Thursday, April 23, 2009

Somali Pirates: "I'm the saviour of the sea' - Times Online

Nice article in the London Times 'I'm not a pirate, I'm the saviour of the sea'. The pirate king the reporter met with has gotten rich off catching ships and crews. There is always the background noise over the damage done to Somali fishing ground by foreign, environmentally unsound fishing boats:
Fourteen years ago, he was still working as a lobster diver in Eyl - “one of the best”, he says. Since then, according to Boyah, these reefs off Eyl have been devastated by foreign fishing fleets - mostly Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean - using steel-pronged dragnets. He says that there are no longer lobsters to be found locally, a claim partially corroborated by a 2005 UN Development Project report into the depletion of local stocks.

From 1995 to 1997, Boyah and others captured three foreign fishing vessels, keeping the catch and ransoming the crew. He boasts that he received an $800,000 bounty for one ship. When the foreign fishing fleets entered into protection contracts with local warlords, making armed guards and anti-aircraft guns fixtures on ships, Boyah and his men went after commercial shipping vessels instead.
When it comes to targets, Boyah's standards are not very exacting. He says that his men go after any ship that wanders into their sights. He separates his prey into “commercial” and “tourist” ships. The commercial ships, identifiable by the cranes on their decks, are slower and easier to capture. Boyah has gone after too many of these to remember. He claims to employ different tactics for different ships, but the basic strategy is that several skiffs will approach from all sides, swarming like a waterborne wolfpack. If brandishing their weapons fails to frighten the ship's crew into stopping, they fire into the air. If that doesn't do it, and if the target ship is incapable of outperforming the 85 to 150 horsepower engines on their skiffs, they pull alongside their target, toss hooked rope ladders on to the decks and board the ship. Resistance is rare.

Boyah guesses that 20 to 30 per cent of attempted hijackings succeed. Speedy prey, technical problems, and foreign naval or domestic coastguard intervention account for the high rate of failure.

Captured ships are steered to Eyl, where guards and interpreters are brought to look after the hostages during the ransom negotiation. Once secured, the money - often routed through banks in London and Dubai and parachuted directly on to the deck of the ship - is split: half goes to the hijackers, a third to the investors who fronted cash for the ships and weapons, and 20 per cent to everyone else, from the guards to the translators (occasionally high school students on a summer break).
If there is a solution to the problem, it lies in economic principles: the cost-benefit analysis for these men must be shifted from piracy to more legitimate pursuits. Naval battle fleets can do their part to boost the “cost” side, but without the “benefit” of meaningful occupations on land, there will be no permanent resolution.
Read the whole thing.

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