After the success of the movie “Captain Phillips” there has been a lot more interest in the history and culture of Somali pirates. Were they accurately portrayed in the movie? Should we be as afraid to travel through certain waters as the movie — and news reports — suggest? Are the pirates’ motives purely monetary? Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Somali pirates.
The group that has now transformed into pirates began as fishermen whose coastline was being pillaged. After the Somalia government shut down along with the coast guard in 1991, fishing fleets from all over the world stole an estimated $300 million worth of seafood from the Somali coastline. Any aggression towards outsiders by Somali “pirates” was, at first, just fishermen defending their income — the fisheries.
The first gangs of pirates to form off the Somali coast had names such as The National Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia or Somali Marines. At first, these groups simply demanded a fee from foreign fishing fleets—a fee that the government was no longer collecting.
Fishing fleets from Korea, Japan, Spain and several other countries traveled illegally into Somali coastal waters to fish, and they’d try to evade trouble by flying flags from countries that are welcome there, such as Belize and Bahrain.
On top of illegally fishing their waters, foreign fleets were allegedly also dumping toxic and nuclear waste into Somali waters. Some confirmed substances include radioactive uranium. Dumping waste in Somali waters was saving European fleets thousands if not millions of dollars.
When Somali pirates initially started taking hostages, they took captains and crew of fishing fleets who were illegally trawling their territory and refusing to pay a fee. The fleet owners often paid the ransoms quickly so as to not draw attention to their illegal activity in the area.
The fees the Somali pirates demanded for their hostages was much smaller than the legal fees the offending country would have had to pay, should the authorities get involved. Somali pirates realized they could ask for even more money.
Many suspect that some Somali officials take bribes from foreign fleets to be allowed to fish the Somali coast, which, in a way fuels the pirate activity.
Today many of the pirates are not fishermen but poor Somalis hoping to cash in on the booming “industry” of piracy.
The U.N. suggested an embargo be placed on seafood taken from Somali waters by foreign fleets, but the Security Council shot down this idea.
At one point, Somali pirates were estimated to be holding 18 cargo ships and around 300 sailors hostage. On Sept. 26, Associated Press reported that three Somali pirates were killed in a fight over the ransom paid to free the German-American journalist released after two years and eight months in captivity. As of November 2014, the pirates hold no major vessels hostage but are estimated to be holding about 30 people hostage according to Eunavfor.eu.