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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.

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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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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Former priest: Clergy should have right to marry

March 29th, 2010
05:36 PM ET

Ed Gerlock has been calling the Philippines his home since he moved there from the United States in 1962 - it was the same year he was ordained.

Ed and Ching Gerlock married in 1981.

Ed and Ching Gerlock married in 1981.

The 74-year-old joined the priesthood to initially get an education. It was also a vocation that allowed him to travel overseas.

He spent many years working with the country’s poor and farmers, learning about a life outside the seminary.

It was during this time he met a beautiful Filipino social researcher called Ching. There was an instant attraction, but it was also forbidden. Their friendship grew and so did their love. It took 13 years before Ed would break his vows to the Church and leave the priesthood.

“This lady and I became close friends”, remembers Gerlock. “When I was working in Parish I was thinking to myself… I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. I genuinely love this lady… in a sense she saved my life”.

They married on May 31, 1981 at a home for leprosy patients in Hawaii. Ching says it was one of the happiest days of her life. Two years later she gave birth to a baby girl they named Alay – which means “a gift”.

Ching says her husband has never turned his back on the church. In fact he still works for those less fortunate and down trodden… caring for the elderly who have no assistance and providing them with services.

She says he may not be able to give mass or wear the cloth of the church, but everywhere they go people still call him Father because of the charitable work he still does.

Their daughter Alay is a guidance counselor. She’s very close to her father and defends his actions 28 years ago. “Most people would say your father took a vow and broke the the vow. But he’s a person, he made a choice and I can’t refute his choice or I wouldn’t be here”.

Gerlock is very progressive and liberal in his views when he talks about the Church and the scandals it’s currently facing. He believes that marriage would be beneficial for priests and that the clergy should at least be given the option of having a marital life.

“When I go to Church and listen to priests talk about reproductive health, marriage and children, I think… what does he know? There are some things in marriage that you would find difficult to talk about and here’s this guy, standing there blandly talking about something he knows nothing about”.

Gerlock doesn’t only believe priests should be married. He also supports gay and women priests; something he knows won’t be happening in the Catholic Church anytime soon. Regardless, he believes reform is essential, if the Church is to repair its battered image.

“It’s going to be a very painful transition I’m afraid”, he admits. “I mean because people are so hard line within the Church. You have to go backwards and say how did this happen – like all the cases of sex abuse that are now coming out. How can we prevent this from ever happening again and what’s our obligation to these children … all those questions are not being address.”

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Filed under:  General

Disarray wins out at 'Brokenhagen' climate talks

December 20th, 2009
11:05 AM ET

Copenhagen, Denmark - They came. They talked ... long into the night.

Activists deliver their verdict on the climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Activists deliver their verdict on the climate change summit in Copenhagen.

But in the end global leaders left the Danish capital practically empty handed.

After years of negotiation and two weeks of concentrated effort, the world agreed on a deal on climate change.

Whether it is a “meaningful” one, as U.S. President Barack Obama suggests, is up for debate.

The president’s flying visit did help salvage some success from the disorder ... but in the end a slow hand clap as he made his way to the stage mid-morning showed the depth of divisions that still exist between the haves and the have-nots.

Let's be clear: an agreement was brokered in what one commentator described as a "frenzied game of climate poker among the leaders of the United states, China, India, Brazil and South Africa and major European countries." They’d been chosen by the conference chair Denmark as the summit looked set to end in chaos.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon admitted the agreement had failed to win global consensus and would disappoint many who demanded stronger action against climate change. But, he said, at least it had not been strangled at birth. "Many will say that it lacks ambition," Ban said. "Nonetheless, you have achieved much."

China’s resistance to monitoring carbon emissions was a key sticking-point for the West. It’s still not clear whether that issue is fully resolved.

Late on Friday night, Greenpeace international executive director Kumi Naidoo spoke for many when he said the deal’s loopholes were big enough to fly Air Force One through. "The city of Copenhagen is a climate crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport."

So, while global leaders stood shoulder to shoulder smiling for the inevitable class photo, they effectively left shaking hands on nothing more than a commitment to agree to agree to something more substantive in the future.

It was by anyone’s standards a valiant effort by the Danish hosts. But it was the disorganisation and disarray both inside and outside these halls that eventually won out.

What had been billed "Hopenhagen" as delegates and activists arrived here just two weeks ago will perhaps be best remembered as "Brokenhagen" by many.

For more information go to cnn.com/environment

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Filed under:  General

Tripping the Twilight fantastic

November 23rd, 2009
06:28 PM ET

A couple of years ago a friend of mine, who worked in publishing, emailed me suggesting a guest for CNN. 
The guest was an author doing well in America and was about to start selling her books in Europe. My friend was a big fan of the books but also the author who apparently had amazing story to tell.

Author Stephanie Meyer attending the Los Angeles premiere of The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

Author Stephanie Meyer attending the Los Angeles premiere of The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

I agreed to have the author on the show and I'm glad I did because it became one of my most memorable interviews. I heard how a deeply religious housewife had a dream that she turned into a book. She was caught out by her success but was riding the wave.

Her name was Stephanie Meyer, and her success was nothing compared to what it is now. Its one of those interviews that gets better with age because you know it was the beginning of something huge. See it here and get a sense of just how big the author of Twilight has become on tonight's show.

Also give us your thoughts here on the housewife, writer and, now, Hollywood big-hitter that is Stephanie Meyer.

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Filed under:  General
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