Monday, October 25, 2010
The New York Review of Books has published an excellent and revealing article on Somali's pirates. Some excerpts follow...
"For the past twenty years, since its central government collapsed, Somalia has become one of the prime examples in modern history of a country without a state. Nothing seems to work... the violence keeps mounting, most recently in what is ostensibly a religious war between a moderate Islamist government that gets millions of dollars of Western aid but controls almost no territory and a radical Islamist insurgency egged on by al-Qaeda."
"Deep-seated clan rivalries and war profiteers eagerly feed this bloodshed. Meanwhile the perfect conditions for piracy prevail: anarchy, a cold war legacy that has left Somalia armed to the teeth, and a 1,900-mile coastline abutting the Gulf of Aden, which 20,000 ships traverse each year."
"The pirates of Somalia have an entire country nearly the size of Texas to use as a sanctuary. They hijack ships, sometimes as far out as one thousand miles from shore, and then steer them to well-known pirate dens where they dine on freshly slaughtered goat while conducting ransom negotiations."
"In 2008, when more than a dozen hijacked ships, with more than three hundred hostages, were anchored off the coast of Somalia, Pottengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau in London said, “You can see the images of these ships on Google Earth. Nowhere else in the world would this be tolerated.”
"No one knows exactly how much they have netted in the past few years in ransoms but it is safe to assume at least $100 million. Often the booty makes them giddy. After a parachute packed with $3 million drifted down to the deck of the Sirius Star, a Saudi supertanker that a band of young Somali pirates hijacked in late 2008, the pirates divvied up the cash and impetuously sped away in their dinghies, in the middle of a squall. Several capsized and drowned. One dead pirate washed up on the beach with more than $150,000 in his pockets."
"This excess has created a budding pirate culture. Pirate weddings are elaborate two- or three-day affairs, stretching deep into the night, with bands—and brides—flown in from outside Somalia and convoys of expensive 4x4 trucks. The prettiest young women in pirate towns dream of a pirate groom; little boys can hardly wait until they are old enough to sling an AK-47 over their shoulder and head out to sea. In these places, the entire local economy revolves around hijacking ships, with hundreds of men, women, and children employed as guards, scouts, cooks, deckhands, mechanics, skiff-builders, accountants, and tea-makers."
"The hard-line Islamist insurgents who control much of Somalia have flirted with dismantling the piracy business, but the money is too good. One group, Hizbul Islam, recently moved into Xarardheere and now gets $40,000 from each ransom. The more powerful insurgent group al-Shabab made a deal with the pirates in which they will not interfere with the pirates’ business in exchange for 5 percent of the ransoms."