Saturday, February 28, 2009

UK's Patterson School Debriefs Simulation: Somali Pirate/Yellowcake Crisis Exercise

Thirty-eight student diplomats, nineteen grueling hours, and one super-heated international crisis: what might seem unsettling at first glance is nothing out of the ordinary on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington.

The Patterson School of Diplomacy’s annual Policy Simulation started at about noon Friday, February 27 with a report of a Russian destroyer witnessing a pirate takeover and lasted until about noon Saturday, when the final debriefing wrapped.

Here's a video featuring some of the principals in the simulation.

During the 19-hour simulation, students, who were divided into teams representative of governmental organizations and international actors, grappled with the situation, deploying military, intelligence, diplomatic and nongovernmental assets into a sphere that included the Middle East, Africa, the United States and Russia.

In the face of a planned fictional crisis, students were instructed to handle the situation accordingly. A debriefing session, following the end of the crisis, gave students a chance to discuss and get feedback from professors.

As constructed by the Patterson School’s faculty, including “leading scholars and former senior officials from the worlds of diplomacy, commerce, and intelligence”, students were faced with a pirated Panamanian vessel that was, unbeknownst to several parties, carrying radioactive material to Iran.

Teams included United States government organizations, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Puntland, and the United Nations. With different interests and consequences at stake, each organization independently made its way toward a solution by means of meetings, press releases, and planning exercises.

About 20 journalism and integrated strategic communication students from the university’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications acted as the press, creating multimedia reports in real time. Students actively reported and posted their findings, including video and audio clips, on the "INN" blog that served as a fictional competitor to CNN, FNC, and BBC. Further press involvement included reporting for and posting to an Arab-oriented blog known as "Gulf News Service."

Dr. Rob Farley of the Patterson School arranged the exercise and, with the school’s director, retired Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh, and other Patterson School faculty members, ran the simulation.

Students from JOU 330 (Web Publishing and Design), JOU 499 (Media Convergence) and JOU 304 (Broadcast News Decisionmaking) provided the media coverage, coordinated by Journalism Profs. Kakie Urch and Scoobie Ryan.

Patterson School students discussed the high points and flaws of their implementations under the guidance of Patterson School professors, some of whom served as team leaders, on Saturday morning after the event.

Hillary Clinton confirms yellowcake

What is "yellowcake"?

Yellowcake is milled uranium oxide, known to chemists as U3O8. It goes through a milling and chemical process to remove minerals and leave only uranium. At the end of that process what’s left is called yellowcake.

Yellowcake is far from enriched uranium, but it is a first step. The yellow powder, which also can have a grayish or reddish tint, must be converted into uranium hexafluoride, a chemical compound that has one atom of uranium and six atoms of fluorine. It can be a gas, liquid or solid. Once it is a gas, it easily can be enriched and used in weapons.

In recent years, yellowcake inventory and its possible international circulation between rogue countries and terrorist groups has been the focus of a great deal of controversy and concern. Yellowcake was at the center of the Valerie Plame case that focused attention on classified information leaks to the press and saw a New York Times journalist spend time in jail to protect her sources.


The ship seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia is known to be carrying the nuclear material commonly called “yellowcake.”

A message sent over open channels by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaked the information.

The message contained vital information saying there are nuclear materials on board the Panamanian Vessel MV Straat Malakka. The message between the Iranians and the Russians indicated that the two may have been collaborating to transport nuclear materials.

The Russian destroyer, according to its captain, had been following the pirated vessel as part of an international anti-piracy effort.

But the message between the Iranians and makes it appear as if the Russians knew of the nuclear cargo. “ We would like to remind you that you were providing an armed escort for a ship full of uranium,” the Islamic Revolutionary Guard wrote in its message addressed “you @#&%^$#* idiots. “

The message, which would have been intercepted by intelligence and military agencies across the region, is nearly certain to force the American vessels placed in the sphere by CentCom, the U.S. Middle Eastern military command, to seize the vessel.

This action, though not confirmed by CentCom, would be against usual U.S. policy on piracy in the region, where the U.S. does not have official diplomatic relations with many of the players, including Yemen and Somalia’s Puntland itself.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remained largely out of view during the crisis, though her office did confirm the cargo of yellowcake shortly after the message, received by INN reporters in nearby Eyl, went out.

The White House never issued a comment, nor did the NSA or the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Clinton announces news conference

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will hold a news conference to comment on the seizure of the Straat Malakka and the American efforts to track the pirated ship. INN reporter Kelsey Allen will be attending the conference.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Collision interrupts chase

There’s been a collision between the Russian destroyer that’s been following the pirated MV Straat Malakka and an Iranian destroyer Jamaran that has been trailing behind the Russian ship Pyotr Velikiy, according to Captain Stepan V. Verderevsky.

Verderevsky said the Iranian ship attempted to pass the Russian ship and Verderevsky then moved his ship into a blocking position.

Both ships are damaged and no longer following the Straat Malakka.

At last report the ships were approximately 65 miles off the Somalia coast, headed for the pirate haven of Eyl. Two U.S. destroyers, the USS San Antonio and the USS Mahan were confirmed to be working with the Russian ship to intercept the pirated Panamanian ship. There’s no word on whether the U.S. ships have been involved in the collision.

UPDATE: U.S. Navy ships, presence of UAV confirmed

U.S. Navy CentCom confirms the identities of two naval ships working with the Russian military to intercept the pirated vessel.  Vice Admiral William Frost said in the news conference that the USS San Antonio and the USS Mahan, along with the Russian vessel, are an estimated 60 miles from the coast of Eyl, Somalia.  Frost also confirmed that there is a UAV monitoring the situation.  

USS Mahan Courtesy of U.S. Navy

CentCom, State Department to hold joint press conference

INN is covering a 9:30 p.m. press conference called by the State Department and CentCom officials on a situation off the coast of Somalia as a ship bound for Iran is steered by pirates toward the pirate haven city of Eyl.

The ship was first reported seized about 10.5 hours ago, at 11:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

No word has come from the White House, the Secretary of State, the Office of the Vice President, the National Security Agency or the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the crisis, though the government of Iran has issued harsh words toward the U.S. in an official statement and the government of Puntland (Somalia) has issued a statement.

Watch for Nick Stacy's coverage on INN.

BREAKING NEWS: Two American ships working with Russia to intercept seized vessel

USS San Antonio  Courtesy of the U.S. Navy

According to a news conference with the U.S. State Department., the USS San Antonio is one of the two ships working with Russia on an intercept course with the seized vessel.  The other ship was not confirmed at the news conference.  According to the Russian captain, the USS Vella Gulf and the USS Mahan are also involved in this operation.  However, this has not been confirmed by the State Department.  According to the Russian captain, a U.S. UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, has also been following this operation for the past three hours.  UAVs are typically used in recognizance or information gathering missions.

State Department mum on pirate crisis

In an interview with David Evans from the State Department this evening, not many questions were answered about the ship bound for Iran that was seized by seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia at about 11:30 a.m. EST.

That’s despite an increasingly heated situation, with reports of gunfire aboard the ship, bodies thrown from the ship, American naval assets being moved to the area and statements issued from the Iranian government about a potential “catastrophe.”

Evans stated that State Department officials are closely tracking the ship, but did not have an exact location. Other sources, including a Russian executive officer aboard a ship following the MV Straat Malakka, said the ship was about 150 kilometres, or 90 miles from the pirate haven city of Eyl, Somalia.

He also stated that the origin of the ship is still in the process of being confirmed, though the Iranian government has confirmed to Gulf News Service that the ship is bound for Iran from Dar Es Salaam.

Evans said that there were unconfirmed rumors about what exactly happened so there will be no comment at this time.

Evans did comment on the latest report from the INN Web site about communication with the Iranian government stating that the US government communicates with Iran through the Swiss and that it will continue to use those diplomatic channels as it has in the past.

There has still been no contact made by the State Department with the pirates at this time adding that he can’t comment on other branches of government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has issued no comment. There has been no comment on the issue from Vice President Joe Biden or President Barack Obama.

He also stated that there was no knowledge of any violent course of action at this time, but that the US Navy CT-151 is moving in more closely to monitor the situation, which is a position taken “purely on the defensive,” only to observe the situation.

When asked whether there was any link between terrorists and pirates he said that the issue has often been very shady and that there are no specific international laws to govern their behavior.

He also stated that there was no knowledge of this incident being involved with terrorism and will continue to be treated as an act of piracy.

A spokesman for CentCom stated the U.S. command for the Middle East does not know who is on the ship or the status of the crew, despite reports from Russian naval officials in the area that bodies had been thrown overboard.

Evans of the State Department stated that his agency is still monitoring the situation and does not know the contents of the ship at this time, but with the CT151 in the area with the anti- piracy fleet, State will “will do whatever is necessary to resolve the matter."

When asked about why the Iranian government is stating that this could potentially be a “catastrophe,” Evans replied that there was no comment.

When asked whether terrorists were involved he said that they were still monitoring the situation.

UPDATE: Bodies recovered

The captain of the Russian freighter following the MV Straat Malakka has confirmed to INN Worldwide that his ship has recovered eight bodies from that pirated ship. The ship is continuing on its supposed destination of Eyl, Somalia.

Puntland Blames International Community

Press release from Puntland Foreign Ministry:

Puntland wholeheartedly condemns this incident regarding the Straat Malakka. The blame, however, ultimately lies with the international community. The negligence displayed with regard to piracy in the Indian Ocean and their willful disregard for this escalating problem endangered both Somali citizens and the ships who ply the trade routes of the East African coast. This problem has festered for a decade and it has finally reached this crisis point because of worldwide indifference to the Somali plight. The international community shoulders the blame for the dissolution of Somali governance and the intensification of these attacks. The situation forced Puntland to react unilaterally.

State Department 4 PM Press Conference

Here is audio of David Evans of the State Department at Friday's 4:30 press conference in Washington.

UPDATE: Gunfire and bodies dumped

In a text message from the Russian executive officer following the MV Straat Malakka, he says there has been sporadic gunfire from the pirated vessel, and eight to 10 bodies have been thrown overboard.

As the gunfire took place, the vessel lost speed and changed course. However, he says the gunfire ended and the ship seems to be back on course to Eyl, Somalia.

Six hours...and still many questions.

UN Issues Reminder of Operative Guideline

The UN International Maritime Organization would like to issue a reminder that the operative guidelines under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1846 passed in December of 2008 authorized states and regional organizations to enter Somalia's territory waters and to use "all means necessary" to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery in international waters. If states are trying to enter other territories' waters, then they may only do so after consulting the governments of the respective nations and/or territories. This must also fall within the 12-mile boundary protocol.

Somali Pirate Incident Photo Gallery

An official sits at CIA headquarters.

During a press conference, the State Department confirmed that the ship is headed to Eyl, a small city on the Indian Ocean.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sits in on the State Department press conference.

David Evans of the State Department gives a press conference.

Iran Issues Red Hot Statement

The Government of Iran has repeatedly attempted to work in cooperation with the US Government in regards to the hijacked Straat Malakka. Our peaceful attempts at teamwork have been flatly rejected by the Americans. We are well aware of American intelligence sources in the area and feel that the free dissemination of information is everyone's moral obligation to avoid a potential catastrophe. In Iran, we place high value on human life and regret the Americans do not hold such values. This unfortunate turn of events makes puts the safety of all concerned in peril. We pray to Allah for the return of our Iranian nationals.

Military Monitoring Vessel Seizure

TAMPA -- Somali pirates seized the Panamanian ship Straat Malakka at 11:30 EST this morning. The whereabouts of the ship have not been released at this time, and the United States CENTCOM is currently closely monitoring the situation.

“CTF-151 is in the area,” said Col. Anthony Russo, a public information officer. Combined Task Force 151 is a fleet of U.S. ships under the authority of CENTCOM dedicating to fighting piracy.

Additionally, the contents of the ship and the status of the crew are unknown.

Russo said Commander William Frost, pictured at right, will be monitoring the situation over the weekend.

Puntland government says it does not support piracy

The Somali State of Puntland has recognized the attack of the MV Straat Malakka off the coast of Somalia.

Ship headed to Eyl: Pirate Haven

Eyl is a port town off the coast of Somalia that pirates have made their own. It sits on the Indian Ocean, approximately 550 miles north of the capital of Mogadishu. It suffered heavy casualties after the 2004 tsunami.

Somalia is a poor country, its economy based on agriculture, but pirates have introduced new industries into Eyl, most of them based on American dollars.

After pirates hijack a ship, usually one that’s headed to the Gulf of Aden and the short cut it provides to the West (otherwise, the ship would need to sail around the entire continent of Africa), the pirates return to Eyl and send out a ransom demand. The ship’s owners usually comply.

That ransom money has built restaurants, fancy houses and the businesses to support them. The BBC has reported that ransoms run between $300,000 and $1.5 million. That goes a long way in a country where the average per capita income is $600.

In 2008, there were 293 attacks on the seas, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Pirates seized 49 of those ships, took most of them to Eyl, and held nearly 900 crewmembers for ransom off the coast of Somalia.

Most of the ransom money has flowed into the new homes, fancy cars, restaurants and businesses of Eyl, Somalia.

Russian naval officer: destroyer following pirated ship in Gulf of Aden

A Russian naval executive officer who was an eyewitness to a coordinated pirate attack about 240 miles off the coast of Somalia says the pirates attacked in cigarette boats, seizing a Panamanian flagged freighter after a "substantial" firefight.

The seizure took place at about 11:30 AM Eastern Standard Time, or 7:30 AM local time.

Captain Stepan V. Verderevsky said that his ship was part of a convoy escorting the captured vessel when several small boats launched several attacks at once. Several maydays were issued

Verderevsky was not certain of the exact latitude and longitude of the seizure, nor could he confirm where the vessel is currently except that it is moving toward Eyl on the Somali coast.

Russian authorities have been notified that Verderevsky's ship is following the seized freighter. He did not immediately know if American or Yemeni authorities had been notified. His ship did not notify the Somali government, he said.

Verderevsky characterized the seized boat simply as a "large freighter" that has a Panamanian registry.

The convoy escorting the seized vessel included an Iranian destroyer, as the Gulf is patroled by a multinational force.

Verderevsky did not know if American naval assets were nearby.

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Somalia. Personnel were removed from the American Embassy in Yemen following a second fatal bombing there in late 2008.

Pirates seize ship headed for Iran off Somalia

By INN Staff
A Russian cruiser is following a container ship that was seized by pirates in an extended firefight about 240 miles off the coast of Somalia, Russian military sources announced in a release.

According to the release, MV Straat Malakka, a container ship that was in transit between Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Bandar Abbas, Iran, was seized by pirates at 7:30pm local time (11:30am EST) some 240 miles off the coast of Somalia.

There was no initial mention of the country of registry of the vessel, nor of its contents or ownership.

Also, no information is yet available about the ship's crew or any casualties.

Early eyewitness reports indicate that an extended firefight took place between the crew and the attacking pirates. The Russian cruiser RFS Pyotr Velikiy is currently following the MV Straat Malakka, the Russian military sources confirm.

This is the latest in a series of pirate seizures in the region. A high-level summit meeting on international piracy is taking place this weekend in London, sources close to the State Department say.

For more on this and images throughout the day, check


This is part of a foreign policy simulation for the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. The events depicted are not actually happening.