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Pirate life a big draw for impoverished Somalis

A CONVOY of 40 4x4s and four motorbikes escorted a young bride to her nuptials on a sandy beach in the Somali village of Hobyo and were used to light up the twilight celebration.

Her pirate commander groom had no eye patch - but a sword and knife hung from his belt to swashbuckling effect.

"I am proud to be the leader's wife," said Sahra Ali.

Piracy is a big draw for many in the tiny fishing village, awash with ransom cash but lacking running water or power.

The impressive returns and flashy lives of the pirates mean that even children and young women want to jump on the bandwagon, either by joining one of the sea gangs or marrying a well-heeled pirate.

Ali is the envy of local girls, but she is all too aware that one wrong move by her husband means she could be a widow.

"After a week, he will go to the high seas and I am not confident he will return safely," she said.

So far this year, Somali brigands have hijacked nearly 30 vessels, meaning 2009 could be even worse than last year, when pirates from the Horn of Africa nation seized 42 ships.

Foreign nations have finally taken notice and deployed their navies to the east African coast but even the threat of capture is not deterring some of the pirates or new recruits.

Walking along a sun-drenched beach in Hobyo, two men shake hands to seal a new joint venture deal in piracy.

They hope to launch their own piracy outfit once they receive their ransom cut for the Greek-owned MV Ariana their gang is holding.

"This is a done deal. No more consultation," said 28-year-old Roble in a loud and excited manner. "When I become an investor and I am successful on two or three more attacks, then I will retire, but not now."

The village of Hobyo is awash with role models for aspiring buccaneers.

Roble said a former pirate invested his piracy dividends in the business of supplying khat, a mild narcotic well-loved by many Somali men.

Flourishing business ensures he can afford the daily charter flights that deliver the perishable commodity from neighboring Kenya.

While Roble wants to leave the dangerous trade after a few more attacks, there are others who will take his place.

Abdihafid, 13, dropped out of school, ran away from home and has taken up chewing khat and smoking cigarettes like the many brigands he sees in Hobyo.

"I want to be a commander of a pirate group," he said. "I am far too young, but I will wait until the right time."


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