EXCLUSIVE: Interview with a bloke on a satphone

The accent may have been thick and the line crackly as the words travelled through the ether but there was no doubting the sinister timbre of the universal pirate battle cry.

“ARRRRRRRGGGGH,” said a man called Red Beard – his nickname apparently coming from the traditional use of henna to colour his facial hair – who claimed to be standing in the brigands’ den of Hobyo along the Somali coast, but frankly could have been anywhere.

“We are simply claiming what is ours,” he said. “For too long the international trawlers have plundered our seas, stealing our fish, and now we are have turned to a different way of life.”

His English was surprisingly good for an illiterate former fisherman-turned modern day Jack Sparrow. It was so clear that his every word was audible above the beeping of rush-hour traffic and a newspaper hawker in the background.

“I went to set one thing straight,” he continued. “This morning my copy of the Daily Nation said that we are nothing but common criminals. This is not true. In a country where criminality is commonplace, we are exceptional criminals. We are very good indeed.”

He explained that his copy of the Daily Nation was airdropped on to the beach each morning.

“And what’s more,” said the 25-year-old pirate, “I am definitely a pirate. Of that there can be no doubt. In Somalia. You called me here did you not? Aha.

“I can prove all this. From here, I can see only the sea and some boats – hijacked boats.”

He is one of a small band of seaborne gunmen who have brought world shipping to a standstill. Armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades they are earning millions of dollars from ransom.

“Oh yes,” he said, “the money is excellent. Very good indeed. Some days I can write an exclusive dispatch for the wires and rehash it into an in-depth feature interview for an American newspaper. But that’s only if I can pretend to be three different pirates. Sometimes I can only manage one. It’s exhausting. There are only so many combinations of Yussuf, Sharif and Ahmed you can use before you accidentally implicate a president.”

It had taken literally minutes of work to make contact with Mr Beard. A trusted Somali fixer provided the satphone number for $200 and I dialled it. It was engaged, twice, before I managed to get through.

The scoop was over almost as soon as it had begun.  Security forces were closing in, explained my source.

“I’ve got to move my car before the 30 minutes free parking is up,” he added. With that he was gone, no doubt back to sea and his life of plunder.

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