Turkish ship docked near Al-Shabaab stronghold under UN investigations

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The Anatolian, owned and operated by Mavi Deniz Taşımacılığı ve Sanayi Ticaret Limited Şirketi, an Istanbul-based company, stayed stationary for about 24 hours less than 1,000 meters off the Somali coast in an area controlled by al-Shabab, according to vessel’s automatic identification system (AIS).

The United Nations [UN] Panel of Experts is now investigating a Turkish ship that was sighted along Somalia’s coastline which is under the control of Al-Shabaab militants, a group that has killed thousands of people in its terror attacks.

According to the Nordic Monitor, the ship was moored off along the area in question, leading to active investigations over the incident which took place around August 2021. The claim comes at the time Turkey is also facing allegations of selling drones to Ethiopia without regulations

The Anatolian, owned and operated by Mavi Deniz Taşımacılığı ve Sanayi Ticaret Limited Şirketi, an Istanbul-based company, remained stationary for about 24 hours less than 1,000 meters off the Somali coast in an area controlled by al-Shabab, according to vessel’s automatic identification system [AIS], Nordic Monitor noted.

“That area is not patrolled by Somali security forces and Al-Shabaab has a stronghold 30 kilometers inland in a locality named Ali Gaudud [coordinates: 3°10’42″N, 46°26’9″E],” the UN investigators concluded. It appears that suspicions were raised about why the ship remained so close to the al-Shabab area and if it was delivering supplies or arms to the group.

A report filed by the shipowner indicated that the occupants were victims of the attack launched on August 13, 2021, with the assailants reportedly using Rocket Propelled Grenades [RPG]. The unconvinced UN wrote to the owners seeking more information.

By the time the Panel of Experts submitted a report to the UN Security Council, the owners had not responded and the Turkish government hasn’t given the details. The navigation chart shows that it departed Fethiye in Turkey’s southern province of Antalya and stayed close to the Al-Shabaab area from August 12 to 13, 2021.

According to trade registry records reviewed by Nordic Monitor, the ship is owned by the family of a businessman named Erdal Tümsek. The company was originally registered in 2006 under the name of Koza Nakliyat Sanayi Тicaret Limited Şirketi and listed Yiğit Tümsek and Hamza Köseoglu as the owners. The company’s name was changed to Mavi Deniz Taşımacılığı ve Sanayi Ticaret Limited Şirketi in August 2018, and its owners were listed as Yiğit Tümsek and Mert Tümsek.

In February 2019, the company reportedly applied for bankruptcy which would later be granted by the court. The company officially went bankrupt on September 15, 2021, following a decision by a commercial court in Istanbul, Turkey.

Although the ship stayed in Mogadishu, a Turkish court sold it to another Turkish firm, 2E Denizcilik San. ve Tic. A.Ş., for 3.9 million Turkish lira in November 2021 as part of the liquidation of company assets to pay its outstanding debts, the Nordic Monitor notes.

In addition, a notice put out by the court described the ship as insured for $2 million, that all the equipment on the ship was in working order and that it only needed a crew to get back under sail. It projected a cost of $320,220 to tow it back to Turkey. The notice also mentioned that the ship had come under attack by pirates and that there were traces of the attack on the hull of the ship.

But in what could twist the matter, further investigations show the ship was owned by İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH, an Al-Qaida linked Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief before being sold to Koza in 2018.

Al-Shabaab militants pledged allegiances to Al-Qaida, and have since been terrorizing people and businesses in East Africa. According to the US Africa Command, the group controls large swathes of rural central and southern Somalia.

The ship had been anchored at a dock in Istanbul since 2010 until the IHH decided to sell it to the Tümsek family. Erdal Tümsek, the head of the family, issued a statement at the time on the purchase, saying the ship was very dear to him, that he considered it a veteran of war and that he did not want it to rust in the harbor.

“We are proud of saving the veteran ship. We have prevented it from disappearing by buying it. It will serve our people as another means of transportation,” Tümsek said at the time. The ship went through an overhaul, was turned into a freighter from a passenger’s vessel, and was named Erdoğan Bey before it was renamed Anatolian.

Over the years evidence has emerged to indicate that the IHH provided logistical support to various Islamist jihadist groups including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS]. The first serious charges against the network of this highly controversial charity were filed by a Turkish prosecutor in January 2014 after a police investigation uncovered that the IHH had smuggled arms to al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria.

The best depiction of the IHH’s clandestine work was provided by a top counterterrorism expert who had worked on terrorism for decades and investigated and monitored radical Islamist groups.

At a hearing on August 16, 2016, Ali Fuat Yılmazer, former head of the police intelligence section that specialized in radical religious groups, testified that “the IHH campaigns are designed to provide aid for jihadists engaged in terrorism around the world and supply medical aid, funding, logistics and human resources for jihadists.”

Yılmazer added that he personally submitted detailed reports about the IHH’s terrorist links to Erdoğan when he was prime minister. “I also provided very comprehensive reports to the prime minister on this issue at the time. These reports are also filed in the archives of the [Turkish] state. It [the IHH] is one of the leading organizations when it comes to al-Qaeda activities around the world,” he said in court.

The IHH’s links to ISIS were proven in another court case. According to the testimony of a Turkish woman named Merve Dündar, the wife of ISIS militant Mahmut Gazi Dündar, both of whom were listed as suspected ISIS suicide bombers and placed on a watchlist, the IHH channeled logistical supplies to people who lived in ISIS-controlled cities and towns.

“We were living in ISIS territory, and my husband wasn’t working in Syria. We were distributing [IHH-provided] supplies to the needy,” she told the court in a hearing on June 10, 2021.

Nordic Monitor previously reported that the IHH also sent arms to Islamist groups in Libya, using a ship to deliver humanitarian aid. The problems encountered by the ship while delivering arms were sorted out by Turkish diplomats posted to Libya.

Turkish authorities have been accused of failing to regulate the importation of weapons to other countries, which are said to be fetching Ankara millions of dollars. However, this is the first time agents from the country are linked to Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, a group that has been targeting Turkish nationals.

The government of Turkey has been closely supporting Mogadishu, including in the fight against Al-Shabaab by training the Special Gorgor forces and the Haramacad police further annoying Al-Shabaab. But in Ethiopia, Turkey is said to be supplying weapons being used in the Tigray war.

At the Congress, the United States through Ilhan Omar demanded to know why Turkey was selling drones to Ethiopia which are being used in the Tigray war. The United States and the UN Security Council are also investigating the claim before taking action against Ankara.