The Indian Ocean bubble

Somalia’s piracy is not just good news for the pirates themselves. Whole industries are springing up or expanding to take advantage of the bonanza.

In the town of Eyl, the pirates’ main base, where hundreds of foreign hostages are being held, new restaurants have opened to serve non-Somali food to the captives. Money changers, property developers and Land Rover dealers are doing a roaring trade as the pirates seek to invest their cash. And firms elsewhere in Africa and in the Middle East have spotted an opportunity for a quick buck by helping out with the payment system. Pirates want hard cash, not bank transfers, because getting the money from banks is slow and well-connected warlords can plunder it. So the ransoms have to be taken directly to the ships. This, however, increases the cost and the danger. As a security expert interviewed by the Sunday Times explains: “There have been attacks by other pirates on the way in [to deliver the ransom].” Air drop, he says, is safer, and “there are firms doing it out of Dubai and Mombasa.”

Smaller businesses are thriving too. Selling $3 cups of tea on credit to pirates before they brave the high seas is making life a little easier for a young mother in Eyl. Her clients pay her when they receive the ransoms. “If it wasn’t for them,” she told a Reuters reporter, “I wouldn’t be able to make a living.”