Pirates Thrive in Lawless Somalia

Pirates Thrive in Lawless Somalia

As Somalia descends into a blood-soaked spiral of chaos and suffering, the international community largely unstirred and hopelessly oblivious has instead focused its attention on the real life fruition of boyhood tales of piracy and crime on the high seas. Pirates, who have been steadily ratcheting up attacks as of late, are also becoming more and more audacious in carrying out their operations. The recent capture and subsequent sagas of the Faina and the Sirius star have barreled onto the nightly news, increasing pressure on governments to act quickly to counter skyrocketing piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Eyl, a dusty outpost roasting in the hot Puntland sun, is a coastal town located in the Nugal region of northeastern Somalia. A town encapsulated by mountains and sea—life is good here. The pirates live the lives of modern-day rap stars, but with an actual street creed obtained from years of genius pillaging at the waterways. These modern-day gangsters drive expensive cars, choose from among the most beautiful women, and live in palatial homes that are sprouting up daily, thanks to a steady income of proceeds from ships successfully ransomed.

Piracy as Self-Defense Mechanism

The town of Eyl is one of the first base areas of the pirates. Piracy attacks and motives started after foreign ships pulling fishing trawlers have increasingly attacked pirates, beat them, and destroyed their small fishing boats, according to Pirate man Ahmed Ali, who claimed to be “the commander of Somalia’s right coastguard of pirates.” He spoke to IOL onboard a hijacked ship in the northern coast of Somalia, according to him.

He says pirates have become irritated by those acts from foreign vessels and have been forced to arm themselves and launch counter attacks by kidnapping ships. This fight made them “official pirates” in two years, 2007 and 2008, Ali said.

The mountains around Eyl provide safe hideouts and bases for pirates to ambush ships on high seas for kidnapping, but Ali said they rely on things more than simple geography. He said that his men have secret agents who inform them when ships are about to pass in the Gulf of Aden or the nearby coasts.

“When we desire to kidnap a ship, we firstly come together to build strategy of kidnapping and we follow along with the execution of our plan; we are military people,” Ali said

  “We are the actual guard forces of our sea, but we encounter difficulties bar more profits” Ali told IOL in a telephone interview. He says that their life has changed dramatically.

Piracy Drives Economy

As for the local people piracy becomes the main engine of economic boom, it stimulates other industries, creates jobs and makes people feel good. Each time a big ransom is secured, people receive funds and many are happy with that. Business movements are up-and-coming in this tiny town of Eyl.

Many residents of Eyl wake up every morning asking each other if any new ship is kidnapped yet.  “We say pirates are good men and good fathers because they bring money home,” said Hibaq Hassan a resident woman in the town of Eyl.

Our families, wives and all of us have a good life, because we get ransom from antagonist ships we capture,” Ali said with a high-spirited voice denoting content with his piracy life, especially that he is “planning to build new good style house.”

Ali lives in one of the most expensive hotels in Garowe town in Puntland region and piracy for him is “better than being a government minister or president,” he said.
Some local residents informed IOL that the pirates are supported by different authority figures who receive their shares of ransoms from the abducted ships.

But official authorities of the region claim that they are incapable in dealing with the well-equipped pirates and they accuse the owners of the seized ships of encouraging the piracy by agreeing to pay ransoms. 

“The owners of the ships are causing this chaos on our seas because they yield to pirates’ demands and that is a very big support for piracy,” said Muse Ghelle Yusuf the governor of Bari region.

Good Breadwinners?

As piracy becomes increasingly a lucrative business, pirates are being looked at as rich and capable breadwinners by women aspiring for quality marital life.

“The pirates are the biggest property owners in our region now; we have to marry them because we will get as much as we need of money,” said Leyla Haji Nor, a Garowe woman.

Analysts express suspicion whether kickbacks/bribes are given to some Puntland authorities to allow for easy and free movement of pirates in the region. But the authorities of Puntland dismiss this argument and claim that with hostages taken and ships kidnapped, it is difficult to launch any attacks on pirates without risking the lives of hostages.

Abdinasir Mohamed Guled is journalist and writer based in Mogadishu, Somalia.