THE DEATH OF THE YACHTSMEN
When news were confirmed yesterday afternoon that the four Americans, captured with their yacht off the coast of Oman, had died at the hand of their captors, the problem of the ocean terrorist took another turn to the worse. Often called a problem from hell, the hell that Somalia has become with warlords and Islamic radicals fighting for power, it is now finally clear that ocean terrorism is a reality and should no longer be romanticised as ‘piracy’.
In the old days piracy was globally a hanging offense, and the justice meted out to captured pirates was swift and final, when they were strung up on ship’s masts or, if at all returned to port, tried in court and then hanged at the gallows.
It will be little consolation to the families of those who died, that most of the Somalis on board of the yacht too were killed. Gunfire erupted on the captured yacht, a rocket was fired at a nearby American navy war ship which had been shadowing the yacht and in fact been talking to the captors for a while and only then was navy personnel deployed. To their and the world’s horror they found 3 of their fellow citizens dead and one more mortally wounded. Several of the surviving ocean terrorists were taken into custody and are expected to be handed over to the US justice system, where – considering the gravity of their offenses and the cold blooded murder of innocent lives – the death penalty will most likely be demanded by prosecutors. Knowing the American legal system and the affinity of members of the legal profession to rush to the aid of the accused, trying to delay the inevitable, this may take some time but the outcome surely will be certain.
Meanwhile, this latest tragedy is just a step short of the ocean terrorists eventually managing to highjack a passenger cruise liner, as often discussed here, the worst of the nightmare scenarios imaginable. It is clear that harsher measures and a more robust approach is now finally needed to deter the Somalis from leaving their own shores to wreak havoc on international shipping. Once again it is therefore suggested, if not demanded – to the disdain of several and yet the broad support from most – that a total shipping embargo be enforced on Somalia, with only sanctioned vessels carrying humanitarian aid permitted through and escorted to port, and that any ‘mothership’ or skiffs attempting to leave the territorial waters of Somalia be treated as hostile and be engaged, to either return immediately or else be sunk.
That language will be swiftly understood by the ocean terrorists, if any – after spreading such a message – will remain active or continue trying to seajack ships.
Somalia per se deserves better, but since the fall of their former central government under despot Siad Barre in the early 90’s some resemblance of order has only been restored in the breakaway region of Somaliland, which government is seeking international recognition and presents itself as the ‘good Somalis’. Much of the rest of Somali is literally in civil war, with war lords and militias of various descriptions seeking to outgun each other in their quest for territorial and economic control, in total disregard for the safety of the civilian population living in their area of operation. In fact, the Islamic radicals have turned on their own citizens declaring death penalties by stoning for the obscurest of reasons, making a mockery of the religion of Islam and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.
Therefore, here too a robust mandate is required for the AU ‘peacekeeping force’ to decisively engage the combatants on the ground, rout them and restore peace and civil order across the country. In fact more troops are needed on the ground and my own country, Uganda – subjected last July to terror attacks herself in retaliation for her role in Somalia – has offered more troops but other African nations must follow suit. Once that is achieved, an international support effort can start to rebuild government, institutions, and infrastructure and bring both immediate relief to the hungry and suffering people but also restore Somalia’s long term ability to look after herself.
Living in denial only leads to more such tragedies as the killing of the four Americans, and considering the location of their capture in what was thought to be safe waters off Oman also shows that the ocean terrorists keep probing the naval coalition’s sea defences as they spread their bloody handiwork further and further into the Indian Ocean.
Their threat to kill hostages already held on captured vessels near the Somali shores is likely a bluff and needs to be called, and when navy vessels appear nearby with guns aimed at shore positions, helicopters with commandos swoop in and board the captured ships, it will soon be over. The land bases and hitherto safe havens of the ocean terrorist must be treated like Al Qaida hideouts – some of the proceeds from ransom payments are believed to find their way into Al Qaida off-springs in Somalia anyway – and they must be found and then destroyed to deny the terrorists their hideouts.
This view will undoubtedly bring about some opposition again, likely too some more threats, but the majority of civilised people, now painfully aware of the fate of the four Americans, will undoubtedly be in support, if not asking in fact for more radical measures.
Sincere condolences are extended from everyone at the eTN team to the families and friends of the murdered sailors and may their souls rest in eternal peace.
Watch this space.