Who Are These Pirates?

Here's a primer on who these pirates are and how they operate.

ByABC News
November 23, 2008, 1:40 PM

LONDON, Nov. 24, 2008 — -- A Greek-owned oil-tanker hijacked by Somali pirates in September has been released this weekend with its cargo and crew intact. Its owners confirmed that a ransom had been paid.

But about 1,000 Somali pirates, who've been terrorizing the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean and living like sultans, are still holding 14 ships and about 250 crew members.

Here's a Q&A primer to help clarify this ongoing story.

Who Are These Pirates Exactly?

The pirates claimed they were disaffected Somali fishermen operating in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, whose boats had been challenged and sometimes attacked by unauthorized foreign vessels fishing the same waters. The pirates said their boats were often destroyed and they were forced to flee, according to one of the pirates, a 42 year old father of nine who described himself as "a pirate boss."

In an interview with The Guardian this week, Asad Abdulahi said he and his shipmates considered themselves "heroes running away from poverty.

"We don't see the hijacking as a criminal act but as a road tax," he said, "because we have no central government to control our sea."

How Do the Pirates Operate?

Most are based in the port of Eyl in the state of Somalia, which has had no government to speak of for 20 years. They put to sea in a "mother ship" that took them into the shipping lanes, several hundred miles offshore. They then launched small speedboats armed with little more than AK 47's, grenades and grappling irons to haul themselves up onto the deck of a ship. Generally, they can sieze a ship without firing a shot.

How Many Ships Have Been Hijacked?

The Somali pirates have captured 39 ships so far this year, the biggest prize being the huge, Saudi-owned Sirius Star, whose cargo included 2 million barrels of oil, seized Nov. 15 by a handful of pirates, 450 miles off the coast of East Africa. The Saudi foreign minister has said that his government does not negotiate with hijackers but added, significantly, that "what the ship owners do, is up to them."