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MOGADISHU, Somalia (CAP) - Anticipation is running high for the upcoming season of Somali piracy as crews buckle down and hone the skills that will help get them through the next half dozen months on the high seas. Somali leaders hope the pirates can turn around what was ultimately a lackluster 2010 season.
"When temps starting climbing above 38 in the dead of summer, it's tough to bring that same high level of energy day in and day out," said Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo. "But our guys have been through some rigorous off-season training and I really think we can put up some big numbers like we did in 2009."
While no one admitted it at the time, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed says he saw 2010 as a transitional year, capped by appointing Farmajo as former Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke's permanent replacement. Farmajo was tasked with filling some large gaps in the 2010 squad, for which he called on local fisherman brought up through the Somali farm system.
"As good a season as we had in 2009, we lost a lot of guys to injury and arrest and we never quite recovered from that last year," said Farmajo. "Sure, we had some success with our ex-militiamen, but you don't just hand an RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher to a fisherman and expect him to bat a thousand taking over a ship.
"But if our hijackings so far this year are any indication, we are more than ready for the regular season," Farmajo added.
Farmajo is well known throughout the East African Seafarers' Association for his constant focus on technique and continued attention to hydration and nutrition, something opposing ships say will keep the pirates going strong well into the long season. Ship captains say it's tough to overcome that competitive edge.
"The Somalis have grabbed home sea advantage throughout the entire Indian Ocean, which makes it near impossible to post a victory against them," said one Sri Lankan crew member who was on board an oil tanker captured by Somali pirates last March. "We were down two men in the bottom of the hull and still had one of our best men on deck, but couldn't pull it off.
"There is no parity in this league," the boater added. "They truly are the Evil Empire."
Although Somalia touts its farm system for grooming new pirates to become the next hijacking stars, many countries bordering the Arabian Sea say their use of ransom money and other stolen goods to pay free agent pirates gives them an unfair advantage over smaller markets. There is a proposal before the EASA to implement a luxury tax on ransoms over $1 million.
"Take a small country like Yemen and it's one port at Aden and with all the hijacked ships in that gulf, you wonder how they're staying afloat financially and why they haven't just up and relocated elsewhere," said piracy negotiator Andrew Mwangura. "We can't imagine Yemeni kids growing up with no hometown crew to root for. We just can't."
Mwangura and EASA member nations are also investigating claims that Somali pirates have been using banned weapons during hijackings, charges that Somalia vehemently denies. "Our captain just hands us the weapon and we use the weapon no question," said captured pirate Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse. "He said the weapon would help us avoid injury, so we used it. I didn't know it was banned."
An EASA task force is trying to track down arms dealers who may have supplied the Somalis with the banned weapons but efforts so far have proved fruitless.
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