If all your knowledge about pirates is based on Treasure Island novel you missed a lot. Modern pirate stories are way more exciting.
And way more mysterious.
Let the facts go first. Russian operated and Liberia-flagged oil tanker Moscow University with dead weight of 106, 474 tons and a cargo of crude oil was heading to China. On Wednesday at around 8.00 a.m. Moscow time [04:00 GMT] it was hijacked by Somali pirates.
The situation calls for some interesting details.
- The Gulf of Aden and Somali cost is a pinch point for all sea traffic routed through the Suez Canal.
It is much like Moscow Avenue in St.Petersburg or Leningrad Avenue in Moscow – the traffic there is really heavy.
- Although there are a great number of vessels floating near the coast, the pirates often hijack ships quite far beyond their shores – their record being more than 1,000 km. In case of Moscow University it was more that 600 km.
- Moscow University is not an ordinary oil tanker; it is the FIRST one to open the NEW way to transport oil to China from the new Baltic oil-loading plant.
And this is THE SHIP to be "accidentally" attacked by Somali pirates. More that 600 km off the shore and right in the time it was left by the convoy warship Marshal Shaposhnikov (which will then rescue the "students") as there could no longer be any threat of attack. The crew managed to establish a connection with Marshal Shaposhnikov shortly before the ship was hijacked. Then the crew members locked themselves in an engine room and were finally rescued by the Russian commando.
“During the warship Marshal Shaposhnikov’s special operation, the pirates on board of the Moscow University tanker opened fire. One of them was shot during return fire,” the military official said, adding none of the Russian sailors was injured. Link
"A criminal case was opened on tanker hijacking and according to the Russian Criminal Code piracy penalty rates from 10 to 15 years imprisonment," stresses the International Marine Right Association president. Link
Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said that all the detained pirates involved in hijacking the Moscow University tanker would be sent to Moscow for proceedings.
“The investigation committee has begun measures to send the detained pirates to Moscow for investigations and launch proceedings under Russian law and international legal norms,” Vladimir Markin said. Link
The story is over, the end is happy – the crew is free, China gets its oil, and pirates will be under trial.
And this is when the media gives the utmost strange information.
“Somali pirates, who were detained after a mission to free the Moscow University tanker, were released Thursday as no legal rules exist for prosecuting the pirates operating in the region of Somali in court,” the Russian Defense Ministry source said. “This means they do not fall under the jurisdiction of any state or international law.” Link
What a trick. All legal rules for their prosecution disappeared overnight and the criminals are let go. It appears that hijacking the tanker and opening fire on the Russian ship doesn't give enough legal ground for prosecution.
It is even more strange that the very fact of pirates being released was refuted.
The representative of Russian naval task force deployed in the region said that the pirates were still on board of the tanker. “Nobody has taken them from the ship and set free”. Link
Finally it was admitted that the pirates were actually released.
Pirates who had hijacked Russian tanker Moscow University were set free, reports RIA Novosti citing the source in Defense Ministry familiar with the ship release operation. According to the source, there are no legal rules for court action against pirates acting off Somalia, so “they do not fall within jurisdiction of any country and international law either”. Pirates arrested by Russian marines were disarmed, put on inflatable boat, deprived of navigational facilities, and let off. Link
How can that be? Pirates were already detained by our navy officers – television broadcasted the video with our ships' commander reporting about what's happened. Why was the news about the arrest messed up?
This is what I think has happened.
It is not a secret that Somali pirates are used to hijack CERTAIN ships. It means that they are given definite tasks and then rewarded for the job done. The reward is the ransom that is thrown from helicopters on the decks, the rest of the sum is transferred on a Swiss bank account.
It resembles the way Boris Berezovsky financed Chechen militants – they kidnapped soldiers and civilians, then Mr. BB assumed an air of compassion and ransomed them. As a result his rate went up and the militants got the money – everyone was satisfied.
The same thing with pirates. They get the task, fulfill it then get the money – and nobody will ever fight them.
When you realize this, it becomes easier to get some other important things:
1. Nobody will ever fight piracy, if the pirates are used to influence their political adversaries.
2. Negotiations should be held with secret services of the countries that patron the pirates.
The names of these countries are easy to figure out. These are the countries whose fleet is never hijacked – I mean the USA and the UK. There are also sea powers whose vessels constitute 90 percent of the world's fleet and therefore are always subject to attack – they are Russia, Germany, China and Turkey.
So, who is for and against fighting piracy?
Rossiyskaya Gazeta quotes Russia's deputy public prosecutor as saying:
“Russia has long been advocating elaboration of an international legal body that would regulate anti piracy policy – a sort of International Criminal Court that would fight piracy as a criminal activity. Unfortunately, we cannot put these ideas into practice as there is a strong opposition to it. A number of countries including USA, Britain and some other states think it will be too expensive. Spain and Germany as well as the rest of the EU, on the contrary, support the idea as one third of their carbohydrates is transported via Somali coast.” Link
Seizure of the FIRST tanker of the new China oil supply transport system was symbolic. The rescue operation was symbolic too – Russia has exerted strong resolution and power in opposing pirates' bosses. They signal that our oil transfer to China is unwanted – we signal that don't care about what they want.
The detained pirates were needed for a haggle; a haggle on higher political levels, of course.
Did you notice that the media information about Moscow University became vague and contradictory at once? It is a sure sign that the haggle has begun. Russia needs guarantees that our China-headed tankers will no longer be attacked, or, rather, that none of our ships will be hijacked irrespective of the flag they carry.
But to begin the haggle we need to pretend that the pirates are let go – this is just a trick, a shrewd political trick which cannot be explained to every honest navy officer. That is why on receiving the information on the alleged release of the pirates the honest navy officers hurry to refute the news, as "the released" are still kept in the tanker hold:
The representative of Russian naval task force deployed in the region said that the pirates were still on board of the tanker. “Nobody has taken them from the ship and set free”, he said commenting the news on their alleged release. Link
After the "general politics" is made clear the news become adequate. The pirates were set free in a boat. Whether they reach the shore or not depends largely on haggle results with their bosses rather than on sea, sharks and weather conditions. Because they are all still sitting in the tanker hold.
The news that appeared next showed that the haggle failed:
“A group of Somali pirates captured by the Russian navy in the Gulf of Aden and then set free in a boat are most probably dead after failing to reach the shore, a Russian defence source said Tuesday.” Link
The information was not officially confirmed – it is a hint for the partners. The pirates (sitting in the same old hold) still have a chance to reach the shore if our conditions are accepted. However, judging by the news that followed, the conditions were not accepted:
Somali media accused Russia in killing pirates who hijacked the tanker: a pirate spokesman contacted Somalilandpress to dismiss the Russian navy statement that his men were released. "The Russians never released the men instead they shot them point-blank range then loaded their lifeless bodies back on the boat," he added. Link
How sweet of him to care about pirates so much. But the end of the news is more important – it clearly is a message from the bosses:
"In future, if we capture Russians they will meet the same fate as those they executed", he said. Link
We shall send more ships to Somali, we shall convoy every vessel that Russia is interested in. We shall stand up for the right to do whatever is good for our country.
There is one thing that has occurred to me.
Moscow University operation is the sequel of South Ossetia conflict. The scale is incomparable, to be sure, but the results are the like. We parried the blow and made it clear we would do it again…
I wonder what Putin and Hú Jǐntāo were talking about during the Moscow parade…
Original text by Nikolay Starikov
Translated by Yana Starikova