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The Grey Cell Information Network

Grey Cell has launched, or more accurately the Grey Cell Foreign Policy and Conflict Information Network has launched. Grey Cell is a news portal that focuses on areas in conflict, with the stated goal of being the premiere location for researchers (or those about to travel overseas) who need local information and ground truth. Grey Cell accomplished writers, photographers and analysts hail from the US and abroad (including Turkey, Syria and other places); some, not yet listed on the website, are current or former military SOF and intelligence personnel. All information is open source. The site has already been sourced by numerous national news organizations and is gathering a rapidly increasing readership inside and outside the beltway.

Whether you’re traveling overseas on business, visiting somewhere potentially dangerous or even accompanying a humanitarian mission, Grey Cell’s articles provide good background material. The trending regions are an excellent central location for a wide variety of news sources, as are the 8 regional sub-categories under news. Below is an example of a Grey Cell article.
PIRACY OFF WEST AFRICAN COAST THREATENS INTERNATIONAL TRADE

In April, the German container ship Hansa Marburg [a Liberian flagged vessel in port at Malabo in the Guinea Gulf as of this writing] was sailing 130 nautical miles off the coast of Malabo, Equitorial Guinea when a speedboat came along side and the ship was boarded. The pirates took four hostages and held them for four weeks until the shipping company paid a ransom. While Somalia is the country most often associated with piracy, maritime crime is up in West Africa and in many oceans of the world.

“Pirate attacks [off the Somalian coast] are down by at least 75 percent,” Donna Leigh Hopkins, chairman of the UN Contact Group on Piracy told The Guardian. “There are still pirate attacks being attempted but there has not been a successful hijacking since May 2012.”

Pirate activity off the Horn of Africa is down from its height a few years ago. Western navies have cracked down on illegal activity in the area and shipping companies are taking more precautions to keep from losing their cargo and crews. Many container ships now carry contingents of armed guards. Over 1,100 Somali pirates have been captured are awaiting trial.

The Grey Cell Information Network photoThere were more than 30 attacks on ships in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea in the first half of 2013. The primary targets are oil tankers coming into and out of Nigeria. The country’s large oil reserves and relatively small refining capacity mean that huge amounts of crude oil exports and refined petroleum imports pass through Nigerian waters every day. Pirates typically board a vessel, take it to a rendezvous point to unload the oil and then sell it on the black market.

Piracy isn’t restricted to the coasts of Africa. Ships are hijacked all over the world, especially in high traffic areas around South America, southeast Asia and the Straits of Gibraltar (which links the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean).

“You have to understand, we in the Merchant Marines deal with piracy all over the world,” Captain Richard Phillips said in recent interview. Phillips was the captain of the Maersk Alabama [in port at Sharjah as of this writing] when Somali pirates hijacked it in 2009. His story is the basis of the film “Captain Phillips” starring Tom Hanks.

“Philippines, Blanca Straits, east and west coast of Africa and east and west coast of South America — and indeed today, Nigeria is worse than Somalia ever is,” Phillips said.

After the hijackings of Maersk Alabama and later an American yacht called the Quest, the U.S. got serious about prosecuting pirates. U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride spearheaded the first cases and his work lead to the first piracy conviction in an American court since 1820.

Legal pressure, armed security on container ships and a stepped-up military presence around Somalia has brought piracy down dramatically, but piracy in West Africa is increasingly a problem. At least $100 million in cargo have been stolen in the Gulf of Guinea since 2010. The recent rise in criminal activity has gone hand in hand with an increase in the trade of oil, gold, bauxite, iron and agricultural products. Without additional enforcement and cooperation between governments, pirates in the world’s major pinch points will continue to disrupt shipping lines, costing both lives and money.

“Piracy in west Africa is a serious problem,” Pottengal Mukundan, the director of the International Maritime Bureau, told The Guardian. “Pirates are getting quite audacious, with increasing levels of violence being used.”

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The Grey Cell Information Network photo