Ransom payout sparks boom in Somali pirate lair

A four-million dollar ransom payout for a Spanish trawler is already having a spin-off effect on the piracy-driven local economy of coastal northern Somalia, locals said on Wednesday.

Pirates released the tuna trawler Alakrana and its 36 crew on Tuesday, six weeks after hijacking the vessel in the Indian Ocean.

Gunmen hired to protect the pirates as they came ashore with their booty fired into the air as celebrations ran late into the night.

“If people had had fireworks they would have let them off,” said Hirsi Ahmed, a member of a pirate gang.

By morning, car dealers in the latter-day pirate lair of Harardhere had lined up luxury jeeps to tempt the newly-rich bandits, and local businessmen who fund the pirates during lean times were hoping to double the returns on their loans.

Residents said the price of khat, a mild narcotic leaf, went up on Tuesday as news of the ransom payment spread among traders in the coastal village 300km north of the capital Mogadishu.

“The boys did a good job in cashing in on the Spanish fishing vessel,” Ahmed Sheikh Mohamud, a pirate leader said.

“Spain is one of the worst countries when it comes to stealing Somali marine resources,” he said, echoing an official view that piracy is the result of foreign fishing fleets cleaning out local stocks and leaving fishermen with no option but to trawl the shipping lanes for ransoms.

“I am proud of them because even if they worked hard for centuries they wouldn’t get that money,” he added.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced on Tuesday the boat was free and its crew safe, but did not confirm if ransom was paid, only saying that the “government did what it had to do.”

The vessel was expected in the Seychelles either late on Wednesday or early Thursday.

A Harardhere cafe owner who spoke on condition of anonymity said she expected to double her money when she calls in her loan to the pirates.

“Two of the pirates took $1 700 and they said they will give me 4 000 on Friday to boost my work. They are generous and deserve my admiration,” she said.

Twenty-two year-old Mohamed Dahir Abdullahi said he is in training to join the bandit gangs who have wreaked havoc on shipping plying one of the world’s busiest maritime trade routes.

“I learned how to swim and to fire guns and I am a candidate for that job,” he said.

However, dividing up the ransom can be complicated by the competing interests of dozens of pirates, businessmen and middlemen buy who buy “shares” in a hijacking, as well as by clan rivalries.

“The pirates mostly organise themselves on a clan basis. Sharing the ransom can be difficult or reaching agreements on how to release hostages after payment,” said a pirate who declined to be named.

Efforts by religious leaders and elders to have the pirates free the Alakrana and its crew unconditionally were fruitless, drawing criticism from gang members.

“Some elders and religious personalities were misleading the boys and urged them to release the hostages,” said Harardhere gang member Abdi Adullahi Omar.

“Who was going to pay them millions if they don’t keep the hostages and their fishing vessel? The elders are crazy.
The ones who are defending Somalia’s waters are right,” he said, referring to the pirates.

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