A tense standoff is underway in northeastern Somalia between pirates, Somali authorities, and Iran over a suspicious merchant vessel and its mysterious cargo. Hijacked late last month in the Gulf of Aden, the MV Iran Deyanat remains moored offshore in Somali waters and inaccessible for inspection. Its declared cargo consists of minerals and industrial products, however, Somali and regional officials directly involved in the negotiations over the ship and who spoke to The Long War Journal are convinced that it was heading to Eritrea to deliver small arms and chemical weapons to Somalia’s Islamist insurgents.
It was business as usual when speedboats surrounded the MV Iran Deyanat on August 21. The 44468 dead weight tonnage bulk carrier was pushing towards the Suez and had just entered the Gulf of Aden – dangerous waters where instability, greed and no-questions-asked ransom payments have led to a recent surge in piracy. Steaming past the Horn of Africa, 82 nautical miles southeast of al-Makalla in Yemen, the ship was a prize for the taking. It would bring hundreds of thousands of dollars – possibly millions – to the Somalia-based crime syndicate. The captain was defenseless against the 40 pirates armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades blocking his passage. He had little choice other than to turn his ship over to them. What the pirates were not banking on, however, was that this was no ordinary ship.
The MV Iran Deyanat is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) – a state-owned company run by the Iranian military that was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on September 10, shortly after the ship’s hijacking. According to the U.S. Government, 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 set sail from Nanjing, China, at the end of July and, according to its manifest, planned to travel to Rotterdam, where it would unload 42,500 tons of iron ore and “industrial products” purchased by a German client. Its arrival in the Gulf of Aden, Somali officials tell The Long War Journal, 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 August 27 – a seven day journey. “Depending on the speed of the ship,” Puntland Minister of Ports Ahmed Siad Nur said in a phone interview on Saturday, “it should take between 4 and 5 days to reach Suez.”
Suspicion has also been cast on the ship’s crew, half of which is almost entirely staffed by Iranians – a large percentage of Iranian nationals for a standard merchant vessel. Somali officials say that the ship has a crew of 29 men, including a Pakistani captain, an Iranian engineer, 13 other Iranians, 3 Indians, 2 Filipinos, and 10 Eastern Europeans, possibly Croatian.
The MV Iran Deyanat was brought to Eyl, a sleepy fishing village in northeastern Somalia, and was secured by a larger gang of pirates – 50 onboard and 50 onshore. Within days, pirates who had boarded the ship developed strange health complications, skin burns and loss of hair. Independent sources tell The Long War Journal that a number of pirates have also died. “Yes, some of them have died. I do not know exactly how many but the information that I am getting is that some of them have died,” Andrew Mwangura, Director of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Program, said Friday when reached by phone in Mombasa.
News about the illness and the toxic cargo quickly reached Garowe, seat of the government for the autonomous region of Puntland. Angered over the wave of piracy and suspicious about the Iranian ship, authorities dispatched a delegation led by Minister of Minerals and Oil Hassan Allore Osman to investigate the situation on September 4. Osman also confirmed to The Long War Journal that during the six days he negotiated with the pirates members of the syndicate had become sick and died. “That ship is unusual,” he said. “It is not carrying a normal shipment.”
Iran keeps thumbing its nose at any outrage over its nuke proliferation. And the U.N. keeps inviting the son of a bitch Amhadinejad back into its chambers to vent his nasty little spleen at the free world, America, in particular.
And remember, Obama wants to disarm us. He’d rather capitulate than maintain strength and deterrence against hostile countries like Iran:
Sorry, Obama. No dice.