Somali pirates - why do they prey on cruising yachts?

Why pick on cruising sailors when ships should be more lucrative?
.. .
Why did Somali pirates suddenly start preying on cruising sailors in comparatively small sailing yachts, which could hardly be expected to yield the kind of ransom that a supertanker could? Here is how Maritime risks expert and founder ofCc-level Maritime Risks, a US-based emerging risks consultancy, Michael Frodl explained it when interviewed by Michael Howorth for AW Yacht Management:

When a new somali pirate gang entered the game in 2009 — capturing a retired British couple aboard their 15m sailing yacht off the Seychelles — they made several mistakes that earned swift contempt from seasoned pirates.

They also changed all the rules for ever.

The first rule they broke was in targeting a yacht belonging to two relatively impoverished people rather than a high value vessel belonging to a corporation.

Secondly, they made the mistake of taking the couple off their sailboat and letting the sloop drift away. 'That broke the rule that hostages must be kept aboard their own ships far from shore in order to prevent their towns being caught up in a rescue mission by a foreign navy,' explains Frodl.

The gang were eventually forced to seek out the help of established pirates by asking them to keep the Chandlers
on board a hijacked cargo ship. But they subsequently took the hostages off again after a dispute over how the final
ransom would be shared out.

This incurred the wrath of the clan elders who feared local villagers would be caught up in a shootout between the pirate gangs — and between all of the pirates and Shabaab (Somalia’s Al Qaeda affiliate). When the new pirates
were kicked out of town they dragged their hostages deeper inland, spending months moving them around the desert in order to avoid Shabaab gangs looking to grab the hostages.

Meanwhile, the global Somali diaspora became so aghast at the mistreatment of the elderly couple that they put pressure on the gang to release them, even collecting money to have the couple released after the first ransom payment of US$500,000 mysteriously disappeared.

Despite all of this, the young pirate gang held out against all the odds for a year — earning around US$1m for
the release of the couple in late 2010.

'Their success will accelerate the transition to a new generation of Somali pirates,' argues Frodl. 'In fact, they created a brand new pirate business model.'

Escalating yacht piracy:
Since the Chandler incident, two South Africans and nine Danish cruising sailors, including three children, have been, and still are, being held by Somali pirates in Somalia, holding out for ransoms which are far from sure to eventuate. Earlier this year four American cruising sailors were shot dead by pirates, some of whom are now undergoing trials in the USA.

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This letter was received by Sail-World Cruising, correcting some of the factual errors in the above:

Message: Hi Nancy,

I'm responding to the account of the Chandler's experience in your latest newsletter. How does the Chandler's 38ft Rival become a 15m boat? Their family paid a ransom of $440,000. Where does your contributor get his figures from? It's true that the Somali gang leader claimed that he would be getting a further $200,000 but that hasn't been confirmed. Lynn Rival ran out of diesel fuel and after being replenished from supplies carried by the pirates the engine started faltering after 5 days and the yacht was abandoned. That was when the Kota Wajar was called in to get them all to the Somalian coast.

Best wishes,

Stuart Bradley

(President of the Cruising Association)