Pirates, Inc.: Inside the booming Somali business
Meet the modern-day brigands behind the sometimes sophisticated, always risky operations that raked in an estimated $80 million in ransoms in 2008.
(Page 4 of 4)
"Who are the real pirates?" asks Andrew Mwangura, secretary-general of the East African Seafarers Association in Mombasa. "It's not these young boys on the boats. It's the people behind them, with the money to buy the boats and the motors and the guns and the GPS devices. They put their money here in Kenya, but also in Dubai or Canada or Mumbai." He pauses. "The real pirate could be a white person like you."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
They may have already unwittingly given themselves away by buying provisions from locals and asking advice on the best course to plot to cross to Yemen. So after very little time they were sitting ducks for a patrol boat bearing a flag none of the men recognized. It was one of the three "ships" in the coast guard of the independent republic of Somaliland. Tipped off by villagers that the boat was full of pirates, the coast guard boat was prepared for battle.
Mr. Faratol and another crewman fought off the Somaliland coast guard with their fists (their guns and grenades remained hidden under a tarp). Faratol ended up with a badly swollen eye, the other ended up in intensive care.
It was all over within minutes, and with it Hassan's dreams of pirate wealth.
Somaliland's interior minister, Abdullahi Ismail Ali, says that Somaliland is "committed to fight against pirates and terrorists," even if its capacity to do so is limited. "We have great hopes that Somaliland will have an impact in bringing piracy under control," he said in an interview. "But at the same time, we have to realize that these are hungry boys. We even have youth in Somaliland with limited job prospects, and they can get the same wrong ideas from the youth of Puntland."
We meet the "hungry boys" from Puntland – Hassan, Faratol, and the rest of the pirate crew – in Berbera's central jail. At first quietly suspicious, they open up quickly with the arrival of a pretty Somali reporter, Moha Farah Jire, from Somaliland state television. One by one, they admit their criminal intent to attack ships, but plead for mercy from the Somaliland government.
"I'm really sorry I got caught," says Faratol, and he is especially sorry that he violated the waters of a country that he didn't even know existed: Somaliland. But given the choice, he would probably do it again. "At the end of the day, I'm a man. Life is full of challenges. I could have been a millionaire, but instead I got caught."
Most of the men are sullen, knowing that Somaliland has given stiff sentences to four other pirate crews captured over the past two years. But with the arrival of visitors to the jail, the tension of the past few weeks finally bursts for the youngest, a skinny 19-year-old in shorts. Breaking into giggles at the slightest provocation, he's sent away by smiling police officials to pull himself together.
None of the pirates believe the increasing naval patrols by the US, the French, NATO, the Indians, the Chinese, and others, is going to deter pirates. As long as there are opportunities to make money from piracy, there will be young men desperate for work, and "investors" providing weapons, speedboats, and information on which ships to attack.
"Absolutely not, foreign navies can't stop piracy," says Abdul Rashid Mohumud, a 21-year-old crew man. "There are no jobs in Somalia, no options for higher education. The youth of Somalia need money to survive."
In Somaliland, a country eager to be fully recognized as a pro-Western free-market-driven nation-state, justice comes swiftly. On May 10, six days after their arrest, Hassan and his pirate crew were sentenced to 20 years in prison.