GALLERIES: SOMALIA: PIRATES, INC
Looking over that Somaliland naval map I noticed that the Gulf of Aden (the narrow band of ocean that separates Somalia and Yemen) and the Somali cost line were littered with upward of 100 little skull and cross bone flags. Black flags to denote ships that were successfully taken by pirates and gray for ships that were attacked by pirates but managed to escape.
Most of these flags are black.
Housed in the Mandhera Prison in Somaliland are 719 inmates 5 of whom are serving 15 yrs sentences handed down to them for their involvement in Somalia’s thriving pirate industry. The autonomous region of Somaliland is doing their part to combat the growing influx of pirates in the gulf and costal areas. Utilizing the small fleet of gunboats and navy personnel, they patrol their waters and on occasion escorts’ ships coming in from Yemen. Pensive and quiet the 5 men sat surrounded by prison guards and told their stories of how and why, before one by one they were ushered away and led back to their various cells shared amongst the general population of criminals in the eight block prison set miles out into the arid desert.
Somalia, in stark contrast to Somaliland, still suffers from the turmoil that has put the country on the map for many people for the last 17 yrs, when the country made a dramatic turn from relative stability to brutal civil war in 1991.
In recent months the port town of Bossaso has also made a name for itself as the kidnap capital of Africa. Previously known best for being the main hub for human smuggling for Somalis eager to flee to nearby Yemen and usually coasting them their lives. With piracy on the rise and stakes getting higher, it is rumored that the money trails leads to some top government officials in the area due to the large sums of money pirates are now demanding in return for a seized vessel.
Traveling through bossaso it is necessary and common place to hire a security details consisting of upward of 10 local militia to be at best a deterrent for anyone hoping to cash in on captured a western journalist that in the past year has proven to fetch a good price. Maneuvering through Bossaso we traveled with our rented army toward Bossaso's main jail where currently 100 captured pirates sits out their long sentences or await trial.
In Bossaso if the kidnappers wont find you the extreme heat always find a way. In an open and shadeless courtyard two facing jail blocks contains hundreds of prisoners literally caged bake in the sun. The heat so heavy against your back it is not only the hope of better pictures that tempted me to enter these filthy concrete boxes, but also escape from the looming mid day sun heavy over head.
As I Approached the iron bars of the blocks movement is heard and then and as came closer murmurs grew into rumbles and further until the deafening sounds of hundreds of inmates came crashing against me like a wave anger and despair. Stretching their arms through the bars inviting us to listen to their stories of how they were dying in this place. Of how each of them was suffering from one disease or another. Beyond the out reached hands just eyes and parts of their faces could be made out inside the lightless rooms. Figures moving in and out of the small amount of light streaming in from the between the blue painted bars.
As pirates are proud of their catch so are the guards of these jails. They know that their numbers will remain consistent as long as Pirate season persists in the Somali waters. No slow down is the trend in expected as little international help has been organized, and with numbers of active pirates in these waters continuing to grow even that help seems in some ways, futile.