Among the Somali Pirates: Codes of Conduct, Life on Land

Somali Pirates Living in Poverty, Desperation

The poverty, evident in the slumped mud huts, dirt roads and sunken fly-specked faces of the Somalian people, seems to be a driving force behind the chaos gripping the country. Arhimaki would meet and interview pirates, faces shrouded by scarves to hide their full identities as hunted men. For these pirates, poverty and desperation were repeating themes.

"It felt like the whole world was attacking us," said Hassan Ali Mohammed, the so-called pirate chief of Somalia. "By sending boats to rob our fish, and make our sea a dumping ground."

Mohammed, 40, said he was the mastermind behind two major hijackings, netting hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom.

He said that the first pirates were fisherman, their jobs and livelihood taken from them by hoards of foreign boats passing through their waters, breaking through their fishing nets, taking their fish and dumping pollutants into the sea.

"Every week we can find barrels drifted to the shore," he said. "No one knows what's inside them. We've got lots of new diseases. A lot of people and animals have been infected. Everything indicates that the diseases have come from the sea along with the pollution.

'Now I Have to Risk Everything'

"The reason I chose this work is because my livelihood was destroyed and I could not provide bread for my family."

Meanwhile, Ali Isman, who also claimed to one of the founders of the pirates, told cameraman Arhimaki, "We wanted to raise awareness of the situation we were in. We wanted to show that we can do something,"

Isman said he was an educated man, coming to the coast to fish for a living. He found a lost industry when he arrived, presenting him with few options: Leave or become a pirate.

"It was a difficult situation for me," he said. "I had come from the city and had a good education. Now I have to risk everything, maybe harm someone or get harmed."

Isman also said he was part of the first hijacking several years ago. "A ship that belonged to the Iranians was hijacked, and the way it happened that night was, there were two boats, I was very scared," he said. "At that time our purpose was just to show that we can harm people the way they harm us, by taking our resources and poisoning the ocean, but not to make any money or to get any wealth or get in anybody's way."

The Pirates' Code

The pirates said they followed a code in the beginning, three major rules for how they would operate.

"When we started we had three major rules," Isman said. "First, we hijack boats without harming anybody. Second, don't go into situations where you can get harmed yourself. Third, a hijacked boat can't be hijacked again."

They also set up a system of payments, those who took greater risks in the hijack would receive more of the cut.

"The man who jumps into the [hijacked] boat first gets paid, double," Isman said. "The first one is usually the one who gets killed or shot at.

"Everybody gets their stake of the ransom money," another man, Farah Hassan, told Arhimaki.

"Even the girl who cooks for the hostages gets $1,200. For sure, there are some rich pirates. Some have built big houses, some have bought a lot of cars or even transportation companies," said Hassan, the weapons dealer and equipment supplier for the pirates.

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