I was surprised this hasn’t been reported elsewhere, but on August 21st (2008) some Somalian pirates attacked and hijacked an Iranian cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, using AK-47’s and Grenade Launchers, and i remember a short news story around that time being that it had “tanks and other military supplies’ on it.
Now their hair is falling out, their skin is peeling off, and the pirates are dying – several are already dead. The assumption is that the ship contained WMD’s, and it is known that the illnesses began shortly after the pirates had opened containers, looking for ‘treasure’. Iran refuses to comment, and our own defense department doesn’t have any (public) information, but experts say the ‘illness’ is consistent with severe exposure to radiation.
The cargo ship MV Iran Deyanat that was taken by Somali pirates last month [photo: Fox news]
Hassan Osman, a the Somali Minister of Minerals and Oil who has been meeting with the pirates to discuss negotiations, said that they became ill after contact with some of the cargo.
Andrew Mwangura, Director of the Kenya-based East African Seafarer’s Assistance Program said the pirates were originally trying to sell the ship back to Iran, but the deal fell through after the pirates were poisoned by the cargo. He said also, “Yes, some of them have died. Our sources say [the ship] contains chemicals, dangerous chemicals.”
The Iranian government is reported to have paid a local broker $200,000 to ‘facilitate the exchange’, but then told the pirates the deal was off because U.S. naval vessels appeared in the area. (The region is patrolled by a multinational ‘Combined taskforce 150’, which includes U.S. naval ships of the Fifth Fleet.). Iran denies offering money for a negotiation, but also claims that the U.S. has offered to pay “a $7 million bribe to the pirates to receive entry permission and search the vessel.”
The Pentagon refused to comment, and Somali officials refused to comment on U.S. involvement, but one Official in the Puntland government said “I can say the ship is of interest to a lot of people, including Puntland.”
In response, Iran has called these allegations a “sheer lie”, and has said the ship had “no dangerous consignment on board”, but the massive shipping company that controls the vessel, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL), has been sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury because the company regularly falsifies shipping documents in order to hide the identity of end users, uses generic terms to describe shipments to avoid the attention of shipping authorities, and employs the use of cover entities to circumvent United Nations sanctions to facilitate weapons proliferation for the Iranian ministry of Defense.
The MV Iran Deyanat, from the Maritime News Russia/The Long War Journal
The MV Iran Deyanat also aroused suspicion because its manifest claimed that after it set sail from Nanjing, China at the end of July, it was to go to Rotterdam to unload 42,500 tons of iron ore and “industrial products” purchased by a German client. Its arrival in the Gulf of Aden was suspiciously early. According to a publicly available status report on the IRISL web site, the ship reached the Gulf on August 20, and was scheduled to reach the Suez Canal on the 27th (a 7 day journey).
“Depending on the speed of the ship,” Puntland Minister of Ports Ahmed Siad Nur told Long War Journal in a phone interview, “it should take between 4 and 5 days to reach Suez”.
The ship’s crew also seemed suspicious – half of the crew is staffed by Iranians – a large percentage of Iranian nationals for a standard merchant vessel – a 29 person crew which, according to Somali officials, includes a Pakistani captain, an Iranian engineer, 13 other Iranians, 3 Indians, 2 Filipinos, and 10 Eastern Europeans, possibly Croatian.
The crew first claimed they couldn’t open the cargo containers because they didn’t have the ‘access code’, and then told the pirates they contained crude oil, and later ‘minerals’.
Officials in Puntland and Baidoa are convinced the ship is carrying weapons to Eritrea for Islamist insurgents.
J. Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University is skeptical of the situation, saying that while it’s not impossible, the Somalian government has made “fanciful” claims before to attract U.S. and International attention, and that the 14 provisional governments that have ruled Somalia since 1991 have all relied on foreign aid as their sole source of revenue, and could be exaggerating the current situation in an attempt to attract more foreign aid and support.
Jonathan Tucker, a senior fellow at the James Martin center for Nonproliferation Studies says he’s “not aware of any chemical that produces loss of hair within a few days”, and suggests that is more consistent with high levels of radioactive material. Tucker, a chemical and biological weapons expert, said that Chinese companies have been implicated in selling Iran “dual-use chemicals” – legal ingredients that can be processed into chemical weapons.
The U.S. Government also maintains that Iran has continued to “seek dual-use technologies that could be used for biological warfare” (Mike McConnell, Director of national Intelligence; testimony before Congress in January 2008)
Iran’s past involvement in the Somalian conflict on behalf of Islamist Insurgents is well documented. In 2006 they provided sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), including SA-7 Strella and SA-18 Igla MANPADS (shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles) and AT-3 Sagger antitank missiles. A report issued by the UN in 2006 says that weapons were transferred to Somalia through Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and that iran also provided support for Islamist training camps inside Somalia and had sent emmisaries to negotiate with the ICU over access to Somali uranium mines.
The story itself is strange enough, but why is it not that big a story in the US? Is it because learning that there *are* WMDs might upset the current election here?