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Episode
78

Modern Day Pirates

First published on
August 7, 2020
Weird World
-
18
minutes
Pirates
Africa
Corruption
Crime
Economics

The pirates of the 21st century don't have parrots and swords, but night-vision goggles and AK47s.

Discover why pirates have re-emerged, how they work, and what the effect of piracy is on the areas in which they operate.

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello, hello and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about pirates. 

[00:00:28] But not the old kind with swords, earrings and parrots. 

[00:00:32] We are going to be talking about modern pirates, the kind with speedboats, machine guns and night-vision goggles

[00:00:41] We’ll be talking about where they come from, why pirates have suddenly re-emerged after piracy not really being a problem for 200 years or so, and we’ll find out what pirates are doing in 2020.

[00:00:56] Before we get right into that though, let me just remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus subtitles, transcripts, and key vocabulary, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:11] This is also where you can check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:27] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:36] OK then, let’s get started, and get right into the fascinating topic of modern day pirates.

[00:01:45] Now, piracy, of course, has been around for thousands of years, in different shapes and forms.

[00:01:53] For almost as long as there have been boats, there have been pirates, and there is evidence of pirates going back to the 14th century BC, almost three and a half thousand years ago.

[00:02:07] Nowadays, the term piracy can be used for a whole variety of things - pirate radio, pirate CDs, pirate video games, pirate music, and so on. 

[00:02:19] But the subject of today’s episode is the more ‘traditional’ type of piracy, of groups of people attacking other ships in order to steal their treasure.

[00:02:30] And we’ll find out that although the pirates of the 21st century are ‘traditional’ in that their overall aim is similar to that of famous pirates like Redbeard or Blackbeard, their reasons for turning to piracy and their methods are quite different.

[00:02:50] Now, you may well have heard about modern piracy, about where it takes place, and how these pirates typically operate.

[00:02:59] The world hotspot for piracy in the 21st century, and where the majority of pirate attacks have taken place over the past 20 years or so, is off the coast of Somalia, to the east of the horn of Africa.

[00:03:16] What you might not know though is the reasons for this, and they are threefold, there are three of them.

[00:03:24] Firstly, the Somali government collapsed in 1991, and the country was plunged into disarray. The navy was disbanded, and there was practically no rule of law. This, of course, is in the potential pirate’s advantage.

[00:03:45] As a result of this, and secondly, the waters off the coast of Somalia began to be heavily fished by foreign boats. Now, they weren’t actually allowed to do this, they were trespassing into Somali waters, and they didn’t have the right to fish there, but as there was nobody to stop them, they continued. What had previously been a very fertile area for fishing quickly became overfished, and the local fishermen found that there weren’t nearly as many fish left for them.

[00:04:21] And finally, as there was no Somali navy, and effectively no police to control anything that went on, foreign ships began to dump toxic waste in the water off Somalia. They would bring rubbish from Europe, and just throw it overboard, or on the coast of Somalia, which by the way is the longest coastline in the whole of Africa.

[00:04:49] It’s said that Italian companies with links to the mafia would take rubbish from Europe, then strike deals with Somali warlords to dump huge amounts of waste either in the sea, or on the Somali beaches. Some of this was highly toxic, and it’s thought that it also included nuclear waste.

[00:05:12] This led to people getting respiratory infections, mouth ulcers, skin infections, and all sorts of nasty things.

[00:05:22] This was exacerbated, it was made worse, after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. While India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand were the worst hit, the tsunami also did some serious damage to Somalia. And how this is relevant to our story is that it stirred up a lot of this toxic waste that had been sitting at the bottom of the ocean, and it ended up polluting even more of the coastline.

[00:05:55] So, we have these three core factors going on. The lack of the rule of law, the overfishing, and the illegal waste dumping.

[00:06:07] Combined with this, Somalia was, and still is, an incredibly poor country. GDP per capita was $187 in 2010, which is 1% of the world’s average.

[00:06:23] You could say, it was ripe for piracy.

[00:06:27] However, you might be wondering, what does the overfishing and the rubbish have to do with it?

[00:06:35] Well, the overfishing led to people struggling even more to make a living. The sea had been plentiful, but after the arrival of these foreign boats, mainly from Iran and Yemen, there were a lot fewer fish to go around.

[00:06:53] And the dumping of the toxic waste, of course, had an impact on the marine system, and wasn’t good for the fish stocks. There were fewer fish in the ocean anyway because there were more people trying to catch them and there was toxic, even nuclear, waste that had been dumped there illegally, so this was killing what fish there were left.

[00:07:17] So, what happened next?

[00:07:20] Small, Somali fishing communities decided to take matters into their own hands. There was no navy or police to defend their seas, so they had to act for themselves.

[00:07:33] They armed themselves, and went out into the ocean to scare these fishing boats away. This was their sea, their ocean, the foreign boats didn’t have the right to be there, and they were prepared to defend their territory.  

[00:07:51] Occasionally, when a fishing boat got too close, the Somali fishermen would get on board the boats, and demand a payment from the boat’s owner. The idea behind this, reportedly I should say, was as some kind of compensation.

[00:08:09] These fishing boats had stolen all of their fish, so they needed to pay.

[00:08:14] The fishermen soon realised that this was actually a pretty good business. 

[00:08:21] All you needed was a boat, some guns, and a few friends, and you could quickly make a lot of money. 

[00:08:28] It turns out that people are prepared to pay quite a lot of money to not be killed, and to have their boat back, so this was a potentially lucrative source of income for the fishermen in these poverty-stricken communities.

[00:08:43] Especially young, unemployed men saw it as a quick way to make money to support their families. Just one raid and they could support a family for years.

[00:08:56] Soon, the number of attacks started to increase, and the ransoms paid, the money paid to release the prisoners, or ships, started to increase as well.

[00:09:08] And soon these fishermen went from defenders of their fishing stock, and brave defenders of the coastline against foreign invaders into fully-fledged pirates.

[00:09:21] They were typically organised in small groups. They would either attack directly from the coast, or if they were searching for prey further away from the coast, there would be a main ‘mothership’, a larger ship, and smaller speedboats from which these attacks would be launched.

[00:09:42] They would rush up on a ship, normally in the early morning, armed to the teeth, and try to seize control of it.

[00:09:50] Once they had got control of the ship, they would do a combination of things.

[00:09:57] They might just steal what was on the ship. These ships would normally carry quite a lot of cash, in US dollars, so they would just take that, along with anything else that was valuable on the boat.

[00:10:10] Sometimes they would ask for a ransom, when you request money for something, so either for the crew, the people on the ship, or the ship’s cargo. These could be in the millions of dollars, and would normally be paid. 

[00:10:27] Think about it - if you have a ship with hundreds of millions or dollars on it, then you are quite likely to pay a considerable sum to get that ship back.

[00:10:38] The record for a ransom, the record amount paid to these modern day pirates, was 13.5 million dollars. 

[00:10:48] It was paid for a Greek oil tanker that was carrying $200 million worth of oil. So you could say, 13.5 million dollars is quite a bargain.

[00:11:02] But if you were a pirate and you wanted to launch a big attack, the sort of one where you could feasibly get a ransom like this from a large cargo ship, this would require a lot of resources.

[00:11:17] You would need a large mother ship, smaller speedboats, and a big group of pirates, it wasn’t a cheap thing to do at all. 

[00:11:26] All of your pirates would all need to be paid, plus you would need to buy all of the guns, grenades, boats, equipment and everything else to successfully mount the attack.

[00:11:40] And unless you were already a pirate that had launched several successful attacks, you needed someone to loan you the money, or provide the cash for you to go on your pirate adventure.

[00:11:53] What this led to is a sort of pirate stock market, where people could invest in a pirate mission, providing the capital, the money, and then taking a share of the profits.

[00:12:07] This became a pretty big business. 

[00:12:11] One of the bigger pirate expeditions could cost $30,000, and the investor, the person putting in the money, might get three quarters of the total ransom

[00:12:23] If we’re talking about a ransom of $13.5 million, that’s $10 million from a $30,000 investment.

[00:12:33] And it’s not just the pirate investors that were getting rich, the normal, fisherman-type pirates were also making huge amounts of money. 

[00:12:45] They would typically get between 30 and 50 thousand dollars per raid, and reportedly there would be a bonus of $10,000 for the first pirate to get aboard the ship that they were attacking.

[00:12:59] 30 to 50 thousand dollars would obviously be a lot of money for pretty much everyone, but for someone in a country that is frequently ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world, this is a monumental amount of money. 

[00:13:16] And the amount of money that these pirates made actually started pushing up the price of things on shore, on land. The pirates had so much money that they could outbid everyone else, and the price of everything went up. 

[00:13:34] The local merchants were happy with this, of course, because they were making more money, but it wasn’t good news for the local people who suddenly had to pay more for the same things, to compete with the pirates.

[00:13:48] One thing the local people were happy about though is that the arrival of the pirates has, understandably, scared off a lot of these big fishing boats, and fish stocks have started to come back. 

[00:14:03] I don’t think that we can say that these pirates are eco-warriors, but this is certainly one positive side-effect.

[00:14:12] So, what is actually happening now with pirates, and is there any end to this super lucrative profession that is tarnishing the reputation of Somalia, and meaning that ships avoid the country’s waters out of fear of being taken over by pirates?

[00:14:31] The good news if you're a shipowner, and bad news if you’re a pirate, is that the golden age of the modern pirate does seem to be coming to a close. 

[00:14:42] Ships are now much more heavily guarded, and they tend to sail much further away from the coast, meaning it’s harder for them to be found by the pirates, who often launch their attacks from the coast, or at least not far from the shore.

[00:14:59] And the numbers of attacks show that it’s getting harder. 

[00:15:05] Since 2011, the number of pirate raids has reduced almost every year, and off the Somali coast, the life of a pirate isn’t quite as easy as it was 10 years ago.

[00:15:18] But, elsewhere in the world, new pirate hotspots are emerging.

[00:15:25] The world’s piracy hotspot in 2020 is now the Gulf of Guinea, on the other side of Africa from Somalia, just below Nigeria. 

[00:15:35] There were 21 pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in the first 3 months of 2020, out of the total of 47 worldwide. And this is actually increasing, it’s up from 38 worldwide in the same period the year before.

[00:15:55] So, as long as there are large ships carrying multi-million dollar cargo, and people without many economic opportunities have access to speedboats and machine guns, then I think we’ll continue to see modern pirates popping up in new and unexpected places for a few more years to come.

[00:16:17] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Modern Day Pirates. 

[00:16:23] Thank you very much for listening to the show, and I hope that you now know a little bit more about modern pirates than you did 20 minutes ago. 

[00:16:30] As always I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:16:36] I normally say that I’d particularly like to hear from you if you have a personal story about this. 

[00:16:41] But I guess you probably aren’t a pirate and you’ve never been taken hostage by a group of pirates. 

[00:16:48] It is a long shot but if you have, wow, I would love to hear that story. 

[00:16:52] And even if you haven’t I’d still love to know what you think.

[00:16:56] You can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:01] And as a final reminder if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, and to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:20] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:17:25] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello, hello and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about pirates. 

[00:00:28] But not the old kind with swords, earrings and parrots. 

[00:00:32] We are going to be talking about modern pirates, the kind with speedboats, machine guns and night-vision goggles

[00:00:41] We’ll be talking about where they come from, why pirates have suddenly re-emerged after piracy not really being a problem for 200 years or so, and we’ll find out what pirates are doing in 2020.

[00:00:56] Before we get right into that though, let me just remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus subtitles, transcripts, and key vocabulary, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:11] This is also where you can check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:27] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:36] OK then, let’s get started, and get right into the fascinating topic of modern day pirates.

[00:01:45] Now, piracy, of course, has been around for thousands of years, in different shapes and forms.

[00:01:53] For almost as long as there have been boats, there have been pirates, and there is evidence of pirates going back to the 14th century BC, almost three and a half thousand years ago.

[00:02:07] Nowadays, the term piracy can be used for a whole variety of things - pirate radio, pirate CDs, pirate video games, pirate music, and so on. 

[00:02:19] But the subject of today’s episode is the more ‘traditional’ type of piracy, of groups of people attacking other ships in order to steal their treasure.

[00:02:30] And we’ll find out that although the pirates of the 21st century are ‘traditional’ in that their overall aim is similar to that of famous pirates like Redbeard or Blackbeard, their reasons for turning to piracy and their methods are quite different.

[00:02:50] Now, you may well have heard about modern piracy, about where it takes place, and how these pirates typically operate.

[00:02:59] The world hotspot for piracy in the 21st century, and where the majority of pirate attacks have taken place over the past 20 years or so, is off the coast of Somalia, to the east of the horn of Africa.

[00:03:16] What you might not know though is the reasons for this, and they are threefold, there are three of them.

[00:03:24] Firstly, the Somali government collapsed in 1991, and the country was plunged into disarray. The navy was disbanded, and there was practically no rule of law. This, of course, is in the potential pirate’s advantage.

[00:03:45] As a result of this, and secondly, the waters off the coast of Somalia began to be heavily fished by foreign boats. Now, they weren’t actually allowed to do this, they were trespassing into Somali waters, and they didn’t have the right to fish there, but as there was nobody to stop them, they continued. What had previously been a very fertile area for fishing quickly became overfished, and the local fishermen found that there weren’t nearly as many fish left for them.

[00:04:21] And finally, as there was no Somali navy, and effectively no police to control anything that went on, foreign ships began to dump toxic waste in the water off Somalia. They would bring rubbish from Europe, and just throw it overboard, or on the coast of Somalia, which by the way is the longest coastline in the whole of Africa.

[00:04:49] It’s said that Italian companies with links to the mafia would take rubbish from Europe, then strike deals with Somali warlords to dump huge amounts of waste either in the sea, or on the Somali beaches. Some of this was highly toxic, and it’s thought that it also included nuclear waste.

[00:05:12] This led to people getting respiratory infections, mouth ulcers, skin infections, and all sorts of nasty things.

[00:05:22] This was exacerbated, it was made worse, after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. While India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand were the worst hit, the tsunami also did some serious damage to Somalia. And how this is relevant to our story is that it stirred up a lot of this toxic waste that had been sitting at the bottom of the ocean, and it ended up polluting even more of the coastline.

[00:05:55] So, we have these three core factors going on. The lack of the rule of law, the overfishing, and the illegal waste dumping.

[00:06:07] Combined with this, Somalia was, and still is, an incredibly poor country. GDP per capita was $187 in 2010, which is 1% of the world’s average.

[00:06:23] You could say, it was ripe for piracy.

[00:06:27] However, you might be wondering, what does the overfishing and the rubbish have to do with it?

[00:06:35] Well, the overfishing led to people struggling even more to make a living. The sea had been plentiful, but after the arrival of these foreign boats, mainly from Iran and Yemen, there were a lot fewer fish to go around.

[00:06:53] And the dumping of the toxic waste, of course, had an impact on the marine system, and wasn’t good for the fish stocks. There were fewer fish in the ocean anyway because there were more people trying to catch them and there was toxic, even nuclear, waste that had been dumped there illegally, so this was killing what fish there were left.

[00:07:17] So, what happened next?

[00:07:20] Small, Somali fishing communities decided to take matters into their own hands. There was no navy or police to defend their seas, so they had to act for themselves.

[00:07:33] They armed themselves, and went out into the ocean to scare these fishing boats away. This was their sea, their ocean, the foreign boats didn’t have the right to be there, and they were prepared to defend their territory.  

[00:07:51] Occasionally, when a fishing boat got too close, the Somali fishermen would get on board the boats, and demand a payment from the boat’s owner. The idea behind this, reportedly I should say, was as some kind of compensation.

[00:08:09] These fishing boats had stolen all of their fish, so they needed to pay.

[00:08:14] The fishermen soon realised that this was actually a pretty good business. 

[00:08:21] All you needed was a boat, some guns, and a few friends, and you could quickly make a lot of money. 

[00:08:28] It turns out that people are prepared to pay quite a lot of money to not be killed, and to have their boat back, so this was a potentially lucrative source of income for the fishermen in these poverty-stricken communities.

[00:08:43] Especially young, unemployed men saw it as a quick way to make money to support their families. Just one raid and they could support a family for years.

[00:08:56] Soon, the number of attacks started to increase, and the ransoms paid, the money paid to release the prisoners, or ships, started to increase as well.

[00:09:08] And soon these fishermen went from defenders of their fishing stock, and brave defenders of the coastline against foreign invaders into fully-fledged pirates.

[00:09:21] They were typically organised in small groups. They would either attack directly from the coast, or if they were searching for prey further away from the coast, there would be a main ‘mothership’, a larger ship, and smaller speedboats from which these attacks would be launched.

[00:09:42] They would rush up on a ship, normally in the early morning, armed to the teeth, and try to seize control of it.

[00:09:50] Once they had got control of the ship, they would do a combination of things.

[00:09:57] They might just steal what was on the ship. These ships would normally carry quite a lot of cash, in US dollars, so they would just take that, along with anything else that was valuable on the boat.

[00:10:10] Sometimes they would ask for a ransom, when you request money for something, so either for the crew, the people on the ship, or the ship’s cargo. These could be in the millions of dollars, and would normally be paid. 

[00:10:27] Think about it - if you have a ship with hundreds of millions or dollars on it, then you are quite likely to pay a considerable sum to get that ship back.

[00:10:38] The record for a ransom, the record amount paid to these modern day pirates, was 13.5 million dollars. 

[00:10:48] It was paid for a Greek oil tanker that was carrying $200 million worth of oil. So you could say, 13.5 million dollars is quite a bargain.

[00:11:02] But if you were a pirate and you wanted to launch a big attack, the sort of one where you could feasibly get a ransom like this from a large cargo ship, this would require a lot of resources.

[00:11:17] You would need a large mother ship, smaller speedboats, and a big group of pirates, it wasn’t a cheap thing to do at all. 

[00:11:26] All of your pirates would all need to be paid, plus you would need to buy all of the guns, grenades, boats, equipment and everything else to successfully mount the attack.

[00:11:40] And unless you were already a pirate that had launched several successful attacks, you needed someone to loan you the money, or provide the cash for you to go on your pirate adventure.

[00:11:53] What this led to is a sort of pirate stock market, where people could invest in a pirate mission, providing the capital, the money, and then taking a share of the profits.

[00:12:07] This became a pretty big business. 

[00:12:11] One of the bigger pirate expeditions could cost $30,000, and the investor, the person putting in the money, might get three quarters of the total ransom

[00:12:23] If we’re talking about a ransom of $13.5 million, that’s $10 million from a $30,000 investment.

[00:12:33] And it’s not just the pirate investors that were getting rich, the normal, fisherman-type pirates were also making huge amounts of money. 

[00:12:45] They would typically get between 30 and 50 thousand dollars per raid, and reportedly there would be a bonus of $10,000 for the first pirate to get aboard the ship that they were attacking.

[00:12:59] 30 to 50 thousand dollars would obviously be a lot of money for pretty much everyone, but for someone in a country that is frequently ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world, this is a monumental amount of money. 

[00:13:16] And the amount of money that these pirates made actually started pushing up the price of things on shore, on land. The pirates had so much money that they could outbid everyone else, and the price of everything went up. 

[00:13:34] The local merchants were happy with this, of course, because they were making more money, but it wasn’t good news for the local people who suddenly had to pay more for the same things, to compete with the pirates.

[00:13:48] One thing the local people were happy about though is that the arrival of the pirates has, understandably, scared off a lot of these big fishing boats, and fish stocks have started to come back. 

[00:14:03] I don’t think that we can say that these pirates are eco-warriors, but this is certainly one positive side-effect.

[00:14:12] So, what is actually happening now with pirates, and is there any end to this super lucrative profession that is tarnishing the reputation of Somalia, and meaning that ships avoid the country’s waters out of fear of being taken over by pirates?

[00:14:31] The good news if you're a shipowner, and bad news if you’re a pirate, is that the golden age of the modern pirate does seem to be coming to a close. 

[00:14:42] Ships are now much more heavily guarded, and they tend to sail much further away from the coast, meaning it’s harder for them to be found by the pirates, who often launch their attacks from the coast, or at least not far from the shore.

[00:14:59] And the numbers of attacks show that it’s getting harder. 

[00:15:05] Since 2011, the number of pirate raids has reduced almost every year, and off the Somali coast, the life of a pirate isn’t quite as easy as it was 10 years ago.

[00:15:18] But, elsewhere in the world, new pirate hotspots are emerging.

[00:15:25] The world’s piracy hotspot in 2020 is now the Gulf of Guinea, on the other side of Africa from Somalia, just below Nigeria. 

[00:15:35] There were 21 pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in the first 3 months of 2020, out of the total of 47 worldwide. And this is actually increasing, it’s up from 38 worldwide in the same period the year before.

[00:15:55] So, as long as there are large ships carrying multi-million dollar cargo, and people without many economic opportunities have access to speedboats and machine guns, then I think we’ll continue to see modern pirates popping up in new and unexpected places for a few more years to come.

[00:16:17] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Modern Day Pirates. 

[00:16:23] Thank you very much for listening to the show, and I hope that you now know a little bit more about modern pirates than you did 20 minutes ago. 

[00:16:30] As always I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:16:36] I normally say that I’d particularly like to hear from you if you have a personal story about this. 

[00:16:41] But I guess you probably aren’t a pirate and you’ve never been taken hostage by a group of pirates. 

[00:16:48] It is a long shot but if you have, wow, I would love to hear that story. 

[00:16:52] And even if you haven’t I’d still love to know what you think.

[00:16:56] You can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:01] And as a final reminder if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, and to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:20] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:17:25] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello, hello and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about pirates. 

[00:00:28] But not the old kind with swords, earrings and parrots. 

[00:00:32] We are going to be talking about modern pirates, the kind with speedboats, machine guns and night-vision goggles

[00:00:41] We’ll be talking about where they come from, why pirates have suddenly re-emerged after piracy not really being a problem for 200 years or so, and we’ll find out what pirates are doing in 2020.

[00:00:56] Before we get right into that though, let me just remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus subtitles, transcripts, and key vocabulary, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:11] This is also where you can check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:27] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:36] OK then, let’s get started, and get right into the fascinating topic of modern day pirates.

[00:01:45] Now, piracy, of course, has been around for thousands of years, in different shapes and forms.

[00:01:53] For almost as long as there have been boats, there have been pirates, and there is evidence of pirates going back to the 14th century BC, almost three and a half thousand years ago.

[00:02:07] Nowadays, the term piracy can be used for a whole variety of things - pirate radio, pirate CDs, pirate video games, pirate music, and so on. 

[00:02:19] But the subject of today’s episode is the more ‘traditional’ type of piracy, of groups of people attacking other ships in order to steal their treasure.

[00:02:30] And we’ll find out that although the pirates of the 21st century are ‘traditional’ in that their overall aim is similar to that of famous pirates like Redbeard or Blackbeard, their reasons for turning to piracy and their methods are quite different.

[00:02:50] Now, you may well have heard about modern piracy, about where it takes place, and how these pirates typically operate.

[00:02:59] The world hotspot for piracy in the 21st century, and where the majority of pirate attacks have taken place over the past 20 years or so, is off the coast of Somalia, to the east of the horn of Africa.

[00:03:16] What you might not know though is the reasons for this, and they are threefold, there are three of them.

[00:03:24] Firstly, the Somali government collapsed in 1991, and the country was plunged into disarray. The navy was disbanded, and there was practically no rule of law. This, of course, is in the potential pirate’s advantage.

[00:03:45] As a result of this, and secondly, the waters off the coast of Somalia began to be heavily fished by foreign boats. Now, they weren’t actually allowed to do this, they were trespassing into Somali waters, and they didn’t have the right to fish there, but as there was nobody to stop them, they continued. What had previously been a very fertile area for fishing quickly became overfished, and the local fishermen found that there weren’t nearly as many fish left for them.

[00:04:21] And finally, as there was no Somali navy, and effectively no police to control anything that went on, foreign ships began to dump toxic waste in the water off Somalia. They would bring rubbish from Europe, and just throw it overboard, or on the coast of Somalia, which by the way is the longest coastline in the whole of Africa.

[00:04:49] It’s said that Italian companies with links to the mafia would take rubbish from Europe, then strike deals with Somali warlords to dump huge amounts of waste either in the sea, or on the Somali beaches. Some of this was highly toxic, and it’s thought that it also included nuclear waste.

[00:05:12] This led to people getting respiratory infections, mouth ulcers, skin infections, and all sorts of nasty things.

[00:05:22] This was exacerbated, it was made worse, after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. While India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand were the worst hit, the tsunami also did some serious damage to Somalia. And how this is relevant to our story is that it stirred up a lot of this toxic waste that had been sitting at the bottom of the ocean, and it ended up polluting even more of the coastline.

[00:05:55] So, we have these three core factors going on. The lack of the rule of law, the overfishing, and the illegal waste dumping.

[00:06:07] Combined with this, Somalia was, and still is, an incredibly poor country. GDP per capita was $187 in 2010, which is 1% of the world’s average.

[00:06:23] You could say, it was ripe for piracy.

[00:06:27] However, you might be wondering, what does the overfishing and the rubbish have to do with it?

[00:06:35] Well, the overfishing led to people struggling even more to make a living. The sea had been plentiful, but after the arrival of these foreign boats, mainly from Iran and Yemen, there were a lot fewer fish to go around.

[00:06:53] And the dumping of the toxic waste, of course, had an impact on the marine system, and wasn’t good for the fish stocks. There were fewer fish in the ocean anyway because there were more people trying to catch them and there was toxic, even nuclear, waste that had been dumped there illegally, so this was killing what fish there were left.

[00:07:17] So, what happened next?

[00:07:20] Small, Somali fishing communities decided to take matters into their own hands. There was no navy or police to defend their seas, so they had to act for themselves.

[00:07:33] They armed themselves, and went out into the ocean to scare these fishing boats away. This was their sea, their ocean, the foreign boats didn’t have the right to be there, and they were prepared to defend their territory.  

[00:07:51] Occasionally, when a fishing boat got too close, the Somali fishermen would get on board the boats, and demand a payment from the boat’s owner. The idea behind this, reportedly I should say, was as some kind of compensation.

[00:08:09] These fishing boats had stolen all of their fish, so they needed to pay.

[00:08:14] The fishermen soon realised that this was actually a pretty good business. 

[00:08:21] All you needed was a boat, some guns, and a few friends, and you could quickly make a lot of money. 

[00:08:28] It turns out that people are prepared to pay quite a lot of money to not be killed, and to have their boat back, so this was a potentially lucrative source of income for the fishermen in these poverty-stricken communities.

[00:08:43] Especially young, unemployed men saw it as a quick way to make money to support their families. Just one raid and they could support a family for years.

[00:08:56] Soon, the number of attacks started to increase, and the ransoms paid, the money paid to release the prisoners, or ships, started to increase as well.

[00:09:08] And soon these fishermen went from defenders of their fishing stock, and brave defenders of the coastline against foreign invaders into fully-fledged pirates.

[00:09:21] They were typically organised in small groups. They would either attack directly from the coast, or if they were searching for prey further away from the coast, there would be a main ‘mothership’, a larger ship, and smaller speedboats from which these attacks would be launched.

[00:09:42] They would rush up on a ship, normally in the early morning, armed to the teeth, and try to seize control of it.

[00:09:50] Once they had got control of the ship, they would do a combination of things.

[00:09:57] They might just steal what was on the ship. These ships would normally carry quite a lot of cash, in US dollars, so they would just take that, along with anything else that was valuable on the boat.

[00:10:10] Sometimes they would ask for a ransom, when you request money for something, so either for the crew, the people on the ship, or the ship’s cargo. These could be in the millions of dollars, and would normally be paid. 

[00:10:27] Think about it - if you have a ship with hundreds of millions or dollars on it, then you are quite likely to pay a considerable sum to get that ship back.

[00:10:38] The record for a ransom, the record amount paid to these modern day pirates, was 13.5 million dollars. 

[00:10:48] It was paid for a Greek oil tanker that was carrying $200 million worth of oil. So you could say, 13.5 million dollars is quite a bargain.

[00:11:02] But if you were a pirate and you wanted to launch a big attack, the sort of one where you could feasibly get a ransom like this from a large cargo ship, this would require a lot of resources.

[00:11:17] You would need a large mother ship, smaller speedboats, and a big group of pirates, it wasn’t a cheap thing to do at all. 

[00:11:26] All of your pirates would all need to be paid, plus you would need to buy all of the guns, grenades, boats, equipment and everything else to successfully mount the attack.

[00:11:40] And unless you were already a pirate that had launched several successful attacks, you needed someone to loan you the money, or provide the cash for you to go on your pirate adventure.

[00:11:53] What this led to is a sort of pirate stock market, where people could invest in a pirate mission, providing the capital, the money, and then taking a share of the profits.

[00:12:07] This became a pretty big business. 

[00:12:11] One of the bigger pirate expeditions could cost $30,000, and the investor, the person putting in the money, might get three quarters of the total ransom

[00:12:23] If we’re talking about a ransom of $13.5 million, that’s $10 million from a $30,000 investment.

[00:12:33] And it’s not just the pirate investors that were getting rich, the normal, fisherman-type pirates were also making huge amounts of money. 

[00:12:45] They would typically get between 30 and 50 thousand dollars per raid, and reportedly there would be a bonus of $10,000 for the first pirate to get aboard the ship that they were attacking.

[00:12:59] 30 to 50 thousand dollars would obviously be a lot of money for pretty much everyone, but for someone in a country that is frequently ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world, this is a monumental amount of money. 

[00:13:16] And the amount of money that these pirates made actually started pushing up the price of things on shore, on land. The pirates had so much money that they could outbid everyone else, and the price of everything went up. 

[00:13:34] The local merchants were happy with this, of course, because they were making more money, but it wasn’t good news for the local people who suddenly had to pay more for the same things, to compete with the pirates.

[00:13:48] One thing the local people were happy about though is that the arrival of the pirates has, understandably, scared off a lot of these big fishing boats, and fish stocks have started to come back. 

[00:14:03] I don’t think that we can say that these pirates are eco-warriors, but this is certainly one positive side-effect.

[00:14:12] So, what is actually happening now with pirates, and is there any end to this super lucrative profession that is tarnishing the reputation of Somalia, and meaning that ships avoid the country’s waters out of fear of being taken over by pirates?

[00:14:31] The good news if you're a shipowner, and bad news if you’re a pirate, is that the golden age of the modern pirate does seem to be coming to a close. 

[00:14:42] Ships are now much more heavily guarded, and they tend to sail much further away from the coast, meaning it’s harder for them to be found by the pirates, who often launch their attacks from the coast, or at least not far from the shore.

[00:14:59] And the numbers of attacks show that it’s getting harder. 

[00:15:05] Since 2011, the number of pirate raids has reduced almost every year, and off the Somali coast, the life of a pirate isn’t quite as easy as it was 10 years ago.

[00:15:18] But, elsewhere in the world, new pirate hotspots are emerging.

[00:15:25] The world’s piracy hotspot in 2020 is now the Gulf of Guinea, on the other side of Africa from Somalia, just below Nigeria. 

[00:15:35] There were 21 pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in the first 3 months of 2020, out of the total of 47 worldwide. And this is actually increasing, it’s up from 38 worldwide in the same period the year before.

[00:15:55] So, as long as there are large ships carrying multi-million dollar cargo, and people without many economic opportunities have access to speedboats and machine guns, then I think we’ll continue to see modern pirates popping up in new and unexpected places for a few more years to come.

[00:16:17] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Modern Day Pirates. 

[00:16:23] Thank you very much for listening to the show, and I hope that you now know a little bit more about modern pirates than you did 20 minutes ago. 

[00:16:30] As always I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:16:36] I normally say that I’d particularly like to hear from you if you have a personal story about this. 

[00:16:41] But I guess you probably aren’t a pirate and you’ve never been taken hostage by a group of pirates. 

[00:16:48] It is a long shot but if you have, wow, I would love to hear that story. 

[00:16:52] And even if you haven’t I’d still love to know what you think.

[00:16:56] You can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:01] And as a final reminder if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, and to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:20] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:17:25] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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