In 2008, young Canadian graduate Jay Bahadur was working a market research job, aching to become a journalist, when – according to his Wikipedia page – he received some telling advice from experienced journalists. He was told to skip journalism school and to work instead as a freelancer in “crazy places”. The advice might well have been unconventional but, as fortune does tend to favour the brave, Bahadur ended up being the right person in the right place at the right time. He spent months in Somalia, principally in Puntland, an autonomous area of northeastern Somalia with a population of four million, more than half of whom are nomadic. Puntland is at the centre of Somali piracy, which in recent years has grown to represent a threat to one of the world’s major international shipping routes.
Somalia is by almost unanimous international reckoning a failed state. For two decades, Somalia has had no central government. Indeed, the country (a country in name only, split at least 11 different ways) has topped the Failed States Index for the last two years running.
Now based back in Canada and running a citizen-journalism website, Journalist Nation, Bahadur has since gone on to publish, at the ripe old age of 27, a groundbreaking book on one of the world’s craziest businesses in one of the world’s craziest places. The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World documents a deeply misunderstood criminal subculture in one of the world’s most dangerous countries.
In Bahadur’s book, many Somali pirates – there’s an estimated 1000 of them, split into five gangs – are revealed to be ex-fishermen. Their living was decimated by international shipping vessels illegally dumping toxic waste into Somali waters or exploiting Somalia’s lack of a navy to fish Somalian fishing grounds to the point of exhaustion. Instead, they’ve discovered a far more lucrative trade: hijacking container ships and oil and chemical tankers, sometimes hundreds of miles from the Somali coast, for ransoms of several millions of dollars – leading to a spike in the cost of conducting international trade and a massive international military response. Here’s a report on Somali piracy by Bahadur, published in The Guardian.
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