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Issue 487 -- 28th May- 03rd June 2011
Britons Held As Ransom Drop Goes Wrong
By Katrina Manson
Nairobi, Kenya, May 28, 2011 – Three Britons have been arrested in Somalia after a $3.6m ransom drop to release two vessels from pirates went wrong, according to diplomats.
The Foreign Office confirmed the arrests on Friday, three days after they were seized. “We are aware of the arrest of three British nationals in Somalia. We are in touch with their employer,” it said, without identifying the company.
“Our ability to provide consular assistance in Somalia is extremely limited, as there is no British representation in any part of Somalia.”
The UN-backed Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, a failed state, does not approve of ransom payments to pirates, many of whom base themselves in the north of the country.
The UK connection is an embarrassment for the British government, which does not condone such payments, saying it encourages future hijacks.
Pirates are taking to harsher tactics in an effort to raise ransoms and secure early pay-out: some hostages are locked in freezers. Estimates put ransom pay-outs for last year at $238m, up four times on 2009.
“This is really the first obvious disruption of a ransom payment, officially we should be congratulating the TFG,” a senior western diplomat told the Financial Times, adding that three or four ransom payments were made every month, sometimes released by aircraft as cash blocks wrapped in vacuum-packed plastic.
“The UK government is pouring a lot of money into Somalia and helping the government to recover, and yet the ransom money is working against that strategy.”
Piracy has proved profitable for some UK companies, whether security firms based in east Africa employing former British soldiers, or UK insurance companies and lawyers making money both from rising shipping premiums and kidnap and ransom insurance.
The senior western diplomat said two planes, intended for Galkacyo, a contested town on the edge of northern Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland, were intercepted at Mogadishu airport, the Somali capital, where fierce fighting with al-Shabaab Islamist extremists is a constant feature.
“The guys who brought the ransom in were from a security company based in Kenya,” said the diplomat, who said the cash was intended to release two vessels that were held by Somali pirates according to the International Maritime Bureau. “One plane brought the money in and one was to do the transfer.”
Images published on the Somalia Report website showed two white men averting their gaze or shielding their face with a hand, carrying large black bags over their shoulders and walking towards the central bank. The company faces questions about whether it was attempting to smuggle the cash.
“If it was hairy before it’s going to get a lot hairier,” said a security consultant based in the region, adding that no security team protecting a vessel had ever been taken by pirates, although one once jumped overboard to avoid capture. The International Maritime Organization, a UN agency, is yet to publish guidelines on the use of weapons by protection adopted at the end of last week.
Four British nationals with whom the UK has not been able to make contact and who were reportedly involved in armed anti-piracy protection are already detained in nearby Eritrea, after their arrest by the Eritrean navy in December last year.
Source: The Financial Times