Continuing the thread started with Unknown paying Lesser Known, that was followed by the UPDATE, which was followed by the Son of Update, is a deeper analysis on potential issues behind this contract. Some quick research turned up some data I personally wasn't aware of before.
To get a better handle on the piracy in the area, and the complexity of relations, check out OSS.NET's document, and then read on.
On 18 January 1993, Mark Fineman in a front page article in the Los Angeles Times wrote
...nearly two-thirds of Somalia was allocated to the American oil giants Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips in the final years before Somalia's pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown and the nation plunged into chaos in January, 1991. Industry sources said the companies holding the rights to the most promising concessions are hoping that the Bush Administration's decision to send U.S. troops to safeguard aid shipments to Somalia will also help protect their multimillion-dollar investments there.
Conoco was apparently the "only major multi-national corporation to maintain a functioning office in Mogadishu throughout the past two years of nationwide anarchy" and was instrumental in US operations in the region.
The "tireless exploration efforts in north-central Somalia" of Conoco had shown great promise in an alternative oil source. Conoco's corporate compound in Mogadishu was the "de facto American embassy" before the US Marines came to town. The link between Conoco and the US military involvement was close, "leading many to liken the Somalia operation to a miniature version of Operation Desert Storm," largely seen by many as a move to protect the American and world's oil supply.
So, is there a link between the pirates, anti-piracy, and the TopCat cover story? Looking at the map and heavy traffic out of the Suez and south past the Horn is admittedly vulnerable, but perhaps just as important is the field Conoco was working is widely seen as an extension of the Yemeni fields worked by Hunt Oil. From the Hunt Oil website:
Subsequent to 1987, Yemen Hunt Oil as operator, has discovered an additional 12 commercial fields in the original contract area, discovered 5 other fields in a second contract area, and produced in excess of over 544 million barrels of oil. Just as important, Hunt Oil Company has discovered over 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Marib area which has led to the creation of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in which Hunt has a substantial role.
(The US isn't the only interested in Yemeni resources, see Germany, Yemen Sign Agreements.)
What of the civil war and fights between war lords? Gareth Evans wrote an editorial in the 22 November 2005 Los Angeles Times noted "a flurry of diplomatic activity in Nairobi, Addis Ababa and New York" prevented "catastrophic new civil war looked certain to erupt in Somalia this year."
The attention on Somalia is not new even if media attention is. Energy politics with China are clearly heating up. There was a graphic I saw showing the economic and military aid China is passing out in Africa, along with energy resources. The United States has a very thirsty rival to deal with.
Increasing interest in the region, including Deputy Secretary of State's fourth recent trip to Darfur since April 2005, is juxtaposed with Bolton's block thrown in the UN. Interest is there, but it is limited. The US chooses a path to obstruct China? Keep the issue muddled? This Administration is clearly the obfuscation king (this author is a Republican by the way). This shuttle diplomacy and meetings with Sudanese is recently documented here and here at WashingtonPost.
A regional online newspaper has similar comments on this, including Sudan becoming "a major oil supplier to China." China has apparently invested "more than US$3 billion since 1999 building oil pipelines from southern Sudan to the Red Sea port." This has caused led to the above political moves to increasingly highlight genocide and the overall humanitarian disaster in oil-rich Darfur in southern Sudan, a move not lost on Beijing, who has "threatened a United Nations veto against any intervention against Sudan."
Between Puntland's immigration and illegal fishing are robbing the area of future funding for a state and reducing the rich biodiversity. Eco-tourism anyone? Not when journalists are being abused. So is this what TopCat is for? To enforce fishing laws so ships are seized for ransom (so many link options here, including UN aid ships etc)?
Unlikely. Are there other maritime security outfits that already specialize in that region? Based on the US Maritime Expo exhibitor list, a good number of vendors show operate in the industry, but not perhaps in the region. (By the way, the list was updated 29 Nov 05 and TopCat Marine Security is not yet on the list. Perhaps their application is in the mail. Also, TC is apparently not watching their site because all links on their site are still broken as of early 1 Dec 05. Nor were they at Clean Gulf conference in Texas this year, but maybe they were waiting for the $50m to clear.) Considering it is a small company, it might be expected, but far from assumed, they'd show up, especially since they apparent prime customer is domestic, until now that is.
Of course TopCat will be providing more than boats in this contract. Where they will base, if its in country, and remain littoral? Then won't TC be just like the pirates USED to be before they acquired their "mother ship"? Will TC acquire an expensive but highly suitable ship (probably not that expensive) for blue water operations?
If security was really a big deal, the Yemeni arms market might gain greater attention. Still, some problems continue to linger over this deal:
- Transparency. There is none. This provider has a checkered history. Purpose and design of this contract ($50m+ barrier for example) makes this opaque if anything.
- Fair play. Was TC really the best candidate for the job? Did the "local" "government" really come to the finding that this provider was superior or were there other contributing factors?
- Money and Morals. $50m+ is a lot of spending money for some boats. There is something else here.
One last comment. If active duty will be deployed, then again, it should and could have been done more discretely. If however, this is a completely private operation, then further "foreign policy by proxy" is not going to help when the our chief for Public Diplomacy is amazed that countries are larger than her state. The world is looking and so is our own military. Trust in the Executive branch is waning from abuse. Intelligence and military services are direct reports to the Executive branch. In effect, they serve at the whim, the intelligence services especially, of the President. The buck stops there, except in this Administration.