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Interview Gives Insight into Somali Pirates' Capture, Ransom Strategy

By Matthew Harwood

Maritime security experts and shipping companies take notice: Wired recently grabbed an exclusive interview with a modern-day Blackbeard that provides good insights into the economics and strategy of piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Here's an interesting excerpt about ransom negotiation and target selection that shows Somali pirates receive good intelligence:

How do you pirates decide on what ransom to ask for? What makes them negotiate downwards?

Once you have a ship, it’s a win-win situation. We attack many ships everyday, but only a few are ever profitable. No one will come to the rescue of a third-world ship with an Indian or African crew, so we release them immediately. But if the ship is from Western country or with valuable cargo like oil, weapons or then its like winning a lottery jackpot. We begin asking a high price and then go down until we agree on a price.

How do you know a ship in far away coast in the first place and its flagship?

Often we know about a ship’s cargo, owners and port of origin before we even board it. That way we can price our demands based on its load. For those with very valuable cargo on board then we contact the media and publicize the capture and put pressure on the companies to negotiate for its release.

From what I’ve seen, initial demands tend to be about 10 times the previous publicized ransom, is this a rule of thumb?

We know that we won’t get our initial demands, but we use it as a starting point and negotiate downwards to our eventual target.  But as a rule, yes, that’s about right.

The pirate goes on to tell Wired's contributing editor Scott Carney that pirates only kill their hostages as a last resort or in "self-defense," that there's friendly competition between pirate crews, and that a shadowy black market exists for pirate financing.

And as Carney learns early in the interview, there's two sides to every narrative:

Every government in the world is off our coasts. What is left for us? Nine years ago everyone in this town was stable and earn[ed] enough income from fishing. Now there is nothing. We have no way to make a living. We had to defend ourselves. We became watchmen of our coasts and took up our duty to protect the country. Don’t call us pirates. We are protectors.


♦ Photo of French and U.S. naval ships patrolling the Gulf of Aden by larryzou@/Flickr

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