- By Elizabeth DickinsonElizabeth Dickinson is a Gulf-based American journalist and former assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy.
Two months after Somali pirates made their debut in the international spotlight by hijacking the MV Faina, a ship filled to the brim with Ukranian tanks and weapons, the U.S. government sent a cable from London with alleged details about the piracy circuit, recounted during a debriefing with a Canadian captain who had recently escorted an aid ship ashore: "there is clear evidence of collusion between Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and pirates in Somali waters and links between pirates and terrorist networks," a November 2008 cable claims.
These were the early day of Somali piracy, when some of the high-profile hijackings were just beginning to occur. No international task force montitored the waters those days; no one was yet sure just how to handle the threat — or just how deep the treat really went. The Canadian captain, Chris Dickison, believed that the hijackings were just the tip of the iceberg: "Dickinson also said clear links between the pirates and established terrorist networks exist. In many cases, they are the same people, using the same routes. Most commercial maritime operators in the area are surprised that the international community does not do more to disrupt the linkages." (When pressed for more details, the embassy source apparently dubbed further information for "Canadian Eyes Only.")
The 2008 cable also goes on to provide a bit more insight into what happened to the MV Faina itself — an international intrigue that in some ways is still unfolding. When the ship was first apprehended, it became clear that it was transporting weapons to Kenya — on what appeared to be the behalf of the government of Southern Sudan. This was later confirmed in cables released by WikiLeaks earlier this year. But it’s never been totally clear where all the weapons ended up after they were released by the pirates (in exchange for ransom.) The 2008 cable offers some insight: "Dickinson added that the weapons on board the MV Faina, still being held hostage when the cable was written, were all offloaded onto Somali shores."
One might imagine that such information — if it was (and is) true — would raise red flags, particulary when it comes to U.S. support for the Somali government. Maybe it did; just months later, the Somali government admitted to having information about who the pirates were and how they operated — but Somali officials argued that they lacked the resources to tackle the problem (and requested international help to do so.)
Either way, international help certainly came. A coalition of Navies — everyone from the United States to China to Greece to India — sent ships to the Gulf of Aden, where many remain today, patrolling the seas. As another 2008 cable presciently puts it, piracy was a "growth industry."
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.| Passport |