Somali pirates: ‘We wish to congratulate you on being hijacked …’
“Welcome to the Pirate Action Group. Pirate commander Jamal wishes to congratulate you on being hijacked. Kindly speak to his negotiator about your ransom, bearing in mind that his demands are similar for every vessel he seizes.”
This is not an absurd joke –this is how the pirates of the African coast do business, and it’s a serious matter for the companies that have to pay out.
In 2011, Somali piracy cost the world economy $7 billion and earned the pirates some $160 million in ransoms, according to a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
The maritime bureau reported 69 hijacking incidents by Somali pirates between 1 January and 12 July, down 32 per cent from last year.
Rogues though they may be, these pirates in many cases are well-organised, down to having packets of paperwork – on letterhead – for their victims. A newly obtained copy of one such packet, presented to the owner of a hijacked oil tanker and the owner’s insurer, reveals the extent of the pirates’ organisation. Due to the commercial sensitivities, the names of the insurer and ship owner were redacted from the document, as was the ransom request.
But what remains is colourful enough. The cover sheet, in memo format, is addressed: “To Whom It May Concern”, with the subject line “Congratulations to the Company/Owner.”
“Having seen when my Pirate Action Group (PAG) had controlled over your valuable vessel we are saying to you Company/Owner welcome to Jamal’s Pirate Action Group (JPAG) and you have to follow by our law to return back your vessel and crew safely,” the memo begins.
Its tone belies the violent reality of the pirate’s actions. As of early August, armed Somali pirates hold more than 170 hostages, according to the IMB, and were responsible for 35 deaths in 2011 alone.
“Do not imagine that we are making to you intimidation,” the memo says, before signing off with “Best regards” and the signature of Jamal Faahiye Culusow, general commander of the group. Lest there be any doubt about who Jamal is or what he does, his signature is accompanied by his company seal, depicting a skull and crossed swords.
Jamal gave the ship owners a breakdown of the value of their tanker, the oil it contained and also the worth of the crew (at least in his opinion), presenting a final demand figure.
One expert in ransom negotiation situations said it was little surprise that Jamal and his colleagues were so well organised.
“They want to get the money. If they present themselves and behave as someone who will live up to their commitment, we are much more likely to go ahead and pay the ransom,” said Derek Baldwin, director of worldwide operations for IBIS International.
The hostage-taking in this case ended peacefully, though the source declined to say whether a ranson was paid.
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