First Published: 2009-10-29

Harardhere: the cradle of Somali piracy

It is tiny Somali fishing village is main base for group of pirates currently holding several other ships.


Middle East Online

By Jean-Marc Mojon - NAIROBI

A lucrative business

Harardhere, off the shores of which a British couple was being held hostage Thursday, is a tiny Somali fishing village which is home to a powerful pirate boss called "Big Mouth" and the undisputed piracy capital of the world.

Located some 300 kilometres (180 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu, Harardhere is the main base for a group of ransom-hunting pirates currently holding several other ships.

The village lies some distance from the coast and is populated mainly by members of the Suleiman tribe, a branch of Somalia's dominant Hawiye clan.

Harardhere was never a typical sleepy fishing village and has always had a reputation for lawlessness, a place where the rifle supercedes any other form of authority.

"When in Mogadishu, you have to earn your money, when in Harardhere, just use guns." This popular Somali saying has sealed the village's image as a breeding ground for bandits and warlords.

Harardhere is considered the birthplace of modern Somali piracy, which has since 2007 turned the Horn of Africa's waters into the world's most dangerous, spurring the global naval powers into dispatching unprecedented numbers of warships to the area.

Piracy in Harardhere started in 2003-2004 as the business idea of one man, whose foot soldiers took the British yachting couple last week: Mohamed Abdi "Afweyne" (Somali for "big mouth").

"He had no clue about the sea... On technical matters related to boats, I had to teach him from scratch and the first times we went out to sea, he was sick all the time," one of his associates recalled.

Afweyne comes from an area and clan with no experience of piracy, but he head-hunted some of the most prominent pirates from the northern breakaway region of Puntland for his start-up.

"Harardhere provided the perfect base for the pirates as it was far away from the fractions in the Somali civil war," Norwegian researcher Stig Jarle Hansen explained in a recent report on piracy.

The expert said the quiet political environment allowed Afweyne to keep all the money for himself and his group, expanding rapidly as ransoms were re-invested to upgrade and not wasted on bribes.

Five years later, Afweyne is Somalia's pirate capo, having made world headlines by capturing a Saudi supertanker larger than his hometown and opened an international can of worms with the seizure of an arms-laden Ukrainian ship.

On a UN watchlist for breaking the arms embargo, Afweyne is rumoured to have briefly been a member of the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab group's 10-man cabinet and was spotted in Libya last month at the time of the celebrations marking Moamer Gathafi's 40 years in power.

He has escaped death and arrest several times during raids by the Islamic Courts Union, the Islamist group that briefly controlled most of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted by Ethiopian troops.

In 2008, Somali piracy attracted international attention, with the shipping industry scrambling to contain the soaring costs of anti-piracy measures and warships from dozens of nations rushing to the region.

Pirates launched their attacks from several bases along Somalia's coastline -- Africa's longest -- including Harardhere and Hobyo in central Somalia, Garaad, Ras Alula and Eyl in Puntland.

With the authorities of Puntland upping the pressure on the pirates and northern waters in and around the Gulf of Aden now heavily patrolled, nearly all the latest attacks have taken place closer to the Seychelles and originated in Harardhere or Hobyo.

Piracy is one of the only flourishing trades in war-ravaged Somalia and Harardhere has gentrified slightly in recent months.

Handsome ransoms are redistributed in the community to ensure local support and pirates have started building new houses and buying new cars.


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