TopCat, Somalia, Ethiopia: Ogaden, Gedi, EPRDF/TPLF

Some excellent questions and conflicts in wording were raised by a reader (see Marathon, PETRONAS, and PexCo Oil and Somalia) that deserve their own post. The additional research was insightful and makes me more confident in my Boots on the Ground post earlier today.

To start, Hale pointed out a contradiction found on the Global Exploration and Product News website
(aka "Oil and Gas Investor" in my previous post, or E & P) regarding the validity of Range Resource’s
agreement with the Transitional Government, of which Prime Minister
Gedi (Geedi) is the (nominal?) head. The exact wording of the text I posted contains the contradiction Hale points out:

Mixed messages are being sent about licensing in Somalia with a Dutch firm taking acreage but an Australian firm, which thought it had won a block, being told it had negotiated with the wrong people. [Holland’s] PexCo exploration has signed up for with the Ministry of Mines and Energy for exploration in the Ogaden area, according to reports in Ethiopia.

As Hale points out, there is apparently a valid agreement signed by Prime Minister Gedi and Range Resources. The contradiction is possibly just in the reporting, as the Ministry of Mines and Energy is Ethiopian, as Hale points out referencing the Alexander’s Gas & Oil Connection announcement of 19 October 2005.

So, with the Ogaden area in Eastern Ethiopia and not actually in (anymore) Somalia, what gives? Is there some rumbling fallout from the 1977 war when Somalia invaded Ethiopia to "liberate" Ogaden? (This was ultimately led to Somalia agreeing to American use of "naval ports and airfields at Berbera, Chisimayu, and Mogadishu.")

There seems to be a flurry of interest in Ethiopia and Somalia and the region. So why the "mixed messages" in E & P? Was it simply a mistake? Somebody misreading Range Resources claim with Somalia and thinking it was Somali? I don’t think so.

There is an overall deterioration in security in the region with Ogaden "rebels" claiming civilian deaths at the hands of Ethiopians. Between ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) and the recent public statement about al-Qaeda in Mogadishu, Ethiopia is lining us reasons to move eastward. Fighting AQ is always a crowd pleaser and wiping out pesky ONLF while lining up routes to the sea would seem like a by-product when it is the real purpose.

Hale also commented on the agreement between Puntland and HAFZA, specifically in regards to the suspension of work due to security issues. Hale correctly points out this suspension, which I had already commented on in Puzzle Pieces when I first researched HAFZA. This security problem could be Ethiopian stocked, but that is speculation. What is not speculation is an increase in arms shipments into the Transitional Government’s capital that may or may not be intended for the TG.

The cooperative agreement signed between Somalia and Ethiopia
on 1 Dec 2005 came with pledges of assistance to calls "upon the
international community to extend financial and political support to
the transitional government and take measures on those forces who attempt to hamper peace
in Somalia" [emphasis added]. Further, the "African Union, European
Union, UN, World Bank and other donors pledged for their continued
support to the Transitional Government of Somalia."

This "take measures on those forces…" statement could be the public pronouncement to what is coming.

Something else I noticed during this additional research was the both
HAFZA (left) and Range Resources (right) used an identical map with
identical dot-styles to indicate place. [Update 9 Dec 05: still believe the web designer for both are the same, which has pretty much been proven; add’l info: this map graphic is found at State.gov]

Hafza_free_zones

Somalia_sm05_range

Based on this information, I think the scenario painted by Donna is going to be accurate. The details are fuzzy and contradictions do appear, but I believe the weight of the evidence points toward war breaking out in the region. With Chinese, American, and other interests heavily involved over the natural resources in the area, it would seem likely that at least one government is involved. Unfortunately, based on the TopCat starter (possibly with the luxury cruise ship w/ military grade hardware conveniently on-board… violation of the Geneva Conventions anyone? The media never questioned that, just fascinated by its use), it appears the United States may be involved.

Updated: TopCat and Marathon Link & Oil Diplomacy

Back in Aug 2004, TopCat conducted a symposium on "security vulnerability assessment procedures and how to develop a comprehensive security plan for your facility or site." Listed as one of the "Expert Instructors" was a Col Bernard "Bernie" J. McCabe (ret.), manager of Global Security for the Marathon Oil Corporation but a one-time rep for Sandline.

More information on McCabe and Marathon oil is found in a lengthy document about "the new world order’s mercenaries" has more food for thought:

…old-boy network had put him in touch with oil entrepreneur Anthony Buckingham. Buckingham, also ex-military, has been described in some press accounts as a former member of Britain’s naval special forces, the Special Boat Service, although the description has never been confirmed. After working in the North Sea oil industry as a diver, Buckingham moved into the oil industry, working initially with Ranger Oil of Canada….

Buckingham later founded his own company, Heritage Oil, which he ran from the modern, glass-fronted “Plaza” building at 535 King’s Road, Chelsea…"Plaza 107"…a single receptionist handled incoming calls to more than 18 different companies. From the Plaza suite, Buckingham, Mann and others ran businesses that included oil, gold and diamond mining, a chartered accountancy practice, and offshore financial management services. To this, they would add military ground and aviation companies.

[FYI: Tim Spicer and Buckingham were both involved in PNG through Sandline, the repacked EO…]

A November 1996 memorandum from Buckingham announced the appointment of retired U.S. Special Forces Col. Bernie McCabe as director for the Americas. His task was “to develop Sandline business, and exploit opportunities for other group companies where appropriate in North, Central, and South America. He is also to develop our image/contacts with U.S. government agencies.”…

There is also mention of Marathon Oil and bribe money. The realist says this would be expected in a corrupt region, so no big deal, right?

On July 15, 2000, the Marathon Oil Company sent $13,717,989.31 to an account in Jersey, an island in the English Channel with stringent bank secrecy laws. The owner of the Jersey account was Sonangol, Angola’s state oil company. The sum represented one-third of a bonus that the Houston, Texas-based company agreed to pay the Angolan government a year earlier for rights to pump the country’s offshore oil reserves. That same day, Sonangol transferred an identical sum of money out of Jersey to another Sonangol account in an unknown location. Over the course of that summer, large sums of money traveled from the Jersey account to, among others, a private security company owned by a former Angolan minister, a charitable foundation run by the Angolan president, and a private Angolan bank that counts an alleged arms dealer among its shareholders.

At 64,000 words, it is a lengthy read, better to search for keywords.

TopCat now linked to Marathon… (see previous post on Marathon in Somalia). A tangled web has indeed been weaved.

Marathon, PETRONAS, and PexCo Oil and Somalia

More information on the Somalia, Oil, and possibly TopCat continue. Reporting from Oil and Gas Investor indicates Marathon Oil, of Texas, and possibly other firms have taken over the Conoco claims, or at least is moving in on them, and bumping yet another company to boot.

From the Nov 2005 issue, emphasis added:

4. Mixed messages are being sent about licensing in Somalia with a Dutch firm taking acreage but an Australian firm, which thought it had won a block, being told it had negotiated with the wrong people. [Dutch] PexCo exploration has signed up for with the Ministry of Mines and Energy for exploration in the Ogaden area, according to reports in Ethiopia. The company has taken the Ferfer and Abred blocks covering 18,546 sq miles (29,865 sq km) and has agreed to spend US $5 million in the initial term.

However, Range Resources [an Australian firm] has had its claim over the Puntland region put in doubt. Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said the deal with the regional government was invalid as only the country’s transitional federal government could negotiate the sale.

Rangeresources_02122005
This contradicts Range’s statement on its website (picture at left in case site changes) that it received in written approval for the deal from the Somali government. Gedi had said that foreign companies and investors that local administrations could not legally negotiate contracts over natural resources.

“Foreign companies should desist in attempts to deal with local authorities … without prior written consent from the federal government,” he said.

On 19 October 2005 it was announced Petronas (Malaysian) and PexCo (Dutch) (More here and also here, but very little on PexCo), had signed deals with the Ministry of Mines, giving them rights to some of the same regions as Range, also reported on 15 November 2005.

On 6 October 2005, Range Resources eyed "Puntland as one of the remaining under-explored areas in the world that has a high potential for vast reserves of hydrocarbons." Their PowerPoint presentation [also stored locally here] indicates a positive co-operative relationship with the indigenous population, with the intent

to facilitate the exploration and commercial development of the State’s natural resources (farm in, joint venture) to bring the commensurate benefits to the people of Puntland and shareholders of the Company

Range believes this is possible because the "Political situation in Puntland is stable with a respected President with no civil unrest like that currently affecting Mogadishu".

The logical, but possibly coincidental, connection is with the Australian / Canadian HAZFA partnership (read more here). The Range Resources Code of Conduct, prominently available on their website, is clear and straight-forward. The Marathon Oil Code of Conduct, has a different feel and tone. Much of this difference is undoubtedly the result of Marathon’s far greater size.

The cooperative agreement signed between Somalia and Ethiopia on 1 Dec 2005 came with pledges of assistance to calls "upon the international community to extend financial and political support to the transitional government and take measures on those forces who attempt to hamper peace in Somalia" [emphasis added]. Further, the "African Union, European Union, UN, World Bank and other donors pledged for their continued support to the Transitional Government of Somalia."

It seems maybe some oil resource competition is happening. Is there payback for Malaysia for its assistance in GWOT (PETRONAS is wholly government owned)? Or is there something else because of a Chinese connection (PETRONAS contracted Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau)?

The Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau (ZPEB), a powerful subsidiary of China’s second largest national petroleum consortium, the China Petrochemical Corporation (SINOPEC), appears to be the principal oil firm operating in Gambella at present, under subcontract to Malaysia’s national oil company PETRONAS. The base camp for ZPEB equipment and petroleum explorations is located approximately 1.5 kilometers from the center of Gambella town on the Abobo-Gambella road. The Ethiopian site manager, Mr. Degefe, is a highlander who tersely describes himself as "responsible for making all operations and security." The base camp is under tight security and heavily guarded by EPRDF troops. PETRONAS and the China National Petroleum Corporation currently operate in Sudan. A recent report by Human Rights Watch raises charges that the Asian oil giants have provided cover for their respective governments to ship arms and military equipment to Sudan in exchange for oil concessions granted by Khartoum.

If this last item is a critical piece of the puzzle, then getting back to the original story about TopCat is about USG counters against China and not about US oil interests directly, but blocking Chinese? If so, then again, why pick TopCat??

Is this why Rumsfeld has asked the IG probe Feith and the Pentagon? The IG is a direct report to the SecDef and if Feith was working for Rumsfeld, why would he call this? As CYA if something blows up? Or, here’s the Black Helicopter version (are no more Black Helicopters since FEMA has been gutted?): Rumsfeld calls the IG probe to placate Congress as cover for another internal investigation that he is not happy with? There are serious differences between the civilian elite and military elites.

Puzzle Pieces: HAFZA…Somalia…TopCat….intent? Goal?

The TopCat situation becomes ever the more fascinating as each day passes. More information from the blogosphere surfaces as amateur and not so amateur investigative reporters seek out details. Most of the speculation is most likely wildly off the mark either negatively (almost like the Black Helicopters that hover overhead) or positively (the world will be saved by one merc at a time). Still other commentary is not. It is simply restatements of "facts" and facts, as a quick review of Technorati will show, including some information found in posts on this website.

Background information I've posted on oil may be foundational or it may not. Time will tell if it goes to the motive of the TopCat debacle. I've made other comments wondering if the contract and insertion of Western military people and equipment might be related to a inadvertent payload ejection back on 3 Feb 1991, in other words a Project Jennifer II. That may not be accurate as there are some reports, valid or not, the payload was already recovered by somebody else.

Continue reading “Puzzle Pieces: HAFZA…Somalia…TopCat….intent? Goal?

Somalia…TopCat…$50m+…???

Continuing the thread started with Unknown paying Lesser Known, that was followed by the UPDATE, which was followed by the Son of Update, is a deeper analysis on potential issues behind this contract. Some quick research turned up some data I personally wasn’t aware of before.

To get a better handle on the piracy in the area, and the complexity of relations, check out OSS.NET’s document, and then read on.

On 18 January 1993, Mark Fineman in a front page article in the Los Angeles Times wrote

…nearly two-thirds of Somalia was allocated to
the American oil giants Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips in the
final years before Somalia’s pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre was
overthrown and the nation plunged into chaos in January, 1991. Industry
sources said the companies holding the rights to the most promising
concessions are hoping that the Bush Administration’s decision to send
U.S. troops to safeguard aid shipments to Somalia will also help
protect their multimillion-dollar investments there.

Conoco was apparently the "only major multi-national corporation to maintain a functioning office in Mogadishu throughout the past two years of nationwide anarchy" and was instrumental in US operations in the region.

The "tireless exploration efforts in north-central Somalia" of Conoco had shown great promise in an alternative oil source. Conoco’s corporate compound in Mogadishu was the "de facto American embassy" before the US Marines came to town. The link between Conoco and the US military involvement was close, "leading many to liken the Somalia
operation to a miniature version of Operation Desert Storm," largely seen by many as a move to protect the American and world’s oil supply.

West Indian Ocean
So, is there a link between the pirates, anti-piracy, and the TopCat cover story? Looking at the map and heavy traffic out of the Suez and south past the Horn is admittedly vulnerable, but perhaps just as important is the field Conoco was working is widely seen as an extension of the Yemeni fields worked by Hunt Oil. From the Hunt Oil website:

Subsequent to 1987, Yemen Hunt Oil as operator, has discovered an additional 12 commercial fields in the original contract area, discovered 5 other fields in a second contract area, and produced in excess of over 544 million barrels of oil. Just as important, Hunt Oil Company has discovered over 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Marib area which has led to the creation of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in which Hunt has a substantial role.

(The US isn’t the only interested in Yemeni resources, see Germany, Yemen Sign Agreements.)

What of the civil war and fights between war lords? Gareth Evans wrote an editorial in the 22 November 2005 Los Angeles Times noted "a flurry of diplomatic activity in Nairobi, Addis Ababa and New York" prevented "catastrophic new civil war looked certain to erupt in Somalia this year."

The attention on Somalia is not new even if media attention is. Energy politics with China are clearly heating up. There was a graphic I saw showing the economic and military aid China is passing out in Africa, along with energy resources. The United States has a very thirsty rival to deal with.

Increasing interest in the region, including Deputy Secretary of State’s fourth recent trip to Darfur since April 2005, is juxtaposed with Bolton’s block thrown in the UN. Interest is there, but it is limited. The US chooses a path to obstruct China? Keep the issue muddled? This Administration is clearly the obfuscation king (this author is a Republican by the way). This shuttle diplomacy and meetings with Sudanese is recently documented here and here at WashingtonPost.

A regional online newspaper has similar comments on this, including Sudan becoming "a major oil supplier to China." China has apparently invested "more than US$3 billion since 1999 building oil pipelines from southern Sudan to the Red Sea port." This has caused led to the above political moves to increasingly highlight genocide and the overall humanitarian disaster in oil-rich Darfur in southern Sudan, a move not lost on Beijing, who has "threatened a United Nations veto against any intervention against Sudan."

Between Puntland’s immigration and illegal fishing are robbing the area of future funding for a state and reducing the rich biodiversity. Eco-tourism anyone? Not when journalists are being abused. So is this what TopCat is for? To enforce fishing laws so ships are seized for ransom (so many link options here, including UN aid ships etc)?

Unlikely. Are there other maritime security outfits that already specialize in that region? Based on the US Maritime Expo exhibitor list, a good number of vendors show operate in the industry, but not perhaps in the region. (By the way, the list was updated 29 Nov 05 and TopCat Marine Security is not yet on the list. Perhaps their application is in the mail. Also, TC is apparently not watching their site because all links on their site are still broken as of early 1 Dec 05. Nor were they at Clean Gulf conference in Texas this year, but maybe they were waiting for the $50m to clear.) Considering it is a small company, it might be expected, but far from assumed, they’d show up, especially since they apparent prime customer is domestic, until now that is.

Of course TopCat will be providing more than boats in this contract. Where they will base, if its in country, and remain littoral? Then won’t TC be just like the pirates USED to be
before they acquired their "mother ship"? Will TC acquire an expensive but highly suitable ship (probably not that expensive) for blue water operations? 

If security was really a big deal, the Yemeni arms market might gain greater attention. Still, some problems continue to linger over this deal:

  1. Transparency. There is none. This provider has a checkered history. Purpose and design of this contract ($50m+ barrier for example) makes this opaque if anything.
  2. Fair play. Was TC really the best candidate for the job? Did the "local" "government" really come to the finding that this provider was superior or were there other contributing factors?
  3. Money and Morals. $50m+ is a lot of spending money for some boats. There is something else here.

One last comment. If active duty will be deployed, then again, it should and could have been done more discretely. If however, this is a completely private operation, then further "foreign policy by proxy" is not going to help when the our chief for Public Diplomacy is amazed that countries are larger than her state. The world is looking and so is our own military. Trust in the Executive branch is waning from abuse. Intelligence and military services are direct reports to the Executive branch. In effect, they serve at the whim, the intelligence services especially, of the President. The buck stops there, except in this Administration.

UPDATE on The $50m contract to fight piracy… the unknown paying the lesser known

Top Cat Marine Security is registered under Laura Casini, Esq. at what seems like a residential location.I mention the location because there are some interesting circumstances
surrounding this company. It had moved its operations to St Stephen,
South Carolina, to the great expectations of the locals. But, then in Oct 2004, things changed according to the local news: "the
door to Top Cat is padlocked, the company is facing
eviction, one of its top officials has been arrested on a charge of
issuing a fraudulent check and a default judgment was issued against
the company Monday." Interesting bit is the title of Peter Casini:
Chief Operating Officer. He seems to have gotten a promotion in the
last year, but in a Reuters article he’s head of research and development.

Removed from the site TopCat Marine Security site
recently is their address after some have questioned their shared
location with other sites Here’s the cached version.
It seems they share an answering service with other firms (after doing
some WhoIs searching and google address search). The office of record
is just a phone bank. Not particularly normal for a firm awarded with a
$50m international contract.

The webmaster, as of this writing, broke all the links on TopCat Marine Security, all
links now begin with: file:///macintosh%20hd/users/brian/desktop/. A little fidgeting, and the press release for the Somalia contract is available here:

Somalia, which hasn’t had an effective government since 1991, can’t deal with the pirates — and the U.S. government this week advised ships to travel in convoys or simply stay away. Top Cat’s strategy is to go
after the "mother ship" that launches small, high-speed boats
some 100 miles off the coast to carry out the attacks.

"Our goal is to take the mother ship," Casini said from Nairobi,
Kenya. "To disable, to disarm, whatever it takes."

Under their contract the company will set up five bases where former Navy
SEALs and Army Special Forces members will train the anti-pirate teams.
The firm will also provide state-of-the-art patrol boats, backed by helicopters, to go after the mother ship.

The final comments:

  • Where’s the money coming from? CNN/Reuters would like asks…
  • From the PMC commentators… "how long until a pirate attack w/ a Cobra boat?"
  • The State Department had to approve this contract. Some reports list the contract at $55 million, but that exceeds the min for notifying Congress. Likely it is just below ($49.9m), but it still required State approval.

:: SEE UPDATE 2 ::
This updates a previous article

Chinese Peace Corps + Energy Exploitation

In the spirit of challenges of securing energy sources and "hearts and minds" comes an article in the People’s Daily Online:

The 12 young volunteers from places such as Beijing, Sichuan and Yunnanwere going to Ethiopia in Africa to begin a six-month service work in
methane exploitation, Chinese-language teaching, physical education,
health care and information technology.

This Chinese Peace Corps is now in competition to win the hearts and minds with a Peace Corps perceived to be co-opted by the Defense Department. The long term goal for China is clearly cultural and technological imperialism as they seek to recreate a multi-polar world.

From the recent UNOCAL take-over attempt by CNOOC to competition for African energy resources, the Ethiopian service project is one of the many subtle salvos a patient China will fire.