Somali pirates take in millions from kidnappings

Attackers hijacked the Maersk Alabama, shown here, formerly known as the Alva Maersk.
Somali pirates have turned high-seas kidnappings into a lucrative business, one that netted between $50 million and $150 million last year, a former Navy SEAL told CNN.

Kaj Larsen spoke to CNN’s Anderson Cooper Wednesday night about the changing tactics of pirates in Somalia. Below is a transcript of that interview, portions of which have been edited. Cooper: You have spent a fair amount of time there. You have actually met with the pirates, right Larsen: I did. I met with some of the pirates that were operating out of Port of Mogadishu in 2006. And that was right before this current uptick in piracy that we’re seeing so much of right now. Cooper: And why the uptick Just because now they realize it’s so profitable Larsen: Sure, absolutely. There’s an extraordinary incentive to conduct acts of piracy. Last year, they estimate the pirates took in somewhere between $50 million and $150 million in ransom money. It’s extraordinary. It’s very lucrative. And, obviously, the cheap flow of weapons available in Somalia all contribute to this problem of maritime piracy. See how pirate attacks are skyrocketing » Cooper: And this is a different situation, because now the USS Bainbridge is on scene. This is the first time an American has been held hostage. But, normally, a whole crew gets taken hostage, and it’s basically a negotiation between the company that owns the vessel or the cargo and the pirates.

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Larsen: Right Obviously, this is a very unique situation and it’s developing right now as we speak. So, this is setting new standards and new precedents. My concern during this situation is that the pirates, seeing their first batch of resistance, in the future might be using more aggressive tactics now that they see that some ships are willing to fight back. Cooper: You were a Navy SEAL. What is the procedure in something like this Larsen: Well, obviously, each situation is very unique, and so they have to balance the use of force with the potential threat of injury to the hostage. Again, this is a unique situation. This is the first time Americans have been taken hostage, so we could see a new precedent being set. Watch how pirates operate off Somalia » In the past, the U.S. Navy and the other coalition forces and the combined task force in the region has been reluctant to engage with the pirates militarily, for fear that one of the hostages will be hurt. We will see if that continues to be the case here. Cooper: And, basically, I mean, if [pirates are] operating 350 miles offshore, and they’re running around, and then they’re going around in these little skiffs, do they have a larger boat nearby somewhere in the area … They can’t go 350 miles offshore in a little skiff, can they Larsen: No, absolutely not, I mean, although you are seeing improved weather conditions in the Gulf of Aden, which is responsible for the increased in attacks over the past week, 350 miles is a long ways out at sea. So, again, the pirates are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, are actually [using] mother ships in many cases, from which they send out the small speedboats out to both track and then sometimes assault these tanker and these container ships in the gulf. Cooper: How do you think this thing is going to end Do you have any idea Larsen: I don’t really have any idea.

In the past, what we have seen is a classic kidnap-for-ransom hostage negotiation system, where the insurance companies end up paying sometimes millions of dollars for these pirates. In this case, I think the very close presence of a U.S. Navy vessel might … provide some discomfort to the pirates in the area.