Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What's going on here?

Iranian ship captured by pirates with mysterious, toxic cargo.

Wow - this is the most interesting story no one has heard about. An Iranian ship operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, AKA the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Shipping Lines, was captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

Said pirates board ship to plunder cargo, and reportedly emerge with strange ailments, skin lesions, and hair loss. The Iranian ship had departed Nanjing, China, and claimed a destination of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, with a cargo of "iron ore and industrial materials" for a "German client".

If much of any of this story is true, the ship may be carrying Chinese nuclear material and equipment for the Iranian nuclear program, being shipped (or smuggled) via Europe to avoid international scrutiny.

The pirates and Somali officials say the ship is suspected of delivering weapons to Somali Islamic extremists in Eritrea, but I doubt this is true unless the Iranians are arming Somali terrorists with Chinese nuclear weapons.

The ship was captured on 21 August, and is reportedly still being held in Somalia. The pirates negotiated a ransom with the Iranians, but the Iranians cancelled the deal, saying they couldn't come get their ship because of the presence of the US Navy in the area.

I had to Google the heck out of this story to find anything at all about it. Here is one more story. And another.

The last story has an interesting twist - it says the US government has offered the pirates $7 million to search the ship. That's just fascinating. The question is whether the pirates hatred of the US outweighs their love of booty, and I don't know that there's any answer to that yet.

The question is what happens if we discover definitively that the ship is in fact carrying Chinese nuclear material being smuggled illegally to Iran? What do we do? My guess is that the US gov't might want to keep that story a secret, rather than potentially ignite a major international crisis.

I further suspect this is why we haven't heard more about this story - absolutely nothing in the MSM as far as I can tell.


Nathan said...

This is a hard one. I wish one of the linked stories was from a "reputable" source. And by that, I mean a source with any reputation whatsoever. I don't necessarily doubt what's being reported, but I do have to turn on my "It's true because it's on the internet" filter.

In some ways, though, that only amplifies your point. Please let us know if you hear more. This is the first I've heard about any of this.

Eric said...

Like Nathan, I'd like to see some follow-up; there may be something here, but a quick googling (I don't have time for thoroughness) couldn't come up with a reference to sick pirates or crew prior to the "Long War" article, which is an obvious reference for subsequent postings (even when it's not cited as such--several pieces appearing after September 22 appear to engage in full-scale plagiarism, down to following Grace's and Ali's phrasing).

I did find prior references to the MV Iran Deyanat that fail to mention any illnesses, including this extremely short mention from PIO TV that refers to three Indian crew members being "safe". (I have not been able to access the accompanying video here at the office, so I don't know whether "safe" means "home and healthy" or "still held, not dead.")

Xinhua (hardly unbiased) mentions the ship as being one of several seized, and the Times Online repeats that $200,000 in ransom had been paid without mentioning any of the other issues raised in the "Long War" account.

So I don't know what to make of it.

But I look forward to any updates you may have. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Eric said...

CORRECTION: Sorry, it looks like the earliest source is the Pat Dollard blog entry you linked to. (Dollard appears to be quite the character.) Dollard offers the opinion that there were radioactives aboard the ship based on "Reuters quoted Andrew Mwangura, of the Kenyan-based East African Seafarers’ Assistance Program."

A search at Reuters for "Mwangura 'dangerous chemical'" returns a single story in which Mr. Mwangura sounds--and no offense to Mr. Mwangura, I've been known to do this myself--suspiciously like he's talking out his ass.

A more generic search for "Mwangura" doesn't seem to come up with any more claims about sick pirates" after the September 8 story, tho' I quickly skimmed and possibly missed something. A search for "Iran Deyanat" at Reuters also fails to come up with any additional items--one assumes that unless the story was being actively suppressed, the international journalists contributing to Reuters would have leapt on the "dangerous chemical" reference if they thought there was blood in the water.

After a few minutes tracing the Dollard angle, I'm inclined to think there may be a little bit of "Post Office" going on here, with Dollard injecting a sinister element into an offhand comment by a company man, which is then amplified (one thing about all those tubes on the internet--they sure can carry an echo). But I could be waaaaaay wrong. Please keep us posted if you learn more.

Mwangura "dangerous chemical"

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...

Sorry, I think "single story" goes to the PressTV story Dollard cited. The Reuters story that provides the (uncited) source for PressTV can be found here.

And now I'll shut up for a little while. :-)

Jim Wright said...

I haven't heard anything, but then I don't hear everything nowadays.

I'd say it's possible, but unlikely. The Somali pirate situation is well known, especially to nations that traffic in that area, which both the Chinese and Iranians do, extensively. Any ship is at risk in that area. Additionally the US Navy is a presence, always, and under UN sanction is authorized to board and search vessels in the area - the Chinese are fully aware of the sanctions, even if they didn't sign them.

With that said - it is unlikely that if the ship was carrying illicit nuclear material it would be in that area, the risk of intercept by Coalition Forces or Pirates is simply too high. Neither the Chinese or the Iranians are that stupid.

HOWEVER, say it was a decoy, a distraction to draw attention away from the real shipment.

That's what I'd do...

John the Scientist said...

I doubt that this was radioactives because anything that would cause illness that quickly would be hot - not something you'd build a bomb from. The crew would also have been suffering.

My guess is, if there's any validity at all, we're talking about a blister agent like Mustard.

Could also be that the pirates can't offload the ship or cargo, and figured a story like this would be a way to get US to pay for a pig in a poke.

CW said...

Lots of good comments... Certainly the report of hazardous cargo on the ship is of extremely dubious credibility. I believe Mwangura is the principal source of this claim, but there have been other primary sources who claimed the cargo was hazardous. (I'll look for the links - I believe one was a spokesman for the pirates and one other was a Somali (or Puntland) government official.) Of course those other sources are not exactly credible either, so that part of the story may be completely bogus.

Here's another link:

It is certain, however, that the pirates seized an Iranian ship and are still holding it, as far as I can tell.