With Somali pirates attacking civilian shipping so far off the coast, is it any surprise they have an intelligence network? They certainly are making enough money to pay for valuable shipping information.

Fox News reported earlier today that Somali pirates are using “consultants” to help pick their targets. I guess consultants is the new term for someone more interested in personal financial gain than protecting the information entrusted to them and other people’s safety.

So, that’s one more area to defend, but also another avenue for attack. Identifying and incarcerating those responsible for leaking this vital information, thereby enabling the pirates, might be another step in reducing the pirates’ ability to locate potential targets.

Posted by Fouled Anchor in Maritime Security
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  • Knowledge of the London “targeting” connection has been rattling around certain outlets for awhile–I mean, even some of the fishy “fishery enforcement” licenses (a game played by Somali pirates early in the process) was rumored to have come out though shady London-based connections…

    So what is spurring all the interest now?

  • Fouled Anchor

    “…what is spurring all the interest now?” For me? First I remember hearing more than conjecture. For the media in general? Maybe a source decided to talk and confirm what had been seen as just rumors.

  • Well, I was sorta mulling the “judo flip” aspect to this, as you mentioned in the post. But…do we (or the UK or wherever else this support might be based) have the judicial tools on deck to leverage “domestic supporters” of piracy? Do the states need a bit of a public ruckus over here to get some new laws in the books? Or are current statutes sufficient?

    And since I’m no lawyer…I have no choice but to call for help! Where’s our lawyer?

    Eagle1! You around?

  • That’s been in the German press months ago – Mombasa harbour clerks give away information about ships papers and the authorities there are easily bribed.

  • Byron

    I made this point two months ago and was roundly criticised for saying that illiterate pirates could have something so sophisticated as an intel network. That was plain old fashioned hubris talking, and I didn’t argue back. It was a simple deduction, that with a sea so large and a near complete lack of sensors to find their targets, plus zero aviation assets, they had to have intel on routes and times.

  • Ah, but Byron, the sad truth is that genius is an attribute rarely recognized in the living…

    When did ya say it? Got a link? It’d be interesting to see the context!

  • Byron

    It was over at Galrahns blog, about a month ago. DS, the sea, she be wide. Hard to see much of it from a 20 foot skiff. But get you a handheld GPS, and decent intel…

  • Fouled Anchor

    Byron, I looked around here for a similar comment before publishing this post. I could have sworn someone (you maybe) had mentioned the same thing on a previous pirate thread but found nothing. You’re right…they have to have some idea where they’re headed 400 miles out to sea in a small boat. They might be illiterate, but they are also relatively rich, having received several large ransoms. A little money can buy a lot of targeting information.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Byron, et al.

    The comments regarding pirate intelligence were mine from the “cheaper piracy” blog entry here (I think that is what you were referring to). We were discussing how they managed to find targets 400 miles from shore:

    “Byron, it might be just that simple. The pirate-fisherman-pirate-intel source-fisherman network is probably quite extensive. Also, an astounding amount of ship and crew manifest info is public domain. (First seriously questioned in reference to port security)

    I would bet my bottom dollar, if it hadn’t gone to the IRS yesterday, that they are using the most reliable and secure sources known to man. Observation and word of mouth.”

    And later:

    “You are indeed correct, but I would be willing to bet they (the pirates, the “elders”, and other clansmen) talk to each other, crews of ships in nearby ports, even UN officials who (heaven forbid!) might be somewhat corrupt and understand the value of foodstuff and other items on the considerable black market.

    My sense is that they have a very, very good network, focused on a few pieces of critical info, and can glean what they need without popping their heads up into our radar.”

  • Byron

    I thank you sir, for correcting an old mans fading memory. They say it’s the second thing to go 😉

  • Fouled Anchor

    URR, thanks for the clarification. I wanted to cite those original statements, but had no luck finding them in the myriad pirate discussion threads.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    I hope that one’s fading memory doesn’t allow one to remember what it is that goes first……

  • Byron

    I remember now! It’s my eyesight 😉

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Whew! Thank goodness. Thought it might have been below the waterline.

  • Time to infiltrate it?

  • Natty Bowditch

    If they were using consultants, the pirates would likely be aground in a desert with an email telling them the consultant had burned through all the contract money halfway through the period of performance.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Now THAT’s funny.

  • Eagle1

    Conspiracy to commit piracy, I suppose, would be one crime that could be charged … see here for a quick look at conspiracy law in the UK (and I defer to anyone with greater knowledge on the topic).

    As noted, there is lots of information on shipping available without conspirators selling it to their piratical co-conspirators, including the old standby methods of getting info from sailors in bars in departure ports or having “fishing boats” at chokepoints reporting on the passage of likely target ships.

    Given the characteristics of the ships being taken (generally, slower, low freeboard, not part of a convoy) I tend to think that the Mark I eyeball, GPS and some comm gear are the biggest aids to the pirate ship selection.

    Not that they may also be getting some info out of London, but …

  • Eagle1

    In addition, it’s not like merchant shipping varies its routes very much. The fastest, shortest route is the cheapest route.

    The sea lanes are pretty well known. As are the choke points to which the ships funnel themselves as they head to destination ports. Sit on a sea lane and wait for a good target.

    If the pirates were in possession of great intel info, I don’t think they’d be attacking military oilers and frigates. Which, as we all know, some of them have done.

  • Does it really have to be that hard to find out what ship is coming close by Somalia and what it will be carrying?

    Just one example:

    Go to the Port of Mombassa’s website and go to “Today at the Port”.

    Check the 14 day’s list which at time of writing gives vessels expected between May 13 2008 and May 27 2008.

    Get your vessel name. Get your vessel schedule. Get your vessel call sign. Get your ETA. Get your discharge figure. Get your load figure. Choose from 426 motor cars, 131 motor cars, bulk maize, bulk fertilizer, more cars, more cars, sorghum, bauxite, bulk wheat, bulk petroleum coke, Jet fuel, LPG, Gas oil, Lubes, Crude oil.

    Take your pick.

    Want to know how to identify the ship?

    Let’s take MSC Eagle.

    Go to Google images and search for “MSC Eagle”

    I couldn’t find an image, but I can tell you that MSC paint a giant MSC on the sides of their ships. Visible from a long, long way away.

    Then noodle around the internet until you find the ship’s position:

    Source callsign: C6PC9
    MMSI number: 309957000
    IMO number: 711555
    Navigational status: Under way (engine) (0)
    Vessel class: Cargo (70)
    Destination: MOMBASA (ETA May14 03:00)
    Location: 29°21’1″ S 31°44’49” E – locator KG50UP95PV – show map – static map
    41.4 km Southeast bearing 126° from Sundumbili, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa [?]
    43.3 km East bearing 93° from Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    70.1 km Southwest bearing 209° from Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Last position: 2009-05-09 12:42:33 UTC (4d 22h1m ago)
    2009-05-09 14:42:33 SAST local time at Sundumbili, South Africa [?]
    Course: 48° – heading 51°
    Speed: 31 km/h
    Dimensions: length 204 m width 31 m draught 10.6 m
    Last path: C6PC9>ais via ZR5S
    Positions stored: 3624
    Packets transmitted: 0 over the last 48 hours, heard on radio by 0 known stations, 0 known iGates

    Stations near current position of MSC EAGLE – show more

    callsign distance last heard – UTC callsign distance last heard – UTC
    IZUMO 4.0 km 334° 2009-05-09 10:53:32 419196000 IN 4.2 km 199° 2009-05-07 07:09:24
    RIDGE 6.4 km 77° 2009-05-10 11:48:34 RIO ENCO 6.5 km 62° 2009-04-24 02:36:34
    ARISTON 7.1 km 287° 2009-05-02 10:09:24 WAPPEN VON BREMEN 7.3 km 3° 2009-05-12 22:32:55
    DELMAS BRAZZAVILLE 7.8 km 37° 2009-05-10 04:22:34 CYPRESS_PASS 8.9 km 103° 2009-05-06 17:02:18
    M V ATLANTIC HOPE 10.6 km 169° 2009-05-09 11:41:33 ENERGY PRIDE 10.6 km 156° 2009-05-11 11:40:41
    GAS INSPIRATION 10.7 km 102° 2009-04-15 22:26:50 AVA 11.2 km 197° 2009-05-07 21:05:30
    MOL DREAM 11.3 km 70° 2009-05-04 03:41:52 GANT STAR 11.7 km 169° 2009-04-30 09:19:35
    BOW SAGA 11.9 km 202° 2009-05-14 09:48:11 KARL LEONHARDT 12.2 km 191° 2009-05-09 16:13:33
    MSC LEILA 12.3 km 70° 2009-05-03 12:22:51 CLOVER ACE 13.0 km 143° 2009-05-08 22:39:32
    PROIKONISSOS 13.5 km 219° 2009-04-23 03:25:28 FU HAN KOU 13.5 km 213° 2009-05-04 10:29:17

    It just isn’t that hard to select, identify and locate suitable targets. No secret spies in London required. No bribes required. Just a computer and an internet connection and a printer.

    This easily obtainable public domain information can be readily supplemented by a few subscription sites

    I sincerely hope that the European Union is distributing this in intelligence reports to their maritime nations too.