Somali Pirates turn to Capitalism
In Haradheere, the Somalian pirate lair on the Horn of Africa, gangs of pirates in the area have set up a stock market of sorts, open to both investor and criminal alike. That invested money, and sometimes invested weaponry, is used by the pirates to fund further expeditions at sea.
The pirate gangs have made millions of dollars in ransom monies, and have frequently disrupted shipping and trade in the region.The shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden to the Indian Ocean are the main route for goods traveling between Europe and Asia.
Because of the heavily armed gangs of pirates, Somalia has become the the focus of an international force of warships, intent on halting the increasing number of ransom hijackings that are taking place in the Gulf of Aden, and further out, the Indian Ocean.
The lucrative pirate business that has drawn financiers from the Somali diaspora and other nations -- and now the gangs in Haradheere have set up an exchange to manage their investments. One wealthy former pirate named Mohammed took Reuters around the facility and said it had proved to be a way for the pirates to win support from the local community for their operations, despite the dangers. "Four months ago, we decided to set up this stock exchange. We started with 15 'maritime companies' and now we are hosting 72. Ten of them have so far been successful at hijacking," Mohammed said. "The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity."
Haradheere, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Mogadishu, used to be a small fishing village. Now it is a bustling town where luxury 4x4 cars owned by the pirates and those who bankroll them create honking traffic jams along its pot-holed, dusty streets.
Somalia's Western-backed government has no influence in Haradheere -- where a senior local official said piracy paid for almost everything. "Piracy-related business has become the main profitable economic activity in our area and as locals we depend on their output," said Mohamed Adam, the town's deputy security officer. "The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and our public schools."
Abdirahman Ali was a secondary school student in Mogadishu until three months ago when his family fled the fighting there. Given the choice of moving with his parents to Lego, or joining the pirates, he opted to head for Haradheere.
Now he guards a Thai fishing boat held offshore. "First I decided to leave the country and migrate, but then I remembered my colleagues who died at sea while trying to migrate to Italy," he told Reuters. "So I chose this option, instead of dying in the desert or from mortars in Mogadishu."
Piracy investor Sahra Ibrahim, a 22-year-old divorcee, was lined up with others waiting for her cut of a ransom pay-out after one of the gangs freed a Spanish vessel. "I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation," she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony. "I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the 'company'."
Pirates claim that ransoms have risen to nearly $4 million dollars in the last few months - up from the $2-3 demanded previously. In addition to the increased risk caused by the navel ships patrolling the waters, there is an increasing number of shareholders to pay off.
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Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada