The New York Times has managed to interview a “spokesman” for the band of Somali pirates who sparked an international incident last week by hijacking a Ukrainian cargo ship laden with Soviet-made tanks, artillery shells, rocket-propelled grenades, and assorted ammo. Speaking by satellite phone from the bridge of the Faina, which has been surrounded by US naval vessels off the coast of Somalia, the spokesman, Sugule Ali, told the Times that his compatriots were not interested in selling off their haul to ne’erdowells, as many in the international community have feared. “We don’t want these weapons to go to anyone in Somalia,” he said. “Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons. We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money.” Twenty million dollars to be specific, though Ali suggested the hijackers are willing to negotiate.
The pirates apparently view themselves as some type of vigilante Coast Guard (they call themselves the “Central Region Coast Guard”) that patrols for boats “who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas,” and Sugule said they plan to any prospective ransom proceeds to “protect ourselves from hunger.” He added later, “We’re not afraid of arrest or death or any of these things. For us, hunger is our enemy.”
Interestingly, for a bunch of lawless bandits the Central Region Coast Guard seems to be displaying some pretty sophisticated message discipline: Over the course of a 45-minute phone call, the Times was able to speak with several of the pirates “but they said that only Mr. Sugule was authorized to be quoted.” PR tactics aside, though, pirates will be pirates. According to a “US defense official” quoted by the Associated Press, internal quarreling among the pirates aboard the Faina recently led to a shootout that may have killed three of the hijackers.
Ever the diligent pirate spokesman, Sugule Ali was quick to comment on the report, insisting it’s untrue. “We didn’t dispute over a single thing, let alone have a shootout,” he told the AP. “We are happy on the ship and we are celebrating [the Muslim holiday of] Eid. Nothing has changed.”