Fishing skiffs can be seen along the beach near the coastal town of Hobyo. In 2008, the MV Faina loaded with tanks for the Kenyan government was hijacked and anchored off Hobyo's coast. The vessel, which was was closely watched by the USS Howard and other naval vessels, was eventually released after a ransom was paid. Click for Interactive Google Map

As we saw yesterday, the European Union’s Naval force, known as EUNAVFOR, has conducted its first airstrikes on pirate targets along the beaches in Somalia since declaring in March that they will begin targeting pirate gangs onshore.

The attacks were launched from  which were targeted along the coastline near the city of Harardehere, were successful and welcomed by most with no injuries or casualties reported and only used by pirates said to be destroyed.  Today, Somalia Report has the details of the attack from witnesses on the ground, both pirate and civilian.

Here is an account of the attack by Omar Haji, a self-proclaimed pirate the Guushaaye pirate group in Handulle, Somalia, which is where yesterday’s airstrike was targeted:

It was night time and a small group from Guushaaye’s men (the holder of the MV Albedo) were chewing khat near their camp. There were three skiffs of which two were tenders for the Albedo while the other one is owned by the hijackers of MV Orna.

Around 2:30 or 3:00am there were 13 pirates in the camp we heard helicopters flying towards the area of Hundulle and my friends escaped from the area – and went took small speed boat and went onboard of Albedo.

The airstrike destroyed three speed boats and other equipment including four ladders, a half tanker of fuel, two fishing nets and mobiles.

Somalia Report also sat down with a resident elder of Harardhere, who describes the attacks as follows:

It was late tonight when we heard big explosions and then we saw some thing red in the ground. At first we thought that pirates were fighting each other. No one died we heard from pirates but materials were destroyed.

Another resident of the Harardhere, discusses the attacks and they could effect innocent civilians living in a village overrun with pirate gangs.

Westerners can’t clarify who is the pirate and who is the civilian, if they target Harardhere – a lot of civilians will die so we are asking to the world to target pirates carefully.

Here is an aerial photo that provides a good depiction of why the attacks are so complicated and concerns from innocent civilians are so high.  The picture is of a small village to the south-east of Eyl, Somalia, which in the past has been known for pirate activity.

Skiffs and equipment can be seen strewn across the beach in the center of the image. Eyl has previously been known for its pirate activity and has been a location where a number of hijacked vessels and crew have been taken. Click for Interactive Google Map

So how does the EUNAVFOR distinguish pirates from civilians?  There is really no easy answer, at least for those of us that do not have access intelligence in the region, but Somalia Report has some tips.

Pirates either steal, rent or purchase small 20 foot fiberglass or plastic skiffs for their operations. There are both cheap Chinese foam filled versions or larger twin engine types. The cheaper Chinese version are stored aboard motherships for short runs, the larger skiffs can navigate many miles out to sea. A large multi engine skiff used by fishermen can $30,000 to $40,000 US dollars but they are typically not pushed up on land.

A small pirate skiff powered with an 80 – 100 hp outboard can travel up to 30 knots per hour. Pirate camps are differentiated from fishing camps by the presence of boarding ladders.

The area along the coast is remote and the presence of any activity is easily recorded and noted by numerous security forces off shore. These groups include the U.S., two Task Forces based out of Camp Lemonnier, the CIA supported Puntland Intelligence Services, the Puntland Marine Police Force, and both NATO and EU ships offshore.

So what has the effect of the attacks had on pirates gangs?  Well it has seemed to shake them up a bit.

There has been pirate movement in Hundelle area over the last few days as the hijackers of the MV Orna await a ransom drop. They have been sharing a camp with the holders of the Albedo. Sources from pirates told Somalia Report that the pirates in that area are now sleeping on the board of vessels – because they fear another attack from EUNAVOR.

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