Sugule Ali, the spokesman for the Somali pirates holding hostage the Faina, a Ukrainian freighter loaded with weapons, spoke to me by satellite telephone today from the bridge of the seized ship. In the holds of the Faina, which the pirates seized on Thursday, are 33 Russian-built battle tanks and crates of grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns, ammunition and other explosives. American officials fear that the weapons could fall into the hands of radical Islamist insurgents who are battling Somalia’s weak government. My questions were translated into Somali, and Mr. Ali’s responses into English, by a translator employed by The New York Times.
Q. Tell us how you discovered the weapons on board.
A. As soon as we get on a ship, we normally do what is called a control. We search everything. That’s how we found the weapons. Tanks, anti-aircraft, artillery. That’s all we will say right now.
Q. Were you surprised?
A. No, we weren’t surprised. We know everything goes through the sea. We see people who dump waste in our waters. We see people who illegally fish in our waters. We see people doing all sorts of things in our waters.
Q. Are you going to sell the weapons to insurgents?
A. No. We don’t want these weapons to go to anyone in Somalia. Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons. We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money.
Q. How much?
A. $20 million, in cash. We don’t use any other system than cash.
Q. Will you negotiate?
A. That’s deal making. Common sense says human beings can make deals.
Q. Right now, the American Navy has you surrounded. Are you scared?
A. No, we’re not scared. We are prepared. We are not afraid because we know you only die once.
Q. Will you kill the hostages if attacked?
A. Killing is not in our plans. We don’t want to do anything more than the hijacking.
Q. What will you do with the money?
A. We will protect ourselves from hunger.
Q. That’s a lot of money to protect yourselves from hunger.
A. Yes, because we have a lot of men and it will be divided amongst all of us.
Q. What if you were told you could leave peacefully, without arrest, though without any ransom money. Would you do it?
A. [With a laugh] We’re not afraid of arrest or death or any of these things. For us, hunger is our enemy.
Q. Have the pirates been misunderstood?
A. We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits [”sea bandit” is one way Somalis translate the English word pirate]. We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.
Q. Why did you want to become a pirate?
A. We are patrolling our seas. This is a normal thing for people to do in their regions.
Q. Isn’t what you are doing a crime? Holding people at gunpoint?
A. If you hold hostage innocent people, that’s a crime. If you hold hostage people who are doing illegal activities, like waste dumping or fishing, that is not a crime.
Q. What has this Ukrainian ship done that was a crime?
A. To go through our waters carrying all these weapons without permission.
Q. What is the name of your group? How many ships have you hijacked before?
A. I won’t say how many ships we have hijacked. I won’t talk about that. Our name is the Central Region Coast Guard.
Also see Pirate utopia:
Pirate utopias were described by essayist Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey) in his 1995 book Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes, and in his earlier essay Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ), as secret islands once used for supply purposes by pirates that were early forms of autonomous “mini societies” existing beyond the realm and reach of governments. These pirate enclaves typify proto-anarchist societies in that they operated beyond laws and governments and, in their stead, embraced freedom. The city of Eyl, a town in the northern Puntland region of Somalia is a present day pirate haven.