Some books you shouldn’t read while traveling. Avoid Alive if you plan to fly a lot (especially if, like me, you are packing a few extra pounds on your derriere) or The Beach if you are planning on hiking in Asia. And if you are planning on spending a lot of time on slow moving ferries, I would recommend leaving reading Deadly Waters by Jay Bahadur until you get safely back on land.
I got my hands on an advance copy of Deadly Waters, which explores the modern reality of piracy in Somalia. If, like me, your brain instantly goes to Captain Jack Sparrow amusingly asking where all the rum has gone when someone mentions pirates, you’ll find the reality very different. As of 11 December 2010, Somali pirates are holding at least 35 ships with more than 650 hostages. Pirate income was estimated to be about $238 million in 2010 and the indirect costs of piracy are much higher ($7 to 12 billion) as they also include insurance, naval support, legal proceedings, re-routing of slower ships, and individual protective steps taken by ship-owners.
International organizations, including the International Maritime Organization and the World Food Programme, have expressed concern over recent rises in piracy, which increases shipping costs and often impedes the delivery of food aid shipments. While the pirates usually go for large cargo shipping vessels, being a tourist is no guarantee of protection – in February of this year four Americans were killed aboard their yacht by their captors and a Danish family was captured by pirates. It’s very easy to see why pirates are feared and to see everyone not on your vessel as unequivocally the bad guys.
But in their home country, pirates are seen by some as heroes, protesting the illegal fishing that has decimated Somalia’s coastline for local fishermen and the alleged dumping of toxic waste in their waters. Some pirates refer to themselves as badaadinta badah, or “saviours of the sea”, or in the English “coastguard”. Others see piracy as a career choice – a chance to make good money and enjoy the best that life can offer – and are willing to dice with death and imprisonment in the hope of a big break. Still others see piracy as a viable investment offering high returns if it succeeds and caring nothing that the pirates, young men desperate to earn cash, often run out of food and fuel and die in their small skiffs in the Indian Ocean.
This complexity is the more confusing as there is little indepth coverage of piracy – just sensationalistic coverage when an attempt to hijack a vessel goes right – or very, very wrong. Bahadur travels to Puntland in northeastern Somalia to interview and hopefully gain the trust of the pirates, to find out about their lives; how they spend their money, how they do business and why they are willing – and indeed eager – to risk their lives in often suicidal missions. It’s a fascinating and occasionally uncomfortable look at the reality of an industry and some areas so destitute that killing and dying at sea are acceptable career risks.
Bahadur breaks down the odds of getting attacked by pirates (about 1 in 550 in the Gulf of Aden), as well as what makes you makes you a good target (slow moving vessels with low decks are particularly easy to commandeer), as well as talking through defense strategies both for the vessels and the governments and maritime agencies involved. It’s interesting reading and something I would highly recommend – to anyone who isn’t planning on spending time sitting on a ferry. As it was, I burnt through far too much of my vacation time glaring suspiciously at the local kids who were fishing from their tinnies.
And as a side note, if you have a yearning for free and review copies like this copy of Deadly Waters by Jay Bahadur, have you considered signing up to the Boomerang Critics’ Club? It’s free and easy – you have nothing to lose but hours curled up in a comfy chair with a free new book.