Piracy big boon to Somalia economy; hotels, restaurants sprout in port of Eyl in pirates' presence
Modern-day piracy is growing quickly into big business - just take a look at the booming Somali pirate port of Eyl.
Big villas and hotels are sprouting, former subsistence fishermen are driving Mercedes-Benzes and gold-digging women are showing up. So are accountants.
After Somalia's civil war began in 1991, the impoverished coastal people turned to buccaneering, with huge success.
"In 2008 alone, Somali pirates made $125 million," said Michael Lee of McRoberts Maritime Security. "These guys are the wealthiest in the country. A lot of the women in Somalia are flocking to the ports to get themselves a pirate."
More than 30% of the world's oil goes through the narrow Gulf of Aden off Somalia. Taking the longer, safer way around would add 20 days and $1 million in fuel costs.
The heavily insured cargo vessels make easy pickings.
In small, unlit boats, the pirates sneak up to hulking ships at night, fling grappling hooks over the side and swarm aboard. They have learned that if they treat their hostages well, they can ransom the boats for millions.
Indeed, the BBC reported there are special pirate restaurants in Eyl to feed the kidnapped crews.
To the Somalis, where the average family lives on less than $1 a day, the lure of the black flag is intoxicating.
These are not the rum-drunk, eccentric, peg-leg pirates of yesteryear: The modern corsair is well-organized, disciplined and toting a satellite phone. They even have publicists to handle media calls.
There were 293 incidents of piracy worldwide last year, up 11% over 2007, according to International Maritime Bureau.
Forty-nine ships were hijacked and 889 crewmen were taken hostage. Eleven sailors were killed, 32 were injured and 21 are missing and presumed dead.