Piracy REPORT:Piracy
The Real Costs Of Piracy On Locals
Pirates Bring Prostitution, Drugs, Price Increases, Harassment To Locals
By YAHYA MOHAMED 03/27/2011
Piracy has contributed to an increase in shipping costs and impeded the delivery of food aid shipments. The insurance industry has also been hit hard by the activities of the Somali sea gangs operating mainly in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. The big nations are spending billions of dollars to guard the Somali coastline and providing security to their ships and as well paying ransom for their hijacked ships and nationals.

But the big question remains how did piracy affect the local population in the areas where they operate in the Somali coast line?

Although it is the general perception that Somali pirates have boosted the economy of the areas where they operate, by buying nice cars and building beautiful houses, the gangs have caused more problems to the locals.

Fishing

Somali fishermen are the most affected by the activities of Somali pirates. Most of them have either given up the job or joined the pirate groups to make ends meet. Those who try to continue the ancient trade face many challenges including the warships in the sea which sometimes attack and destroy their boats and other fishing equipment assuming that they are pirates waiting to launch an attack on commercial vessels.

Ali Jama is a 51 year old former fisherman from Bosaso district of the Eastern region, who now lives in Al-kharaz refugee camp in Yemen. Jama quit the trade two years ago when he realized that fishing was no longer an economic activity but a risky trade in the most dangerous sea of the world.

"My father taught me fishing when I was nine years old. I was in the business for more than four decades but I had to quit it because my boat which I inherited from my father was forcefully taken away by a group of pirates," Jama told Somalia Report.

Jama doubts whether there are young people who are now willing to learn how to fish. The children even adore the pirates. They regard them as brave and rich men.

Increasing Immoral Behavior

Somali pirates have introduced immoral behavior to the society as well as smuggled drugs and more illegal arms. The pirates import alcohol and hard drugs such as cocaine. They consume it while walking around the streets or sometimes in their big cars.

"It was very abnormal among the Somali community for one to drink alcohol openly. Now it has become so common that even the livestock herders in the reserves drink it like water," Saleban Hirsi, a clan elder in Garowe, tells Somali Report.

Prostitution has also increased as more pirate money came in. Young girls have migrated even from the major urban centers such as Garowe and Bosaso to follow pirate gangs in their main bases such as Hobyo and Eyl.

Halima* claims that she quit providing sex and striping services to pirates after her parents threatened that they will curse her if she doesn’t quit the trade. "My father threatened that he will pray to GOD that I die as soon as possible for him to avoid shame. I was touched when my mother said she could not sleep at night," Halima said.

Halima owned a kiosk where she was selling Khat, tea and other soft drinks in Garowe. Things turned around when one of her customers who was a pirate introduced to her the idea of striping for him. "He promised me $100 just for a ten minute service. I could not believe it. I never did it but just because I was curious if he could give that money I did it," said Halima. For Halima the act later became a source of income.

Increasing Insecurity

Somali pirates have purchased powerful weapons. Although the weapons are mainly used for attacking commercial ships in the sea, the same weapons are also used to terrorize the local citizens and are also giving headache to local authorities and security officials.

The pirate groups are acting like they are above the law. "No one can even dare arrest them. They will get what ever they want by force," Muse Salah, a local youth in Bosaso tells Somalia Report.

Puntland’s security officials recently launched a rescue mission to save members of a Danish family who have been kidnapped by Somali pirates. The pirates overpowered the officials and killed three of them because the gangs are armed better than the security forces.

Increasing Prices

Over the years, the groups have also caused the price of essential commodities to go up. Normal service for the common civilian such as hiring a cab and spending in hotels have become reserved services for the pirate gangs.

"Even professionals and elites who make some good amount of money can not afford some of the local services offered by taxi and hotel operators," Salat Ali, a social worker in Galkayo complains.

Ali is also worried that this illegal activity will not end soon. "It started five years ago from a simple idea of fishermen guarding the Somali coastline and it took time to reach at this point. Now it will take the world some more years to stop Somali pirates," adds Ali.

Bad Reputation

As if things couldn't get worse for Somalia, piracy has also given the country an even worse imagine throughout the world. In some countries, Somali nationals in the Diaspora are abused and sometimes referred to as ‘pirates’ because the act is more associated to their fellow countrymen.

Ahmed Maalim is a student who studies medicine in Russia. Although he is a Kenyan-Somali, locals in Russia sometimes call him ‘Pirate’ as he walks in the streets. "Abusing people of other origin and racism is almost common in Russia. But the fact I am a Somali makes me more worried as I walk around. I expect people to insult me," said Maalim.

In Yemen, the act is said to have worsened the already fragile relationship between Somalis and Yeminis. Somali pirates have hijacked several Yemen owned fishing boats to use them as mother boats.

"Even before they use to see us people who are burden to them. Now we can’t even get some labor works that we make a living from. They tell us we can’t employ someone whose brother is hijacking their boats," Salim Ahmed a Somali refugee in Yemen told Somalia Report. The sea gangs are now using some of the vessels they previously hijacked as mother ships to launch attacks from. The bigger vessels enabled them to spread their hunting ground and as well stay longer periods in the sea.

The scourge of piracy shows no signs of slowing down, despite international efforts to eliminate them from the seas. Fighting them from land might be the only real option, forcing them from the local communities and letting the locals get their lives back.

*Some names have been changed for security reasons.