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In the world of international shipping, the risks are high and the stakes are even higher. For Somali businessman Ahmed Farah Dualeh, those risks became a reality when his prized commercial ship was hijacked and stolen from him. Mr Dualeh has never recovered his ship nor has he ever been compensated.
He has instead faced extreme torture and unending intimidation at the hands of a tribal militia and a renegade administration. In this exclusive interview article, Ahmed Dualeh, for the first time, opens up to me about the harrowing experience of having his ship stolen and the unfruitful lengths he went to in his noble quest to reclaim what was rightfully his.
Ahmed Farah Dualeh was born and partly bred in Somalia and partly in Italy; he went to primary and secondary schools in both countries. In 1967, he went for further studies in Denmark where he pursued a career in navigation. After earning a Master of first class degree from the Nautical Institute of Copenhagen, he began a lifelong naval career as a shipmaster, serving in this position for over 20 years taking him across all continents and oceans on earth. He narrates his long kept ordeal;
“Feeling fulfilled in my naval career and trying to venture in field of expertise, I and a friend Heine Bach bought a 1987 Japanese-made commercial ship, named it M/V SOMDANA-1, signal letters LNPB in January of 2001 and obtained its Somali certificate of nationality from the Somali Consulate General in Rome. The ship registered under as an ordinary ship was effectively owned by our company Somdana Marine Services Ltd.
I quickly began assembling a team to run the ship on its maiden trip sailing to my beloved motherland of Somalia, I recruited 3 Danish well-seasoned sailors comprising of a captain, a naval engineer, and an experienced motorman. I also knew, for the ship to run smoothly more pairs of hands were needed. This prompted me to ask around for Somalis who had recently been made refugees in Denmark, fleeing the civil war, thinking they would rather be gainfully employed as seamen. I have always thought, with little guidance and training any Somali would make a decent sailor.
This single decision would later turn out to be my first undoing in a series of bad ills that befell me.
I should also note that the famed Somali artist Abdi Adan Haad ( Abdi Qays) as a community figure led me to the 3 men I employed on my vessel. Looking back I know they were part of the long con and Abdi Qays was the mastermind of the con group.
In June 2001, I remember feeling accomplished as our ship M/V Somdana-1 gracefully left the port of Esbjerg, Denmark, sailing towards the land of my origins Somalia and specifically to the homeport city of Kismayo. The ship’s giant freight notably consisted of 3 Land Rovers, 5 (4 four wheel drive) Mercedes Benz army vehicles, 1 IVECO Eurostar tipper truck, Irrigation motor engines, 11 Diesel generators, 50 kilometres of fishing lines, over 15,000 fishing nets and 3 containers of just large industrial freezers.
When the ship passed through the Suez Canal onto the Red Sea directly adjacent to Djibouti, the 3 Somali men sprung to action and told the captain to reroute the ship towards the city of Berbera. I was in communication with the captain who strangely attributed this sudden turn to communications from the Danish embassy in Nairobi.
My ship was flying under the Somali flag! I immediately knew something was amiss and made a call to a well-known traditional elder in Djibouti for help to assemble a team of 12 coastguards to intercept the ship while it was still in Djibouti waters and maybe direct it to Mogadishu. As I received a message from the captain that the ship was ordered to proceed to Berbera, I immediately took the next flight out of Denmark with my co-owner, just so I could land in Hargeisa the following day, upon arrival, we immediately took a vehicle to Berbera as I knew that would be their next and intended port being only 7-8 hours of sailing off the coast of Djibouti.
Upon arrival at Berbera port, all the crew on the ship were made to disembark, their passports seized and forcefully checked into a hotel. I sensed a great danger to the Danish crew who I rightly imagined would be very overwhelmed by the ensuing precarious hostage situation; I devised an immediate evacuation plan for them. I had been made aware that their passports and other relevant documents was taken by the Berbera port police station, I went there and offered to bribe the officer commanding the station to give me back their passports—to which I succeeded. I put them on a vehicle and took off for Hargeisa to put on a plane to Addis Ababa neighbouring Ethiopia. Hours after guaranteeing their timely escape, I went back for my ship knowing that I was still duty bound. I quickly realized that it was no longer the Somalia I knew as a young man nor did this specific region consider itself to Somalia anymore! 1991 had happened in my absence and I soon quickly discovered I was from the very type of a Somali that a payback was long overdue.
While I was out helping the foreign crew of the ship and my co-owner, a search team was dispatched to look for them in all directions; thankfully they were unable to locate them. As soon as I returned to the port, I was shocked to see the ship’s Somali flag taken down, replaced with one I did not immediately recognize but later turned out to be the flag of the self-declared “republic of Somaliland” and to my utter dismay a shoddy paint job was still wet—someone had painted over the ships name and homeport and masked the labelling of the ship! On ascending the ship deck, all the ship’s documents were missing! It had been taken away, this was on the morning of the 22nd July 2001!
Overwhelmed by all these clear malicious acts, I went out frantically asking the port authorities why my ship was being stolen in broad daylight. Armed men were alerted to my presence. When they showed up, I was violently roughed up and whisked away! I was lucky to leave a word behind with a shipping agent named Ahmed Farah, the owner of Tabuk Shipping Agency to look over the ship.
What happened to me next was the darkest chapter of my long life. I was kidnapped by a local tribal militia who pierced me with a spear just so I could be weakened and not attempt a daring escape. I soon learned that they had previously kidnapped a local tycoon from the area and ransomed him for large sums of money.
They were also loyal to and foot soldiers of one Osman Aw Mohamud (Boqor Buurmadow) who to this day is a tribal elder with considerable influence in Somali traditional leadership. This profoundly enrages me to this day! The man who engineered and oversaw my captivity roams free to this day and worse still, claims to be a tribal king.
I was held captive in inhumane living conditions. At 12 o’clock midday of almost every day of my captivity, the militia used Russian roulette as a form of psychological torture placing an old revolver pistol against the side of my head, after being endlessly taunted I would be made to say my last prayers and the revolver’s trigger pressed, the click sound came on and my heart would skip a beat! Those minutes in the day were equivalent to long ardours hours and strange as it may sound, I sometimes wished there was the lone bullet in the chamber of the gun which would bring my misery to an end!
The stress of not knowing when the gun will go off was overwhelming and caused me severe anxiety, fear, and chronic depression. Although the physical effects of being shot could have been severe and could have led to my physical disability or death, I anticipated the worst.” Then comes a long pause, Mr Ahmed Dualeh has so far astonished me as a stoic man; I stayed attentive listening to his story (which he narrates in detail despite having never fully told it, at least for the purpose of publication.) I suggest a break until he finds some semblance of ease again to which he replies “no we will continue, you ask me what you need clarification on” he positively asserts, leaving me awed and at the same time puzzled even more. He immediately jolts back to narrate the hardest part (yet) of his story.
“This was a constant source of fear and trauma for me, enough to even overlook the lack of basic necessities such as clean water, food and the access to proper medical care. I knew all this physical and psychological torture, which also involved the use of force and coercion, was meant to weaken my resistance, breaking down my will and eventually forcing my compliance to sign forged documents which would then transfer ownership of the ship to them. Their dangerous Russian roulette antics were also punishment for my disobedience in seceding away my ship to them.
After a few months, I began to study the habits of the khat fuelled militiamen—the stimulant plant whose leaves they regularly consumed, instilled in them a feeling of euphoria and increased energy. This made them stay alert and energized during long periods of God knows what these savages do. Although the khat made them extra alert, talkative and irritable insomniacs they would sometimes all take an afternoon nap. On one such afternoon, while they all fell into sleep, I got up, left the dark dingy room and scaled the perimeter wall of the house and made a daring escape. I did not know where I was heading as I tried making my way to the next bus stop. I looked dishevelled after months of captivity and in no time was arrested by Somaliland police on no apparent reason. Instead of taking me to the Berbera police station which I was hoping they would, I was returned to the very captors I had escaped minutes ago! Then it all started making sense to me—it was a well-choreographed scheme and my being from a “rival” clan was heavily the source of my bad luck. It was a well thought out plan to rob this man from Denmark, the plan hatched in Copenhagen in cohort with 2 Danish diplomats from the start.
Back to being a captive and confine me will not happen again, I have already successfully escaped and I could do it again—which I did and this time I immediately took a taxi yelled to the driver take me to Hargeisa. I walked into the Hargeisa Club hotel, made my way to a young lady who was the property director and introduced myself (by now I learned that everybody had to declare what clan he/she was as a significant layer of identity. This is because the whole country was going through a civil war and as such, ridden with tensions and infighting).
She was shocked to see me in that state, dearly called me abti which is Somali for a maternal uncle (it turned out I shared her mum’s clan) and quickly accorded me much needed help. She housed me at the topmost floor and accorded me full 24 hour armed guards while she made aware my family and helped me in my plans to safely leave.
One evening in the holy month of Ramadan, while I and everyone at the hotel was awaiting to break their fast, Boqor Buurmadow, the so called tribal king with a dozen armed men from his little militia busted wide open the hotel’s gate and surrounded me with his militia ordering me to raise my hands, stand up and follow them. This shameless man thought I was his property to be kept in his possession; luckily, he was not allowed to take me hostage again, thanks to the hotel guards, until a honourable man called Hassan Biid, a colonel in the Somaliland army, alerted by the hotel director, he came to the hotel with a platoon of his soldiers and saved me from a harsher captivity. He had vowed to protect me as a man beset by the harsh realities of clan hostility in Somalia. The events of this night made my situation known widely especially to one Ali Mohamed Omar known by his the nickname Xoorxoor, the manager of the Berbera Port (who, to my knowledge, is still working in Somaliland) and unbeknownst to me at the time he was integral to the theft of my ship.
My hellish ordeal was relayed to David Stephen, the United Nations security officer to Somaliland who immediately took action in warning the local authority against doing anything that threatened my physical wellbeing while in their area of jurisdiction and for this timely intervention I’m entirely ever grateful. The extent of the involvement of the Somaliland regime reared its ugly head when their president Mohamed Ibrahim Egal got uneasy by the demands of David the UN security man; I was told he (David) would later be banished from the area of his administration.
Wasn’t he supposed to ensure the maintenance of law and order? Why would he side against me? A man in distressed over the loss of his prized mega possession, this would later prove to me that the so called Somaliland administration of the then period to be a bunch of chauvinistic rowdy thugs who were intent on larceny from the get go!
As plans were made for my evacuation out of Hargeisa (Somaliland), this unscrupulous team’s man in Nairobi made weak flimsy efforts to derail them—claiming Hargeisa was inaccessible by plane while on the contrary there were numerous daily flights in and out of the city. In fact EU’s famed “ECHO FLIGHT”; humanitarian flights left that Hargeisa 3 times a day! After the toughest 4 months of my life I left Hargeisa on one such flight, escorted by Colonel Hassan Biid and his 20 man strong soldiers onto the runway while Buurmadow and his militia were on our tail pursuing me to the very last minute. I managed to board the plane while they were not far from it and then suddenly against the advice of the 2 pilots (who were the only other occupants of the plane) I went to the plane’s steps and said this to the angry armed men:
“You have hijacked my ship, taken me and my crew hostage—I, a fellow Somali man from a similar community to you, this is against the Islamic teaching and in total contravention of the longstanding traditional nomadic code of the way farer’s safety. I will come back to reclaim my wealth in some day and if I don’t, maybe my descendants and/or community will. Remember you only took metal (the ship) from me but I still have more where that came from here (I pointed to my head).”
My very brave short speech left them with a few dropped jaws and I felt valiant at that moment, speaking truth to potentially harmful armed Somali men from the 2000s was never a smart move. Nonetheless, it had to be said and I felt better as the small plane took off for Nairobi where I remained and rested for a weeks and received much needed medical treatment. After a week, I left for Copenhagen where my lovely family and my lawyer were awaiting for me. The experiences of the last 4 months shook me to my core and made me appreciate the simple gifts of life.
Back in Denmark, I was not the same man again as I was on heavy medication for the first 2 years. The mental anguish and the emotional duress exacted a heavy toll on me. I got restless, did not respond well to therapy and decided to continue the efforts to get my ship and all its cargo! I first tried getting the Berbera Port Authority to sail my ship to the nearest port of Bosaso or to the main port of Mogadishu, in their reply they claimed my ship was abandoned and that I should avail myself at the Berbera Regional Court under Saahil Province.
Shortly after the port manager Ali Mohamed Omar (xoorxoor) published an article on the local paper Al Jamhuuriya falsely claiming the vessel to be under arrest since July 2001. I wrote to him, calling out his blatant lies aimed at wilful public misleading and absolve him of responsibility.
This back and forth quickly escalated when the Somaliland president Mohamed Ibrahim Egal responded to a letter by my co-owner Heine Bach in which he arrogantly wrote with a haughty tone. He insinuates that Bach is naïve, responsible for his misfortunes and had eyed to fish in Somaliland waters with help from the Danish governmental aid agency DANIDA. He also claims that his Ministry of Justice and Commerce will send documents to support his claim via DHL. Documents that never arrive!
I have been reliably informed that Egal had taken all the 5 four-wheel Mercedes Benz vehicles on board our ship as part of his “presidential” motorcade, while the Buur madow the tribal chief rode around in one of my Land Rovers which had since become “his”. Of the diesel generators on my cargo, the biggest (enough to power a whole town) was taken by Ali Omar Mohamed (Xoorxoor) himself. At this point I fully accepted that the depravity of these men in looting a commercial ship had been more than premeditated and the loot bigger than their expectations. All the massive fishing equipment I destined for Kismayo, I suspect had by now been sold locally.
Mohamed Ibrahim Egal died in May 2022, he was succeeded by Dahir Riyale Kahin who surprisingly went a step further and sold my ship the M V Somdana-1 after negotiating with Indian nationals between 2005 and 2006, they later bought the ship from him. I was shocked because if I was hoping he would deviate from the path of the previous regime, then I was mistaken as he showed not continuity but a new absurdity. Mind you, the Somaliland administrations have been building upon such violations as if in a relay race. This actuality was painfully intimated to me by my friend who ran Tabuk Shipping Agency and had been my inside source throughout the whole ordeal.”
At this point I felt despondent for Mr Dualeh and asked him why he waited until this day more than 2 decades later. To this, his reply came calmly “over the years I have sought legal redress through the established legal systems both locally and internationally with renewed zeal every so often. I have not been successful and there is no statute of limitations on the seeking of justice.
However, I believe the same Somaliland administration that afflicted this on me is existent to this day and can right this colossal wrong. I believe I was marked particularly because I’m a Darood man from the same sub clan as the long-time Somali president Mohamed Siad Barre whom the current Somaliland fought in the later years of his military rule. I was a shipmaster sailing oceans abroad not a government soldier or employee (for that matter) so why take out vengeance on me as though I was party to your conflict?
I also think had someone seajacked my ship sailing it to any other port inside Somalia (which was more dangerous) I would have gotten back my ship with either full or partial cargo aboard. I also have complete faith that a tribal chief will not abduct, detain and torture me as they are known to be more dignified peacemakers than the average warlord or militiaman.
As for the man who abducted, detained and tortured me through the use of his private clan militia and now claims to be a “King” I hear he is now in Turkiye recuperating after undergoing a successful surgery, I pull back whenever I see his face and remember the long inhumane confinement. As a survivor of the abduction and torture at the hands of his private clan militia, I have made the decision to publicly unmask my former captor’s image as he now larps to be a traditional elder, even bestowing upon himself the title of king. The man is the furthest thing from a king, it is important for me to be able to put a face to the person who inflicted such pain and suffering upon me, and I hope that by doing so; I can help to shed light on the issue of clan violence which is the worst menace in living memory. I believe that by bringing my former captor’s actions to light, I can help to raise awareness about this dubious man and encourage others that he may have violated to speak out about their own experiences with him.
I believe that he should be held accountable for his actions and that it is important for justice to be served. To that end, I have enlisted the help of a legal team and am currently in the process of preparing a lawsuit against him.
I must do something after such a long process of healing. I promise to go above and beyond to bring this evil man to justice. That I tell you since he is an individual but the administrations have changed from time to time.
As for the Somaliland administration I say to them:
- They should take full responsibility for this flagrant act of piracy and provide the appropriate detailed information on who was involved in this ploy and how it disregarded the concerns of the owner as well as the many correspondence subsequent to that. This incident occurred 20 years ago and has caused significant financial and emotional hardship for myself, my co-owner and my marine company.
- I demand a befitting compensation for the theft of my commercial ship, seajacked by rogue sailors with local support and logistics, eventually sold by the former president of the Somaliland Administration. This includes readjustments on the market value accrued as a result of the prolonged timeframe.
- I strongly urge the Somaliland Administration to consider this matter with the utmost urgency and to provide a fair and just resolution to this matter.
That is my message, sir” this was the final tone he left on.
Mr Ahmed Farah Dualeh has shown me a list of legal documents detailing ownership and registration of his vessel, correspondence with Berbera Port as well as court summons. I have decided those are personal documents to include in the article.
This article is based on information that has been gathered from an interviews with Ahmed Farah Dualeh. It should however, be noted that we also contacted the Somaliland government and the Berbera Port Authority as is our norm in our efforts to obtain comments and information from all relevant parties. However, neither the Somaliland government nor the Berbera Port responded to our request for any comments or additional information. The information included in this article is presente as accurately as possible based on the information that was available to us at the time of publication. It is intended to be the best attempt at a complete and definitive account of the events described above, and should be regarded as such until a substitute for independent verification or fact-checking is done. If you have any additional information or corrections that you believe should be included in this article, please contact us below;
Author (Zakaria Deeq) email [email protected]
Interviewee (Ahmed Dualeh) email [email protected]