Among the prospective life paths I envisioned as a child, becoming a pirate ranked right up there with Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Batman. What could be cooler than climbing aboard a ship with a bunch of one eyed, ragtag, parrot wearing sailors and setting sail in search of plunder and adventure in the unknowns of the high sea? Not much I would say, and many of your childhood psyches would probably agree with me.
While I knew that my romanticized childhood notions of pirates and real modern day pirates were probably a little divergent, I didn’t care. So, when I arrived in Eilat, Israel, at the northern tip of the pirate infested waters of the Red Sea, all I could think about was finding some kind of pirate classifieds advert and ringing them up. Having obviously not found any listing, I walked down to the harbor to see if I could catch a ride heading south to meet up with some Somali pirates.
There, I spotted a large sailing yacht whose crew looked as though they were making final preparations for departure. I approached the South African captain and feebly asked, “Is there any chance I can come along? I will work in exchange for passage.” He paused a moment, looked me over, and then responded in a thick accent, “You look about 16 brew” (South African for mate). “Yes I am,” I said, a bit surprised at his age guessing ability. “Well, this trip is going to be dangerous brew. Lots of pirates where we’re heading.” “Score” I thought to myself as my face lit up with a grin.
Whether he was perturbed by my naivety in wanting to join a pirate gang or whether he couldn’t be bothered with another responsibility, to my disappointment, he decided not to take me. So while I never got a chance to sail south and meet up with some pirates, I did manage to get work on a 20 meter charter boat. And during my month working on this boat, which resembled a slave trader, I conceived how it would be possible for one to become a modern day pirate.
Disclaimer: The following is a theoretical guide to becoming a Somali pirate. It is not recommended that you attempt this.
In order to join a Somali pirate crew, I realized that one would need to undergo some serious preparation.
First, one would need to hone their boating skills and learn how to sail, fish, tie knots and drive a small tender (motor) boat. No pirate captain is going to take on a recruit who isn’t a reliable seaman.
Second, one would need to know a basic level of Arabic, enough to communicate to the pirates two things. The first being, “I want to become a pirate and I speak English well.” This way the pirates might view you as a valuable negotiator during the ransom call. The second being, “I am from Albania.” God knows I love Albanians and Albania but you Albanians out there know that if you are ever kidnapped by Somali pirates, ain’t nobody gonna pay ransom.
Finally, in order to maximize your chances of being accepted into the crew, you would need to be thoroughly acquainted with Somali culture and customs. Some of these customs include, leaving leftovers on your plate to inform the host that you are full, shaking hands and saying aasalam alaikum when greeting members of the same sex, and not pointing with your foot or index finger at another person. Being well versed in the call to prayer would also impress your captors. Finally, it would also be advantageous to wear a proper Somali style attire, which you may be able to find before hand in Sudan.
After you become well prepared, you will need to find a way to get to Somalia and find the pirate hideout. The first way one could do this is by sailing through the Mandab strait in a fancy boat with the hopes of being attacked. When you are taken hostage, desperately try and communicate to them that you are interested in any vacant pirate positions. You need to really sell yourself now and this is where your Arabic will come in handy.
Another way to locate the pirates would be to head down through Egypt and Sudan, and into Somalia by land. This will also be difficult and almost equally as dangerous. Since 1991 Somalia has been without a working central government. In the result, local leaders wielding armed militias, such as Al Shabaab, control much of Somalia. If you manage to infiltrate without being suspected as a westerner and somehow find the pirates, you will really need to implement all the things you have learned and make it known that you are serious about employment as a pirate.
Once you are accepted as a Somali pirate, brace yourself for an experience quite different from that of your imagination. Instead of swords and pistols, modern day pirates wield grenade launchers, and automatic rifles. Instead of a grand sailing ship, you will most likely be stationed on a small dilapidated motor boat. However, despite a few superficial changes, the modern day Somali pirate’s pursuit isn’t all that different from the one our culture has come to romanticize.
Regardless of how you feel about Somali pirates, it is vital that the international community do more to ameliorate piracy off the coast of Somalia. There are two potential courses of action, neither of which include increasing an international naval presence. The first might be to add a supplementary pirate tax to cargo ships as they enter and exit the Suez Canal. This money could then be allocated to the fisherman and also towards the formation of a government. The second option would be for the UN to mandate an internationally led military operation for the purpose of establishing an effective government and coast guard. While this would require a long term commitment and substantial funding, it would be tackling the problem of piracy at its core.
Unfortunately, since the failure of the UN mandated US led operation, “Restore Hope,” it doesn’t seem likely that any substantial endeavors will occur in the future. Fortunately for all you pirate wannabes, this means that you will have the chance to become a Somali pirate for many years to come.
Good luck and safe travels,