Piracy or taxation?

In a short but fascinating interview with the Guardian, a Somali pirate explains how he began his career:

I started to hijack these fishing boats in 1998. I did not have any special training but was not afraid. For our first captured ship we got $300,000.

Now you and I might go and splurge such a windfall on wine, women and song, but not this guy. In an impressively entrepreneurial display of business planning, he went out and bought AK-47s and small speedboats. Since then, he has captured a further 60 ships. He continues:

We give priority to ships from Europe because we get bigger ransoms. To get their attention we shoot near the ship. If it does not stop we use a rope ladder to get on board…After checking the cargo we ask the captain to phone the owner and say that we have seized the ship and will keep it until the ransom is paid. When the money is delivered to our ship we count the dollars and let the hostages go.

The 42-year old father of nine goes on to mount an interesting justification for his actions. He started off as a humble fisherman, he says, but was pushed into piracy by greedy foreign competitors:

At sea foreign fishing vessels often confronted us. Some had no licence, others had permission from the Puntland authorities but did not want us there to compete. They would destroy our boats and force us to flee for our lives.

He and his fellow buccaneers consider themselves “heroes running away from poverty.” What’s more, in a country with no government to police the seas (and a world where Egypt makes nearly $5 billion a year from policing the Suez Canal), “taxing” foreign vessels is only fair:

We don’t see the hijacking as a criminal act but as a road tax because we have no central government to control our sea. We will not stop until we have a central government that can control our sea.

H/T Chris Blattman.