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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.

Doing business the pirate way

January 11th, 2011
05:01 PM ET

When you see Somali pirates out on the high seas, you see a rag-tag bunch of young men with weapons charging across the water, often high on a drug called khat. 

I never imagined that behind them, there is a very well structured, well-organized business plan that would impress any Wall-street firm.

Their business plan works like a well oiled machine and it’s intriguing. 

Investors and suppliers provide money and equipment to run the operation.  A gang leader then oversees, pirate action groups, the onboard commander, the accountant, a logistics manager... there is even a chef and a sous-chef.

According to a UN report, pirates are divided into class A and class B. 

Class A are the men who actually crew the mother ships (larger ships at sea where pirates sit and wait for their victims). These men also attack skiffs and carry out the attacks.  This group will typically consist of fishermen, who know how to operate at sea.

Fighters are former militiamen or young guys who have fought for years in clan wars and civil war. These guys will perform the actual boarding of the ship which is the most dangerous part of the operation.

There are financial benefits for anyone who gets on board first, and penalties for breaking the strict rules like hurting hostages or damaging the vessel for example. There are also technical specialists in this group, pirates with expertise in GPS, AIS, radios.

Class B pirates are the guards, usually older men who don’t do much fighting. Negotiators fall into this class, as well even though they are not usually even in Somalia.  Interpreters, boat builders, suppliers also come under this.

When the ransom money comes in - and it can range from two to four million dollars in cash - the first payment goes to the class A pirates and shareholders. 

Fighters are often paid in credit when the hijacked ship arrives to moor off the Somali coast. 

Class B guys are part of the operating costs. Financiers and investors get a 30 percent return on their initial investments!  Town elders usually get anywhere between 5-10 percent in mooring costs.

There is a whole industry that has sprung up in pirate towns.  People are needed to maintain the boats, provide the prostitutes, booze and drugs for pirates coming back with a hijacked ship, food, fuel, accommodation. Everything.  Pirate towns are booming.

It’s big money.  I mean think of being a young Somali man today.  You don’t have much hope of a decent livelihood. Piracy offers big bucks.

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soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. John

    Send i shock and awe! Blow the place up and ALL the people and start all over. Use some of the old nukes before they are past their best before date. That should make others in Iran and North Korea think twice as well as all other Pirates, Terrorists, and Dictators. It is the AMERICAN WAY.

    January 11, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  2. James Nicoll

    Somali Based Piracy – What has happened to our Friend Common Sense?

    Having removed it in during 2007, on 22 December 2010, the French National Assembly returned the crime of piracy back into the statute books of France.

    France has once again given teeth to its obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that it agreed to in April of 1996, which defines piracy in its article 101.

    This is not to single out France as all states that have ratified, acceded or succeeded to UNCLOS have a duty under article 100: to cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.

    Could it be that skiffs used by pirates are not classed as ships? Yet they, and the larger whalers used by some as mother ships are destroyed by naval vessels.

    But enough of semantics, the work of politicians and lawyers who have seen to it that in most countries it is illegal for their merchant vessels to arm themselves to fend off simple attacks that are wreaking havoc in the lives of innocent seafarers and their dependants.

    However, politicians of many nations are seemingly content to squander millions of euros, dollars or whatever, of their taxpayer’s money by providing naval protection. It undoubtedly helps but only in small measure and certainly, it does not make commercial sense. It is admitted openly that with the vastness of the ever-increasing area where attacks are perpetrated, deployed naval vessels simply cannot cope. The view of naval power is that the merchant vessels are in the best position to defend themselves and cite the employment of the much-vaunted “Best Management Practice.” Undoubtedly, BMPs can be very effective but they are not an absolute answer.

    The answer we are told is a stable situation ashore in Somali and after 20 odd years of being allowed to fester, sadly this is nowhere on the horizon. The African Union Military Mission on Somalia (AMISON), currently some 8,000 strong is the only thing between Somalia and its total decimation. AMISON is being allowed to surge to 12,000 yet Uganda says that 20,000 are needed to create the conditions needed to allow some stability and at least a form of democratic cohabitation of its peoples.

    It is patently obvious that there will be no stability let alone the infrastructure ashore anytime soon. In the meantime, those on whom the world depends to feed and water it will continue to face the risk of being taken hostage, disabled or killed while politics pontificates and procrastinates.

    More and more owners, legally or otherwise are placing private armed escorts on board to ensure the safe passage of their vessels and those sailing them. Certainly, they will be held to account should a shooting match result in the death of poor innocent pirates. They are told from all sides that they must do more to protect the seafarers. Like the naval personnel, their hands are pretty much tied behind their backs. Holding the high and moral ground, a couple light machine guns firing tracer rounds in the direction of attacking skiffs would see them about turn in pretty short order.

    It is a pity there is no Sea Shepherd, to take on task of providing a truly safe passage through this ocean as there is in the southern one looking after whales who also cannot shoot back.

    It does not need deep reflection on how this has arisen as Common Sense tells us, just as it does that simply releasing those apprehended only serves to perpetuate the threat to innocent seafarers and their families.

    Why does the UN not employ accommodation vessels to serve detention centers well of the Somali coast for those caught and suspected of piracy? It would certainly have a positive effect but I doubt those who believe too much in the milk of human kindness would take kindly to this sort of common sense that they have purged the world of.

    Perhaps all seafarers should simply stop their vessels until the world wakes up to the reality of just how entirely dependent it is on a few good men and women. Believe me; it would wake up with a sudden jolt.

    Jim Nicoll

    January 13, 2011 at 5:43 am | Reply
  3. axel

    What about "Class C"? The DEAD Pirates !

    January 13, 2011 at 7:46 am | Reply
  4. Nick

    Great story Zaine,was actually watching Ross Kemp's chase for pirates,though he dint find any it was very interesting,try it out.

    February 20, 2011 at 11:42 am | Reply

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