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Live from Abu Dhabi Connect the World takes you on a journey across continents, investigating the stories that are changing our world.

Somali reveals secret life as a pirate

January 10th, 2011
02:12 PM ET

It took only about thirty minutes from my house in Nairobi to get to 'Little Mogadishu', where I met Gedi Mohammed Abdi.  

The area's actually called Eastleigh but it's almost one hundred percent Somali - both Kenyan Somali or Somali refugees from across the border. 

The action on the street is crazy with people selling wares, food, preaching, or just walking around.  Music blares from different corners.  The traffic on the roads are jam-packed. 

There's no way we'd have been able to navigate the area ourselves so we met up with two fixers at a restaurant, who jumped in our crew car as we drove through an area called 'California'! 

We finally stopped at a run down block of flats opposite a school ground and a couple of restaurants. The whole patch of grass was water-logged. It had been pouring.  Colourful clothes were flapping in the wind. 

I went up about three flights of stairs and entered a small room with one sofa and two chairs.  The colourful curtains were drawn.  Gedi had wrapped his face up tightly in a black scarf, leaving only a narrow slit for his eyes. 

He looked both intimidating and intriguing. I was excited because I had been working on this project in London for a couple of months and now here I was, interviewing a man who could give me first hand information about why he hijacked ships and crews for ransom and how he did it.  A translator sat next to him since we conducted the interview in Arabic.   

Gedi criticised large trawlers that would come to the Somali shores and fish for their tuna, and slammed ships that dump toxic waste in their waters. 

He says these were two reasons that initially galvanised Somalis to take action on the waters. 

Gedi also told me in Somalia, there are only three career options for young men like him: either join the militias, join al shahbab (the US has identified this group as terrrorist) or become a pirate. 

His uncle was a pirate and told him to come over to the coast.  Gedi told me he trained in a pirate boot camp that lasted a few months.  He learned how to swim, how to use weapons and how to get on board moving ships. 

He was sent on the defensive skiff (there are usually two skiffs in an attack) in the first hijack he ever did (Oct 2009). So he was part of the look out and the support team on the waters. 

He told me it was scary but he raked in $60,000, in that ONE hijack. He used the money, in part, to send his sister and brothers to the U.S. and UK. 

Most Kenyans I spoke to believe that much of the new money Somalia have in Eastleigh is pirate money. 

They buy things in cash - land, buildings, flats, everything,  I was told.  

Gedi says there is an al Shahbab presence in Eastleigh too where there is terrorist recruitment going on.  He  pointed out to me too that pirates also give ransom money as protection fees, to al Shahbab in Somalia.  Eventually he wanted out.  "It was getting too dangerous" he says.

At the end of the hour-long interview. He took off his scarf and showed me his face.  It was a baby face.  I was surprised. I thought I'd see a rough, tough, weather-beaten, scarred one.  I did not. 

He smiled at me,  and thanked me for listening to his story.  "What next for you Gedi", I asked?  He told me he was waiting to get a visa to Mexico and would they try cross over the border illegally into the U.S.

As part of a special series all week on Connect the World, CNN's Zain Verjee will be bringing us the untold stories of piracy off the coast of Africa. Each day she'll be writing a behind-the-scenes account of how she brought us the stories we'll bring you each night at 2100 GMT.

You can connect with Zain on her Facebook page by becoming a fan at www.facebook.com/zaincnn

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soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot

    Pirate money.. send brothers and sisters to US and UK.. Visa to Mexico to cross illegally into US... Guess who's galvanized now?

    January 10, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  2. Rodolfo Rogers

    "What next for you Gedi", I asked? He told me he was waiting to get a visa to Mexico and would they try cross over the border illegally into the U.S.

    Time to spend more resources to secure your borders Americans. I think the USA is wasting resources in useless causes, instead of focusing on their own matters.

    January 10, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  3. Robert

    I live and work in Djibouti so of course I find this type of reporting fascinating. How are the Pirates using randsom money to support Hawalas

    January 10, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  4. Franklin Ben

    Here's an idea. Why doesn't the US Navy turn the Somali Coast into a training ground for their surface craft and airplanes. We know where these pirates are and what kind of vessels they use for their attacks. These folks make perfect live fire fodder for our forces to train. I can't beleive we keep letting these peices of excrement get away with this. It's time to stop pussy footing around and turn Gedi and his boys into peices of fish food.

    January 11, 2011 at 5:27 am | Reply
  5. Abdi

    as a Somalian this story hurts me alot. our youngsters has become vulnerable to Arab terrorists, High seas criminals and all illegal activities. more dissappointingly, the international community forgot us and instead of supporting and training the country's legitimate but extremist-weakened government forces, the world watches our misery from the sprawling but ineffective warships. at last, this will continue and the Somali people will suffer, so as the international community!

    January 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  6. celia

    Trawlers,toxic waste are just lame excuses. Why not just accept the fact that they go into piracy because it is a lucrative business, the easiest way to earn lots of money at the expense of other people's lives? They don't mind how many sons, daughters, parents, wives, etc., lost their love ones because of those pirates? Why they didn't get to work honestly like everyone else? Money maybe hard to earn but at least they live w/ pride and dignity.

    January 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  7. Thomás Corbisier Louet

    how about demanding that wealthy countries actually initiate a serious campaign of educational and proper development of Africa's troubled countries, instead of sacking all of its resources and fomenting corruption and civil war?

    In that way, those countries would be able to evolve into a real state of law and would be able to police it's own citizens, when needed. Just like the wealthy countries.

    But wait, why are they wealthy anyway? I guess it goes a lot cheaper just to put big guns and all sort of decoys in cargo ships and let the exploitation go on, for the good of the "civilized" countries.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:30 am | Reply
  8. Shaun

    I was a bit disturbed to see both hosts laughing when they mentioned he made 60K from a ransom... about how that is good money for such a short period of time... Are you Serious?

    January 13, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Reply
  9. Eekshiz

    I'm kenyan and all this got me worried regarding my countrie's security.Also alot of weapons and firearms have found their way into our country,inturn falling into the wrong hands.All this due to the somali immigants.

    January 18, 2011 at 7:10 am | Reply
  10. Markus Pfister

    Hey wait! – so the pirates are actually the GOOD guys? There are militias that are not al Shabaab? Shouldn't we be hiring them instead of fighting them?

    January 23, 2011 at 5:08 am | Reply
  11. barbara

    What could be such a secret? They plot to hijack ships and either kill or hold the hostages for ransom. Then they spend their ill gotten gains on whatever. I think all ships should have a hidden tracking device that can't be disabled so when these ships are taken to somali ports we can just blow them sky high.

    February 23, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  12. Rena

    the jolly roger was ... the jolly roger was not black – it was red – from the frnech jolie rouge, red flag

    February 7, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Reply

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