Transterrestrial Musings

Defend Free Speech!

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay

Site designed by

Powered by
Movable Type 4.0
Biting Commentary about Infinity, and Beyond!

« Fourth Time's The Charm? | Main | More Cost-Plus Contracting Thoughts »

Probably Just Scurvy

So, what is the cargo of this Iranian ship headed for Somalia?

Somali pirates suffered skin burns, lost hair and fell gravely ill "within days" of boarding the MV Iran Deyanat. Some of them died...

...This was also confirmed by Hassan Allore Osman, minister of minerals and oil in Puntland, an autonomous region of Somalia.

He headed a delegation sent to Eyl when news of the toxic cargo and illnesses surfaced.

He told one news publication, The Long War Journal, that during the six days he had negotiated with the pirates, a number of them had become sick and died.

"That ship is unusual," he was quoted as saying. "It is not carrying a normal shipment."

The pirates did reveal that they had tried to inspect the ship's cargo containers when some of them fell sick -- but the containers were locked.

Osman's delegation spoke to the ship's captain and its engineer by cellphone, demanding to know more about the cargo.

Initially it was claimed the cargo contained "crude oil"; later it was said to be "minerals".

And Mwangura has added: "Our sources say it contains chemicals, dangerous chemicals."

The symptoms described could be possibly caused by chemical weapons, but the pirates claimed that they didn't open the locked holds (though the holds could have leaked as well). But the symptoms also match radiation poisoning.

But why would the Iranians be shipping WMD of any kind to Somalia? For transhipment elsewhere overland? And if it is radioactive, is it the material for a nuclear weapon, or a dirty bomb?

It will be ironic if it turns out that pirates caught what the CIA didn't (assuming, of course, that they haven't been tracking it).

[Late afternoon update]

Marlon McAvoy emails:

'm a Radiation Protection tech at ORNL. Was formerly a member of the DOE's RAP (Radiological Assistance Program) team, originally tasked and trained mostly for transport incidences, but which was reprioritized after 9-11. Just wanted to offer an observation, which might be old news to you two science geeks.

Skin burns were also reported in this incident. These are normally more associated with beta than the far more penetrating gamma radiation, but there's no way these guys could have gotten beta burns without close exposure to actual, unshielded radioactive material. Gamma can certainly burn the skin, but in which case the victim has sustained an enormous dose and will absolutely die from it, unless the exposure was tightly collimated over a small area.

So, my guess, this seems much more likely to be of chemical rather than radiological origin. But if multiple guys did receive 500+ rem (Roentgen equivalent man) of gamma radiation, our spooks will have no difficulty determining it. We have civilian instrument packages that can map minute fluctuations in background radiation levels; a poorly shielded gamma WMD would look like a magnesium flare to whatever is used by the intelligence community.

Whether they can or should let us civvies know is, of course, another question.

It is indeed.


0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Probably Just Scurvy.

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Karl Hallowell wrote:

It's also possible that it contains extremely hazardous chemical waste that was too dangerous to keep wherever it came from. Given that it probably came from Iran or China (the latter if the manifest is correct), that's bad news. My take is that those pirates should get rid of that ship ASAP. If, for example, that ship caught fire, it might kill a lot of people downwind.

RebeccaH wrote:

The real question is, where is that mysterious deadly cargo going next?

Korla Pundit wrote:

Nuclear waste?

We all have a hard time getting rid of that stuff.

Korla Pundit wrote:

Oh, well if it's from China, then maybe it's just toothpaste and children's toys.

ic wrote:

Senator Obama should prove his diplomatic prowess, should call the Iranians and ask them, friendly like: What have you got there, buddy? Dangerous stuffs, can we help you transport them?

Just a simple phone call that may save plenty of lives.

Anonymous wrote:

It's also possible the story is a load of horse apples.

I've seen this nowhere else in the news, and it rings false on a couple of notes.

For one thing, even criminal regimes pack their stuff better than this, include chemical weapons and high-level radioactives ("yellowcake"-level stuff wouldn't do this).

Jonathan wrote:

You people are such war-mongers and paranoiacs. Iran is merely trying to help Venezuela's peaceful nuclear energy program.

Mike wrote:

As an example, the Soviets/Russians have a long history of storing some of their most highly radioactive wastes aboard ship, especially their icebreakers, and particularly materials from naval operations. Just a guess but smart money says the goods are quite "hot" and if those locked holds were opened, you'd find either spent fuel rods and/or effluents from fuel processing operations performed by the Iranians.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

Classic symptoms of radiation sickness, would have helped if they went into more detail. I'm a nobody so take this with a hefty pinch of salt (...) but as far as I know if it is radiation poisoning and if it is partially caused by direct skin exposure to radioactive material many of them (or at least those who have died) should have second-degree burns (skin bubbles). And even without direct contact with radioactive material if some people got sick and lost hair within days as reported then we're not talking about tiny doses but at the very least 2–3 Sv which without treatment results in over a third of them dying within one month. It could be a much higher dose but isn't if one assumes that constant bleeding inside the mouth would be reported (then again the details were sparse).

Notice the original destination.

The original crew (not the pirates) were probably taking huge doses of iodine. If it isn't radiation poisoning one would expect the pirates to notice the gas masks and HazMat suits...

And Anonymous nobody is talking about Yellowcake, nor is the western standards for storing radioactive materials anywhere close to being common in the rest of the world. Your whole comment is nothing but feel-good spin where you assume nothing can be wrong.

Martin wrote:

"Somali pirates suffered skin burns, lost hair and fell gravely ill “within days” of boarding the MV Iran Deyanat. Some of them died.

Andrew Mwangura, the director of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, told the Sunday Times: “We don’t know exactly how many, but the information that I am getting is that some of them had died. There is something very wrong about that ship.”"

I got a laught out of that. Apparently, the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme primarily assists pirates. Is there any other kind of East African "Seafarer"?

Blackbeard, Captain Morgan, Ned Lowe, Anne Bonney - remember, they were "Seafarers", not pirates.

Midwesterner wrote:

This is apparently the Long War Journal article that the article references.

Rix wrote:

I agree that weapons are not in that hold. Chemical weaponry would be filled in a shell or bomb or just drums. Otherwise, it would not be usable by militaries.

Fred wrote:

1. How is the crew? Did they get sick too, or were they under special instructions?

2. If I were writing this movie, the pirates would really be under contract to the Mossad to expose Iranian nuclear shenanigans, but they ignored the Israeli warnings, and tried to get an extra profit on the side by selling the stuff to Blofeld and a bunch of bikini-clad terrorists...

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Everyone seems to be thinking "nuclear" here. There's probably some chemical waste products that could do this too. We might be seeing the tip of a nasty iceberg of highly dangerous waste products getting exported from one of these countries.

In any case, I think RebeccaH has it right. Where was this stuff going?

Habitat Hermit wrote:

According to The Times (SAR) article:
" was heading for Rotterdam where it would unload 42500 tons of iron ore and "industrial products" purchased by a German client."

So at least officially it was going to the Netherlands (Europe's biggest port and the second busiest in the world) and had a German customer.

Leland wrote:

From this blog, the story has been out there for a month. I've been reading this blog because it covers the regular Somali pirate raids like this latest one which had T-72 tanks being transported.

Of course, doing something in Somalia would be a "distraction" from the war on terror in Afghanistan.

Steve-o wrote:

Get a grip, people. The story is most likely a concoction by the pirates to stall for time.

moptop wrote:

"Get a grip, people. The story is most likely a concoction by the pirates to stall for time."

Well, if Steve-o says it, it must be true. No need to wait for facts. Not with Steve-o around. Just ask his opinion and be done with it.

spartacus wrote:

The ship is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, or IRISL, a state-owned company run by the Iranian military.

According to the US Treasury Department, the IRISL regularly falsifies shipping documents to hide the identity of end users, uses generic terms to describe shipments and operates under various covers to circumvent United Nations sanctions.

The ship set sail from Nanjing, China, at the end of July. According to its manifest, it was heading for Rotterdam where it would unload 42500 tons of iron ore and “industrial products” purchased by a German client.

Leave a comment

Note: The comment system is functional, but timing out when returning a response page. If you have submitted a comment, DON'T RESUBMIT IT IF/WHEN IT HANGS UP AND GIVES YOU A "500" PAGE. Simply click your browser "Back" button to the post page, and then refresh to see your comment.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on September 28, 2008 10:18 AM.

Fourth Time's The Charm? was the previous entry in this blog.

More Cost-Plus Contracting Thoughts is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.1