Somali pirates benefit from a global network of informers

Published 12 December 2008

During the past fifteen years many Somalis have left the country in search of work; many found jobs in major European and Middle eastern ports; some of them now serve as eyes and ears for the pirates back home, providing information about ships’ cargo, routes, and security on board

These are not your grandfather’s pirates. We have written about the impressive technical capabilities modern-day pirates bring to their craft (see 18 November 2008 HS Daily Wire), but these pirates have more than sophisticated technology going for them. Just as China is using the large Chinese expatriate community as a pool from which to recruit spies (see 19 November 2008 HS Daily Wire), the Somali pirates use members of the large Somali expatriate community as a source for information to make piracy more profitable.

Somali Pirates own and operate a world-wide information gathering network, putting emphasis on searching for illegal cargo, such as the thirty-three tanks being carried on board the MV Faina, hijacked a couple of months ago. “With 200,000 expat Somalians living in Canada alone, the huge Somali world-wide dispersion has jumped on the piracy piracy business, just as they would any other large business enterprise. You simply buy shares as in any syndicate,” says Michael Weinstein, a Somalia expert at Purdue University in Indiana. “You get a cut of the ransom when you buy in.”

PR Inside reports that Eyl, Somalia, has become the new world piracy capital, though it is but a run down, outback, fishing village. Scores of hijacked ships are docked in the water off Eyl, and the village receives a small percent of the ransom money being paid by shipping companies. “We have translators and agents who act as our negotiators in many places in the world,” Suleyman, one of the pirates said (insisting on using only his first name). Many are Somali expatriates.

Many Somalis who work in the ports of Naples, Piraeus, Mombasa, and Rotterdam, and many who working in shipping and marine insurance firms in East African, the Gulf, and European ports, are engaged in spying for the pirates. PR Inside writes that information is gathered from wherever merchant vessels dock, which are headed for the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. The pirates are kept informed of the number of security guards and weapons that are inboard a particular vessel, as well as the cargo.

Piracy is almost the only source of income for many Somalians. Pirate leaders use their proxies to negotiate the ransom and terms for releasing hijacked vessels, rather than exposing themselves and their location. These front men also purchase the latest in navigation equipment, communications gear, speed boats, GPS, food, fuel, or any other supplies the pirate community requires.

We should note that since Somalia has disintegrated and is no longer a state in any meaningful sense of the word, some old Somali traditions have been revived. For example, the banking system in Somalia has collapsed and no longer functions. As a result, only cash and what locals call “hawala” — an informal transfer network — are used. The hawala system operates this way: On operator A accepts money at one end, then instructs operator B — a relative, friend, or another agent — to hand the same amount to someone else. This is a traditional Somali way of doing business — completely paperless and based on trust and oral agreements.