Former Ottawa gas station operator rules home state of Somali pirates

Medeshi Nov 26, 2008
Former Ottawa gas station operator rules home state of Somali pirates

Many of Somalia's pirates are based in a region called Puntland, whose president is a former Ottawa resident presiding over a government accused of turning a blind eye to the pirates' hijacking of foreign vessels.
CBC News
Many of the pirates hijacking vessels in the region are based in an autonomous region called Puntland, beyond the control of what passes for a central government in Somalia.
The president of Puntland for the past three years has been Mohamud Muse Hersi, a former Ottawa gas station operator.
Hersi emigrated to Canada in the 1980s, bought a gas station and raised a family, but his clan connections to Somalia remained strong. When the elders of Puntland were looking for a new president in 2005, they chose Hersi.
There are about a dozen hijacked ships anchored off the Puntland coast at the moment, waiting as the pirates and shipowners haggle over ransom money.
Hersi's critics accuse him and his ministers of taking bribes from the pirates to look the other way.
Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress, says he lacks evidence of such corruption but adds: "It would be inconceivable for all this piracy to be going on on the coast of Puntland without at least the knowledge, if not the collusion, of the Puntland government."
Hersi vigorously denies the charge. As proof, he points to two successful counterattacks against the pirates mounted by Puntland's coast guard.
Roger Middleton, an analyst at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, says the two hijackings Hersi's government interfered with involved cargos of direct economic interest to the regime.
"In one case, the cement that was in the ship belonged to one of the ministers in the government, so there was clearly a reason why they wanted to get involved," he told CBC News.
If the Puntland government really wanted to stop the pirates, it would, Middleton says. But piracy has become the region's most profitable industry. Middleton estimates the pirates will net about $50 million US this year while the Puntland government's annual budget is just $20 million US.
Formally, Hersi is president of the Puntland State of Somalia, carved out of the collapsed country in 1998. It claims about a third of the national territory and calls itself "part of an anticipated Federal State of Somalia."
Hussen of the Canadian Somali Congress says Puntland has been sliding toward the abyss under Hersi's rule.
"I don't think it's reached the stage of anarchy yet, but it's on the verge of that," he told CBC News.
In a briefing paper on piracy published last month, Middleton made these points:
- Piracy off the Somali coast has more than doubled in 2008, with more than 60 ships attacked so far.
- Pirates are regularly demanding and getting million-dollar ransom payments and are becoming more aggressive and assertive.
- Money from ransom is helping to pay for the war in Somalia, and the high level of piracy is making aid deliveries to the drought-stricken country more difficult and costly.
- The danger and cost of piracy, including soaring insurance premiums, may force ships to avoid the Suez Canal route and sail around Africa, raising transportation costs and hence the price of oil and manufactured goods shipped to Europe and North America.
- Piracy could cause a major environmental disaster if a tanker is sunk, run aground or set afire - and the pirates' ever more powerful weaponry makes this increasingly likely.