Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Somalia: Kenyan police detain Maritime Official over Piracy Saga

Andrew Mwangura: What's his story?

Yikes. When I saw this I knew exactly who it referred to:

Andrew Mwangura of the Seafarer's Assistance Program.

When it comes to the Somali pirates, Andrew Mwangura is the man. He is widely quoted and seems to be pretty much the expert on the topic. Is he also a labor organizer, journalist, activist and socialist? Pretty much.

I knew the Kenyan authorities were none too happy with reports that the tanks and weaponry on the MV Faina had been destined for Sudan, not Kenya.

But, I can't believe they've arrested Andrew Mwangura.

Andrew Mwangura, who runs the Kenya chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Programme, was held at a police station in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa.

"We have been looking for him since yesterday, but we have finally have him. He has been too vocal on the media, we want him to share with us what he knows of these pirates," a police official told AFP.

"We just want to question him on a few issues. It appears he knows more on the ship. We want him to tell us about this southern Sudan controversy about the arms," added another official.

Police said Mwangura was likely to be charged with making an alarming statement, a crime under the country's criminal procedure code.

"All I can tell you is that he is being investigated for issuing alarming statements. Those are the charges he is likely to face," said another official attached to the Criminal Investigations Department."

More about Andrew:

Earlier this week, Mwangura said Kenyan authorities had gagged him for speaking to the media on the piracy saga.

For several years, the Mombasa-based Mwangura has been a vocal advocate for seafarers rights, revealing the fate of hijacked vessels, the state of the hostages and ransoms, if any is paid.

So what's Andrew's deal? Is he a good guy or one of the guys who puts on his smart clothes and rushes down to the port of Eyl to get his cut?... Pirates stolen your supertanker? Here's the man to call.

When one of their ships goes missing, the millionaire owners telephone Andrew Mwangura, a former seaman who lives in a two-room shack and relies on internet cafes to communicate with his global network of contacts.

"The ship owners are wealthy but there is nothing for Andrew," he says, sipping a hot chocolate on a Mombasa hotel veranda. He dare not meet journalists at his home for fear his work will attract the wrong kind of attention.

"It doesn't matter because I'm proud that the US or British embassy officials come to meet me. They ask me what I think. That's very good for a common man."

Mr Mwangura, 45, has run the Seafarer's Assistance Programme for the past 12 years, tracking down missing vessels, investigating deaths at sea and negotiating the release of hostages. He is not paid for his expertise, but survives by working as freelance writer on the side. At one time he had 40 volunteers working for him, but the number is now nine after his organisation turned out to be riddled with informers.

He has moved from his home in the port of Mombasa up the coast to protect his wife and child. "The government doesn't like what we do and there are lots of people making money from piracy who would like us out of business," he says.

Read more about what Andrew has to say about how this pirate business works.
He makes no mention of an al-Qaeda link, so I hope last evening's Snoopy dance wasn't premature

"The gangs, he says, are masterminded by crime lords in Dubai and Nairobi who monitor shipping routes for lucrative targets. They pass directions on to as many as five pirate gangs who pay a "licence fee" to Somali politicians or clan elders. "The majority of the Somali leaders are warlords or mafia-like businessmen connected to pirates, arms smugglers, people-traffickers, illegal fishing, logging," he says. "A thief can't catch a thief." The first Mr Mwangura hears of a hijack is a phone call from a Somali source or a shipping company desperate to trace a missing vessel. He uses a network of contacts in Somalia to find the ship and make contact with the hijackers. "If we can find a cell number for the gunmen and ask to speak to the crew to make sure they are safe, then often we can, as long as we don't give away the position of the ship," he says."

You note he doesn't give away the position of the ship...