Piracy in Somalia is a highly organized, lucrative, ransom-driven business. As we know pirates have hijacked hundreds of ships and are usually paid million-dollar ransoms to release each ship. These sensational payoffs have attracted men from all across Somalia and there are now thousands of pirates. Being a pirate has become the best job to have in Somalia.
Piracy in Somalia started about 15 years ago because of a need to protect their tuna-rich waters from illegal commercial fishing by American, Asian and European fishermen.
Somalia’s government imploded in 1991 – they failed economically and politically and left the country and people destitute with no resources and no services. The country was and still is in chaos. Children are starving and people are killing one another in the streets of Mogadishu, the capital, for a handful of grain.
Most people started to survive by fishing. But because there was no government and a defunct navy the Somalian shorelines were not patrolled and international commercial fishermen stared to sneak in Somalia waters and pillage their fish. Because of this, a small group of Somali fishermen became guardians of the waters, vigilantes – they armed themselves and punished the lawbreakers personally since there was no government or legal authorities to do so. They confronted illegal fishing boats and demanding that they pay taxes for fishing in their tuna rich waters.
Once the word spread that there was loot to be gained from the illegal fishing boats Somalians who were not fishermen joined in so they could make money. More and more Somalians became vigilantes but then by the early 2000 it turned into piracy.
By the early 2000s most of the fishermen had traded in their nets for machine guns and were hijacking any vessel they could catch: sailboat, oil tanker, UN chartered food ships, you name the type of ship — it was hijacked.
As time passed the country’s infrastructure deteriorated more and more and the people became poorer and poorer. The only people doing well were the pirates. Young men who would have been in schools (that no longer existed) aspired to be pirates.
Being a pirate is like joining the NBA or NASCAR or joining football’s Premier League in England. Being a pirate was a way to get their family out of poverty, a way to make it. Piracy became Somalia’s great hope.
Over the past 15 years piracy in Somalia has evolved to another level and the town known as “New Boosaaso” has become one of the most dangerous towns in Somalia but it is also one of the most prosperous.
Boosaaso is where the high rolling pirates live. These high rollers, shot callers are real pirates more akin to Black Beard. These are not your friendly baseball Pittsburg Pirates or the Pirates of the Caribbean portrayed by Johnny Depp.
Somalia now has a booming, not so underground pirate economy. Palatial new houses are rising up next to tin-roofed shanties. Pirates are employing their neighbors and are now accepted and respected by their communities. Piracy brings in millions and millions of dollars into Somalia and is probably the country’s chief source of income.
Pirates drive the biggest cars, run many of the town’s businesses and throw the best parties. Young women aspire to date and marry pirates.
Pirate teams share the loot and divide what they get amongst each other. Twenty percent goes to the bosses, twenty percent is put aside for future missions (to cover essentials like guns and fuel) and thirty percent goes to the gunmen on the ship and 30 percent goes to what’s left of the government officials to keep them quiet.
The pirates have no other opportunities in Somalia so they are willing to risk their lives for their only chance at wealth. These pirates are sea savvy. They are fearless. They have the latest high-tech handheld GPS units and communicate with each other constantly. Tribal conflicts that have plagued Somalia for decades don’t exist between the pirates – they work together. They are united.
One thing that we must give the pirates credit for is that they are not interested in the weapons on ships they seize. They have no plans to sell them to Islamist insurgents who want to purchase them. According to the pirates they will not offload the weapons from ships they commandeer – they just want the ransom money.
Even with warships from the United States, Russia and the European Union sailing into Somalia’s waters as part of a reinvigorated, worldwide effort to crush the pirates it won’t be easy to stop the pirates since they have everything to gain and nothing to lose.