Will Work For Booty: What's Next For An Unemployed Pirate?


By many accounts, 'Afweyne' or 'Big Mouth' was considered the most notorious pirate in the world during his kingpin days. Mohamed Abdi Hassan now goes by his full name as he repositions himself as a reformed pirate, a businessman, and an investor.

The soft-spoken Afweyne plays down his role in piracy over the last two decades, explaining that piracy "was legitimate because there was no government, we were like orphans without a father," after the country was seized by civil war from 1991.  

The former Somali pirate responsible for hijacking tankers off the Somali coast in the 1990s and 2000s renounced piracy this year and is focusing on improving opportunities for other pirates looking to lead the straight and narrow.

"The young men need to be trained, to get skills and get integrated into society," Afweyne said to AFP's Peter Martell while presenting an official letter nominating him as "anti-piracy officer." He claims to have convinced a thousand young pirates to quit piracy and shed the socially detested label of "burcad badeed," Somali for "scum of the sea."

Some are questioning his intentions. Afweyne amassed unimaginable wealth through violent and destructive piracy and is now trying to overhaul his and Somalia's image using the same bounty. Afweyne and his son, a reportedly feared pirate chief, were responsible for the hijacking of the Sirius Star, a Saudi-owned oil supertanker that was finally released after a $3 million ransom in 2008.

Another several million dollar ransom was paid out in 2008 for the Ukranian transport ship MV Faina, which was hijacked by Afweyne's men for 134 days. Afweyne also admits to being responsible for a string of attacks against ships carrying food aid to Somalia.

The World Bank calculates $315-385 million was paid out in ransoms to Somali pirates just from 2005 alone. Globally, piracy costs the world economy $18 billion annually.

The damage to Somalia's image because of piracy is also devastating the country. Somalia's spineless government, held in place by a 17,000-member African Union force, has no influence or authority in the autonomous and lawless areas of the northern coast of the country where pirates thrive. 

Five boats and 77 hostages are currently held by the pirates, who are also turning to land-based robbery and kidnapping as naval piracy gets curbed.

In this context Afweyne defends his mission by explaining that the major thrust of reform can only come by providing training and support to allow pirates to revamp their lives: "We need financial support to allow (ex-pirates) to have alternate careers ... to be fishermen or farmers or traders, whatever they choose."

Regardless of his motives and seedy wealth, Afweyne's influence is unquestionable. His clout as a former pirate and his access to government officials due to his wealth provides him with a unique perch to oversee rehabilitation of Somalia and its pirates.

Somalia's then-president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed issued Afweyne with a passport in 2012 to incentivize Afweyne to dismantle his personal pirate network, which seemingly led to his stepping down as a kingpin in January 2013.

The Somalian government and Afweyne have a gravely important task ahead of them as they continue to reform their country. As one former pirate captain warned, "There are hundreds of young men wanting a future ... and a young hungry man can do anything."