Somali Piracy Is the Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living

Pirate pay runs about $33,000 to $79,000 -- about 150 times the national average wage

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Somali pirates grab headlines by hijacking multi-million-dollar ships and holding them and their crews hostage for more millions of dollars. They also live in a country that has one of the lowest per-capita gross domestic products (around $600). But your average successful pirate makes what in the United States would be a comfortable, middle-class living. A report from the consulting firm Geopolicity found a pirate could make between $33,000 to $79,000 per year -- about 150 times the national average wage.

Of course, that relatively high income comes with a pretty short life expectancy: The report suggests a pirate can make $168,000-$394,000 over a career. That comes to about five years. But it's enough to make the trade attractive to a fast-growing population of Somalis. The number of pirates operating in the area is expected to double by 2015. The total cost of piracy in the Indian Ocean during 2010 was somewhere from $7 billion to $12 billion, and is expected to hit  or top $15 billion by 2015. "This bill includes ransoms, insurance payments, the cost of naval operations, prosecutions and of rerouting ships," points out Christine Mungai in Business Daily Africa.

It's interesting to note that doubling the number of pirates doesn't double the projected expense. Obviously, there's a finite number of ships that can be hijacked, and many joining the trade will probably join an existing gang that will become more successful but not doubly so.

Back in February, pirates shot and killed an American family of four on their yacht. That got many asking whether and how pirates should be tried. The question's not a simple one, as Somalia has been without a government for about 20 years, and can't host trials itself. In April, a Somali pirate on trial in the United States got a 25-year prison sentence, and another was arrested in a Washington D.C. airport. But the United States can't host the world's piracy trials because it doesn't have the money or jurisdiction. The British government has reportedly pledged close to $10 million to support surveillance and enforcement along the Somali coast, but there is no international solution to this growing international problem.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.