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

The money also helps the pirates operate within Somalia; some is used to pay off the warlords in the region, some is also said to pay off men stationed at various ports who tip the pirates off on what boats are passing through.

Celebrity Status for Successful Pirates

"In a country where the average per capita income is something like $600," piracy expert Dan Sekulich said. "When you're talking about a $2 million ransom for a vessel, once its split off, you're talking about tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars which can be made in a single year."

Sekulich examined the rise in piracy on a global scale in his new book debuting next month, "Terror on the Seas: True Tales of Modern Pirates." The pirates' wealth has given them celebrity-like status in their hometowns, he said.

"Pirates have become in Somalia, you almost would call them a Hollywood echelon of stars because of the income that they garner," Sekulich said. "That means that could then build homes, buy cars, they can spread money around. It's almost a variation on the classic mobster movie tale where the man comes into the restaurant and spreads some money around because he's the big man in town. They have created their own lifestyle, but it's a criminal lifestyle, let's make no bones about it.".

But, according to the pirates who talked to Arhimaki, the money they've earned comes with its own problems.

"My occupation is not as pleasant as implied," Isman said. "We are in so much trouble that we don't even have a place to use our money. Because there's always someone hunting you. Just like pirates hunt boats, the highway robbers hunt pirates. They are waiting for us with their guns. The biggest fear I have is when I'm traveling in the city with money. When everybody gets greedy, it leads to a situation where you lose your life."

But other men say they have nothing to lose. "I'm not afraid of death," Hassan said. "They can do whatever they wish, the famine would have killed me anyway."

A Way to End Piracy?

Sekulich has little sympathy for the plight of the pirates, and he doesn't exactly buy their tale of losing the fishing industry or their claims about rampant pollution from outside ships.

"Over-fishing and the dumping of waste goes back to the early 1990s and, while that is certainly something that would anger any Somali, whether they work at sea or at shore, it doesn't justify the actions that are being taken today," Sekulich said. "Why does that give you permission to go off and attack a super-tanker, or an aid-ship carrying food to your own people?

"In the course of piracy going on in Somalia, in the last year and a half, there's been no rebuilding going on in Somalia. In fact, the opposite has happened," he said. "Somali pirates are nothing more than thugs."

But the filmmakers came away with some sympathy for the pirates and for the people of Somalia, in general.

"They felt like somebody was attacking their livelihood, they were taking the fish out in a sense," cameraman Arhimaki said. "They said that if they could, they would go back to fishing and normal jobs they would do it instantly and piracy would stop. Again it's the poverty thing that really keeps piracy going.

"You really have to look at the root problem. So I would say today if poverty would be on some stage so that people could eat, and would have normal jobs the piracy would end," he said.

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