maritime security expert at Lloyd’s Intelligence Unit, says piracy is still a worrying problem.

“Attacks rose by 14% towards the end of last year, largely due to attacks off the Horn of Africa, specifically in Somali waters or in the territorial waters off Somalia,” he said.

You can read the rest of the article HERE.

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Crime, Financial Issues, Geography / Maps, News, Social Issues, Travel | , | 9 Comments

Aidan Hartley’s Zanzibar Chest


I started Zanzibar Chest in December, and could not get into it. It was interesting, but at first the tone was . . . I don’t know, maybe pompous? Something in the tone put me off, and yet I didn’t put it back on the bookshelves, nor did I give it away. It sat on my bed table while I attacked lesser works, more enjoyable fare. Then, one day, I just knew it was time to try it again, and this time, I could hardly put it down.

Born in Kenya, just before the rebellion, Aidan Hartley spent his life mostly in Africa. He skillfully interweaves three main story lines – the life of his mother and father, the life of his father’s best friend and his own life as a news correspondent.

This is not a joyful book. It is not inspirational. It is a tough, hard look at the people who cover the news, and the toll it takes on their lives. It is a story of drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of what they are observing, the comraderie of gallows humor and surviving the intensity of living through life-threatening moments together.

He covers some truly awful events. He covers the wars in Somalia, and in Rwanda. He covers Kosovo and Serbia. He is sent into some of the most dangerous and awful of places. He pays the price.

In his Zanzibar Chest, he takes us with him.

I will share a couple quotes with you, and if you are sensitive, please stop reading now. This book is not for you. It is almost not for me, except that sometimes I think we need to come face to face with just how awful reality can be to put our own lives right, to set appropriate priorities.

“I can’t put my finger on exactly how death smells. The stench of human putrefecation is different from that of all other animals. It moves us as instinctively as the cry of a newly born baby. It lies at one extreme end of the olfactory register. Blood from the injured and the dying smells coppery. After a cadaver’s a day old, you smell it before you see it. From the odor alone, I could tell how long a body had been dead and even, depending on whether brains or bowels had been opened up, where it had been hacked or shot. A body would quickly balloon up in the tropical heat, eyes and tongue swelling, flesh straining against clothes until the skin bursts and fluids spill from lesions. Flies would get in there and within three days the corpse might stink. It became a yellow mass of pupae cascading out of all orifices and the flesh literally undulated beneath the clothes. The tough bits of skin on the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet were the parts of the body that always rotted away last. As living people, these had been peasants who had walked without shoes and worked hard in the fields. A man who had been dead seven days reeks of boiling beans, guava fruit, glue, blown handkerchiefs, cloves and vinegar. After that he starts to dry out into a skeleton until he’s almost inoffensive . . .

The dead accompanied me long after Rwanda. It was months before I could order a plate of red meat served up in a restaurant. I smelled putrefaction in my mouth, or in my dirty socks, or as sweat on my body. I imagined what people I met would look like when dead. . . “

These guys all suffer from Post traumatic stress syndrome, they deaden themselves with drug and alcohol, and they are totally addicted to the adrenalin rush their job gives them. Living on adrenalin takes a huge toll – on their health, on their mental health, on their relationships, on their belief in goodness. They are the witnesses to the enormity of man’s inhumanity against one another.

In another quote, the author tells us:

“It was impossible for latecomers to comprehend the evil committed here but the British military top brass were still so scared of what their soldiers might see and what it would do to their minds that they sent a psychiatrist to accompany the forces to Rwanda. Bald Sam and I were amazed at that. We laughed about it. A shrink! It seemed extravagant. But the truth is that we stuck close to that man for days. We said it was all for a story, but really it was about us. The psychiatrist, whose name was Ian, told us his special area of interest was the minds of war correspondents. I could see Bald Sam squirming with happiness at all the attention, and I felt quite flattered myself. . . .

. . . for years I did endure some sort of payback. I have to try every day to prevent the poison that sits in my mind to spread outward and hurt the people I love. Sometimes I can’t stop it and I wonder if in some way the corruption will be passed on from me to my children.”

Toward the end of the book, the author tells us how hard it is to give up this adrenalin-news-junky life:

“Whenever I see a news headline to this day I half feel I should board the next flight into the heart of it. I’d love to get all charged up again and I could write the story with my eyes closed. I’m sure the sense that I’m missing out while others get in on a great story will never completely pass. . . The sight of people committing acts of unspeakable brutality against others fills a hole in some of us. The activity is made respectable by being paid a salary to do it, but there is a cost.”

This is not a book I really wanted to read, but it is a book I will never forget. Hartley doesn’t spare himself in the telling of this tale. He takes us with us and shows us all of it, and all of his own warts along with the tale. Would I recommend this book? Not for the sensitive, not for those who don’t want to look at the dark side. Between idyllic sequences on the beaches near Mombasa, in the hills of Kenya and Tanzania, in the dusty deserts of Yemen, there are some very intense and bloody moments. This is non-fiction, it is a documentary, it is a slice of the real life one man has seen, and that to which he has been witness. Read the book, and like him, you pay a price. You carry images in your head that you can’t forget, and a sorrow for our inability to solve our differences peaceably.

(Available in paperback from for $10.88. Disclosure: Yes, I own stock in

February 20, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Biography, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kenya, Living Conditions, News, Political Issues, Spiritual, Tanzania | , , , , , , , | 8 Comments