Last Updated Oct 2, 2008 10:23 AM EDT
"We don't consider ourselves sea bandits," said Sugule Ali, spokesman for the Somali pirates who seized a Ukrainian ship full of weaponry last week. "We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard."
Yes, even modern-day pirates have PR flacks, apparently. When the New York Times dialed up the bridge of the seized ship, a pirate answered and then put Sugule on the phone, because "he was the only one authorized to speak." A 45-minute interview resulted in the much-read story, "Somali Pirates Tell Their Side of the Story."
[Note to lazy corporate flacks and spokespeople: #1 rule -- be available!]
Some other misconceptions that were cleared up through the interview [complete text here]:
Mr. Sugule spoke on everything from what the pirates wanted ("just money") to why they were doing this ("to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters") to what they had to eat on board (rice, meat, bread, spaghetti, "you know, normal human-being food").Serious point to Gucci-wearing first-world PR people and their corporate bosses: if you want the media to understand your story, you've got to explain it to them. No more whinin' about "they don't understand us" or "they're biased against us." If pirates can change their image, so can you!
He insisted that the pirates were not interested in the weapons and had no plans to sell them to Islamist insurgents battling Somalia's weak transitional government. "Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons," he said. "We don't want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money."
He said the pirates were asking for $20 million in cash; "we don't use any other system than cash." But he added that they were willing to bargain. "That's deal-making," he explained.
Piracy in Somalia is a highly organized, lucrative, ransom-driven business. Just this year, pirates hijacked more than 25 ships, and in many cases, they were paid million-dollar ransoms to release them. The juicy payoffs have attracted gunmen from across Somalia, and the pirates are thought to number in the thousands.