Ransom demands have risen steadily in recent years. According to one study, the average ransom stood at $5.4 million (3.3 million pounds) in 2010, up from $150,000 in 2005, helping
Steed acknowledged he had no proof of an operational relationship between the pirates and the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab rebels who control much of southern and central Somalia and parts of the capital Mogadishu.
Al Shabaab sources agree.
- Smuggling through Kismayu,
- Slapping taxes on illegal charcoal exports to the Gulf,
- Arms shipments from Yemen
- Electronic goods destined for the region.
Tesfay said she had yet to see evidence of an “operational relationship” between the pirates and al Shabaab but that the militants had a reputation for monopolising key income-earning sectors once they had taken control of an area.
In February al Shabaab seized a number of pirate gang leaders in Haradhere and forced them to accept a multi-million dollar deal under which the pirates would hand over 20 percent of future ransoms.
A Reuters investigation found the following payments had been made to al Shabaab’s “marine office”:
- On February 25: $200,000 from the release of the Japanese-owned MV Izumi after pirates received a $4.5 million ransom.
- On March 8: $80,000 from the $2 million release of the St Vincent & Grenadines-flagged MV Rak Africana.
- On March 9: $100,000 after the Singapore-flagged MV York was freed for $4.5 million.
- On April 13: $600,000 from the release of the German ship Beluga Nomination after a $5.5 million ransom was paid.
- On April 15: A $66,000 share of the $3.6 million ransom handed over for the Panama-flagged MV Asphalt Venture.
- On May 14: $100,000 from the release of two Spanish crew of the Spanish-owned FV VEGA 5.
- “Most times OFAC has authorised payment because it has found no link,” Frodl said. “But if there is indeed a 20 percent ‘tax’ being applied by Shabaab against pirate ransoms in Haradhere, a major pirate hub it now controls, then things could change.”
While Washington has firmly opposed ransom payments, counter-piracy experts say London — home to the world’s shipping and insurance industries — has demonstrated a conspicuous lack of appetite to follow suit.