Somalia, that paradise where the Government doesn’t exist…
In Somaliland, in particular, officials are eager to get more serious about combating piracy. With strong support from the European Union, the United Nations has built a brand new prison in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. The two organizations invested roughly $1.5 million in the detention center, which now holds 88 suspected and convicted pirates.
Piracy has become an expensive matter for this seafaring nation. Indeed, a recent study found that piracy off Somalia and in the Indian Ocean has cost the global community somewhere near $10 billion. It also says that average ransoms for ships grew from $150,000 to $5.4 million between 2005 and 2010, and that there have been a record 98 attacks between January and March in this year alone. There are additional costs as well: having ships out of service, the deployment of naval vessels from a number of countries, tankers and freighters needing to take long detours to avoid danger zones, holding court cases and incarcerating the pirates.
Indeed, the pirates have become heroes for many young Somalis. One of the prisoners in Hargeisa is 18-year-old Muhammed Yussuf Abdia, who was sentenced to a year in jail for attacking his father with a machete. The young man has no compunction about saying that he wants to become a pirate — the “commander of a unit,” no less — once he is released. His role model is Farah Ismail Ilie, one of the unofficial bigwigs in the Hargeisa prison.
Discussions with prisoners at Hargeisa reveal the degree to which the situation has escalated. There are often no witnesses to the encounters between naval ships, pirates and the vessels they prey upon. Jama claims to have lost three relatives himself. He says they headed out to sea to go fishing. “We never saw them again,” he says, “only the wreckage of their boat washed up on shore.” No one knows if the boat was the victim of an accident or an attack by a foreign warship. “Many never come back,” says Adam, Jama’s fellow prisoner.
Hargeisa prisoners also provide a clearer picture of how the foreign fleets operate. Naval crews from around the world prefer to take as few pirates into custody as possible. Instead, they stop the suspected pirate boats and, if the pirates haven’t already thrown them overboard themselves, they confiscate weapons, scaling ladders and GPS devices. Sometimes they destroy the outboard motors; sometimes they give the pirates food and water.