Somali hijackers have international network

In an interview with London-based Asharq al-Awsat, a negotiator for the pirates holding Saudi tanker Sirius Star off the Somali coast disclosed how 40 hijackers seized control of the vessel.

Nov 23rd, 2008

Eric Watkins
Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 23 -- In an exclusive interview with the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, a negotiator for the pirates holding the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star off the Somali coast disclosed how some 40 hijackers seized control of the vessel.

Among other things, the negotiator said that the hijackers' "love" for Saudi Arabia—because it is a Muslim country—would reduce the ransom. He also disclosed that the pirates have help from informants in other countries who provide them with data about ships and their movements.

The negotiator, who spoke by telephone and identified himself as Jami Adam, said that discussions were continuing with the owners of the Saudi tanker.

"The negotiations are ongoing and I am expecting easy negotiations, God willing," said Adam. He explained that no agreement had been reached yet but expected this to happen soon and said: "We (the pirates) must consult and obtain information about the vessel and to whom it belongs."

Dubai, London negotiations
Adam went on to say that these negotiations were being held through Dubai (the headquarters of the company that owns the tanker) and London (the headquarters of the company that insures the tanker).

He stressed that the hijackers receive their ransom payments only in cash and denied they have any bank accounts abroad. "We do not have accounts abroad. Most of us did not leave the sea in the first place," he said.

He pointed out that they share the sums they receive as ransom for releasing the ships, and that they also distribute part of money among the poor families in the region.

Adam said the number of the tanker's hijackers was more than 40 Somalis and that some 25 of them are still aboard it now, adding that the original hijackers were replaced by others on Nov. 19.

On the conditions of the Saudi tanker's crew, he pointed out that they were safe and free on its deck and moving inside it, adding that they were eating from the vessel's supplies.

Hijackers 'love' Saudi Arabia
He mentioned that the kidnappers' ransom demand, which he refused to specify, was not exaggerated, especially as the tanker belongs to Saudi Arabia, which, according to him, "they respect very much and love because it is a Muslim country."

He also underlined the need to recover costs. "We had to bear many expenses to hijack it; $500,000 was paid for information and expenses for the people who hijack ships," he said.

Though he did not set a time period for ending the negotiations with the tanker's owners, he said in the past they have handed back 10 ships belonging to Asian countries, among them China and Japan, whose owners paid ransoms ranging between $1 million and $1.8 million.

"Some of them paid $1 million, $1.5 million, and $800,000. There is nothing fixed. It is negotiation."

Adam disclosed that the pirates benefit from information they receive from their partners who support and provide them with information from other countries.

Hijackers' international network
"We have countries that give us information about the ships in the sea, if there are commercial ships or sailing in our way," he said, adding that these neighboring countries include Yemen, Eritrea, Kenya, and South Africa.

Asked how they follow the ships, he said, "We have radars and know every ship's location. We have collaborators in Kenya, Sri Lanka, Yemen, and Dubai." He pointed out that these collaborators have nothing to do with the money "and they only provide us with the information."

Adam stressed that the pirates' partners who are present in more than one Arab, African, and Asian country raise the costs of their operating expenditures in a single hijack, adding that the cost of a hijacking might reach $500,000.

Adam downplayed the dangers of attacks on the pirates by the war fleets of many countries in the region, among them NATO, the US, and Russia, saying these fleets were close to them and they see them.

Talking about the American ships, he said, "They cannot watch all the sea. They have their own matters," then added that the pirates and passing Western ships exchange greetings when they are sailing close to each other.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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