Review of 'The Pirates of Somalia'

The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur

the_pirates_of_somalia.jpg In this book, now more than 10 years old, Canadian journalist Jay Bahadur recounts living for several months with pirates in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in the northeast of Somalia. Here he befriends Boyah who originally took part in boarding of ships has retired somewhat, preferring to invest in various pirate ventures.

Somalia is a country torn apart by strife with no functioning central government, rampant corruption and little infrastructure. In this world former fisherman, frustrated by foreign fishing fleets taking their catch, take to piracy to make a living. To be fair, fishing catches have always been modest even before the foreign vessels showed up but this coupled with the lack of any real possibility of local jobs, have pushed these men into the high seas as pirates. Somalia sits on the north-east tip of Africa on the Arabian Sea just south of the Gulf of Aden so is on a major shipping lane for goods delivered to and from Africa. This is an ideal location for these pirates to capture ships as they pass by, holding their cargo and crews for negotiated ransom which is often paid by companies who wish to get their property and people back. It is seldom violence is involved as it is in the pirate's best interest to keep the vessel and people intact.

Despite the huge ransoms often paid (in the many millions of dollars) the pirates receive relatively little after the money has been split between those that boarded and held the ship, the numerous investors and running costs. What money they do receive is often spent quickly on family and, more importantly, “khat”, a narcotic plant that many chew day in and day out. Indeed, Bahadur himself takes up khat in order to better infiltrate the pirate groups.

Bahadur gives quite an even handed portrayal of Somalian piracy talking a good deal about the pirates and their motives but also examining the situation from the perspective of those that are hijacked. He explains the escalation of pirate activity in recent years and the reactions of the various shipping companies who have introduced measures such as escorts, armed guards, and altering shipping routes to attempt to evade the pirates. These efforts have effective in reducing the level of piracy but the plight of Somalia remains unchanged with desperate people seeking to make a “quick” buck (well, ransom negotiations can take months…) from the floating gold a short distance from shore.

An interesting and insightful view of what piracy in Somalia is actually about and why it occurs. It does not necessarily make you sympathise with the pirates but it does give you an understanding of why they do what they do and the difficult lives they live. Sure, it is not a “fun” read but most definitely interesting. However, I did find the book a bit repetitive, seeming to be padded out for length, but generally easy to read and not as violent as you might think. The pictures in the middle are a bit dark and hard to make out but put images to the people we meet in the book.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2022-11-13

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Publication Date: 2011

ISBN: 9781554686834