Cliff May

For years, Somali pirates have been hijacking ships off the coast of Somalia. For years, the United States and what we credulously call “the international community” have not been able to figure out what to do about it. As a result, more and more vessels are being attacked over a widening expanse of ocean; violence is increasing while ransoms rise.

Jay Bahadur, a resourceful, 27-year-old Canadian journalist, found this situation irresistible. He made his way to Somalia and did what good journalists do: ask questions – mostly while sipping sweet tea and chewing khat, an intoxicating plant to which an astonishing number of Somalis are addicted. The result: “The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World.”

Among the first things Bahadur learns is not so surprising in this day and age: Somalia’s pirates don’t see themselves as pirates. Displaying admirable public relations savvy, they call themselves “saviors of the sea” or “coast guards.” They have a legitimate grievance: foreign fishing fleets depleting Somali waters and uprooting the coastal reefs with steel-pronged drag fishing nets. A pirate Bahadur refers to by the nickname Boyah says it is “up to the international community … to solve the problem of illegal fishing, the root of our troubles. We are waiting for action.”

Starting in the 1990s, Boyah was among those who began seizing foreign fishing vessels. Before long, as these sea dogs developed their skills, commercial shipping vessels became fair game as well. Soon, Somali buccaneers were preying on anything that sailed their way including, starting in 2005, World Food Programme transports attempting to deliver food aid. And, four months ago, pirates seized a small yacht that was being sailed around the world by two retired American couples who were stopping along the way to donate Bibles to far-flung churches and schools. As U.S. naval officers attempted to negotiate their release, all four Americans were murdered.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.