When Somali pirates have hijacked merchant ships, they gamble for ransom in the millions. But not only they hope for big money. Middlemen from different countries earn a lot from piracy.
If you want to make money in Somalia these days, there is really only one career path for you: that of the pirate. In pirate nests such as Eyl in Puntland in northern Somalia – which has been a hideout for pirates for years – villas are being built, and in front of them are expensive off-road vehicles. A lively service industry has developed around the core business. As soon as the actual pirates have captured a new ship, a well-oiled machinery starts up. Self-appointed intermediaries are just as much a part of the pirate economy as cooks, messengers and guards. The helpers are rewarded as soon as the ransom is paid. And that has always been the case so far.
"The backers live outside Somalia"
Andrew Mwangura from the Seafarers Aid Program in Kenya’s largest port city, Mombasa, has been watching the goings-on of the pirates, armed with heavy machine guns and bazookas, for a long time. For him, one thing is certain: only the little lights live in villages like Eyl. The real pirates didn’t live in Somalia, but in Kenya, London, Dubai or Canada. It is you who plan and finance the operations. "No young man in Somalia can afford a satellite phone, a speedboat, or even a Kalashnikov. The people behind the big business all live outside Somalia."
The business is undoubtedly big: the pirates collected a ransom of two and a half million US dollars for a Japanese ship released on Sunday alone. No wonder that $ 250 million is already being discussed for the super tanker "Sirius Star" from Saudi Arabia. Against the background of such sums, it is also not surprising that the ransom negotiations themselves have become a lucrative line of business, from which middlemen in London and Dubai also earn a lot.
Everyone earns with
The numerous factions in Somalia’s civil war, which has been raging for 18 years, would also earn money, according to Mwangura: The warlords and the Islamists as well as the currently recognized government. He knew from officials from the northern Somali Puntland that they also earned money from piracy. The same applies to the Somali interim government in Mogadishu and even abroad: "In Tanzania, there is at least one high-ranking ministerial official in government circles who provides the pirates with information about ships that leave Dar es Salaam."
The millions from the ransom have also built up a new, third force, whose political affiliation is still unclear for the time being. But one thing is certain: with their money and the probably most modern weapons in the Horn of Africa, their influence is great. And it keeps growing with every kidnapping.
$ 50 million loot last year
Mwangura does not believe that the pirates can be mastered by using naval ships. Piracy is only part of the organized crime that Somalia is under control. "Piracy will not stop as long as there is illegal fishing off the coast, as long as there is drug trafficking and people smuggling on land. All of these businesses are linked to piracy."
It is estimated that the pirates earned US $ 50 million with ransom this year alone. And the windfall will continue: At least 17 ships and almost 350 sailors are currently still in the hands of the Somali pirates.