News from Africa is that after some Somali pirates tried to inspect the Iranian ship's cargo, they got serious skin burns, their hair fell out, and some of them died. One article quotes a spokesman as saying "It must have been a very dangerous chemical," which fits with concerns about chemical weapons.
When I read about skin burns, hair falling out, and some deaths, I remembered descriptions of severe radiation poisoning. Some chemicals can cause these symptoms, too, but I think it's possible that Iran is importing heavy metals like plutonium.
For the sake of the surviving pirates, I hope that someone with a good medical forensics lab can study samples, and figure out what's making them sick.
For all our sakes, I hope that the Iranian cargo is identified. If the pirates suffered from radiation poisoning, United Nations and other efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program are very important, indeed.
In the news:
- "Pirates die strangely after taking Iranian ship"
The Times (South Africa) (September 28, 2008)
- "A tense standoff has developed in waters off Somalia over an Iranian merchant ship laden with a mysterious cargo that was hijacked by pirates.
- "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.'
- "The vessel's declared cargo consists of 'minerals' and 'industrial products'. But officials involved in negotiations over the ship are convinced that it was sailing for Eritrea to deliver small arms and chemical weapons to Somalia's Islamist rebels...."
- "...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....
- "...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...."
- "Pirates demand ransom for Egyptian ship"
Reuters (September 8, 2008)
- "...'It was supposed to be released, but now they are saying the $200,000 was for facilitation only. They want more money for the ransom,' said Andrew Mwangura, of the Kenyan-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme.
- "He said the pirates were angry because when they opened the cargo of the Iranian ship, several Somalis died, while others lost hair and suffered skin burns. 'It must have been a very dangerous chemical,' he said, without identifying the substance...."