It is estimated that at least 60 merchant seamen have died as a result of their captivity in the hands of the pirates and many more have suffered torture and abuse.

Profile: Many pirates are 20/35 years old and come from the region of Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia. It is estimated that there are at least five pirate gangs and a total of 1,000 armed men. The pirates can be divided into three main categories:

Local Somali fishermen, considered the brains of the pirates’ operations due to their skill and knowledge of the sea.

Ex-militiamen, who previously fought for the local clan warlords, or ex-military from the former Barre government used as the muscle.

Technical experts, who operate equipment such as GPS devices.

Purpose: The purpose of piracy is to get ransom money for release of the crew, ship and cargo. However, the indirect costs of piracy are estimated to be between $7 to $12 billion due to insurance, naval support, legal proceedings, re-routing of slower ships, and individual protective steps taken by ship-owners. Pirates say ransom money is paid in large denomination US dollar bills. It is delivered to them in burlap sacks which are either dropped from helicopters or cased in waterproof suitcases loaded onto tiny skiffs. Ransom money has also been delivered to pirates via parachute, as happened in January 2009 when an orange container with $3 million cash inside was dropped onto the deck of the super tanker MV Sirius Star to secure the release of ship and crew.

Attack: Most attacks occur during the day, often in the early hours. They may involve two or more skiffs which can reach speeds of up to 25 knots. With the help of motherships that include captured fishing and merchant vessels the operating range of the skiffs has been increased far into the Indian Ocean. An attacked vessel is approached from quarter or stern; RPGs and small arms are used to intimidate the operator to slow down and allow boarding. Light ladders are brought along to climb aboard. Pirates then will try and get control of the bridge to take operational control of the vessel.

The crew of the merchant vessel MV Faina overlooked by Somalia pirates. The cargo ship was seized and forced to proceed to anchorage off the Somali Coast. The ship was carrying a cargo of Ukrainian T-72 tanks and related military equipment.

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