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2nd Mar 2024

EU studying links between Italian mafia and Somalian pirates

  • Potts: said private security firms are playing a big part in stopping pirates (Photo: conslium.europa.eu)

The EU special envoy for Somalia is looking into a fresh report that pirates are in business with Italian gangsters on toxic waste.

The Paris-based criminologist, Michel Koutouzis, who carries out investigations for the UN and for EU institutions, described the problem in a new book - Crime, Trafficking and Networks - published in May.

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He said organised crime groups in south Italy - the Camorra, 'Ndranghetta and La Sacra Corona Unita - supply Somalian warlords with black market small arms from the Western Balkans in return for permission to dump waste.

"Tonnes of waste are discharged every year off the coasts of Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea under the noses of countless warships which control sea freight in the Read Sea and the Gulf of Aden," he explained.

He noted that part of the income - worth "hundreds of millions of euros a year" - is laundered via the tourist industry in Kenya and Tanzania.

He added the practice has been going on for years: a UN report in 2005 said the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami broke up deposits of lead, cadmium and mercury as well as hospital and chemical waste, which washed up on the shore near the coastal towns of Hobbio and Benadir, killing some 300 people.

Speaking to press in Brussels on Tuesday (19 June), the EU's special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Alexander Rondos, a former Greek diplomat, said the book has come to his attention.

"It has been passed on to people who are better equipped than I am to look into it ... people are checking into it," he said.

"We need to find out who is funding them [Somalian privateers]. They are part of a much bigger problem we face in the Indian Ocean - the globalisation of organised crime. Investigations are under way."

British rear admiral Duncan L. Potts, who commands the EU's anti-piracy mission, Atalanta, said a new Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution and Intelligence Co-ordination Centre - which aims to target pirates' financial activities - is "getting off the ground" in the Seychelles.

He added that he has no hard evidence on the Italian link, however.

For his part, Koutouzis, in an interview in his home in Paris last Friday, told this website: "Of course they know about it. But they don't want to do anything."

Potts noted that Atalanta seems to have turned a corner in terms of stopping attacks.

Pirates seized 28 vessels in the first half of 2011, but just three in the second half of last year and five so far this year.

Seven ships and over 200 passengers and crew are currently being held for ransom. Some of them have been held for more than 18 months in "awful conditions" and are in bad health.

Potts attributed the turnaround in part to an "exponential" increase in the use of private security firms by commercial shipping.

More than half of the 50,000-or-so vessels which pass through the region each year carry their own guards.

Their activities are regulated under the laws of the country where the ship is registered, in many cases Liberia or Panama.

"At the more responsible end of the market ... they fire warning shots and then four or five targeted shots to show that the ship is armed," Potts said.

He did not have figures on how many pirates have been killed by private companies.

He noted that Atalanta plays the role of a "constabulary" rather than doing "war-fighting."

He added that "to his knowledge" troops under his command have not killed a single pirate in three and half years of operations.

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