Somalia’s pirates returned us to the terrible, long-forgotten reality.
Finding a pirate is Boyle’s first problem in Blood Ransom. Somali pirates are already yesterday’s news, and this book might just turn out to be the first ‘history’ of piracy’s silver age.
Nonetheless, Boyle finds a few men willing to open up, and learns that a pirate’s lot is not a happy one. Amid the Indian Ocean in tiny, rotten boats, they drift without even a compass. It seems fairly likely that there are more would-be pirates at the ocean’s bottom than ever even saw a ship – or a jail.
Boyle also follows the world’s navies trawling for pirate activity, and the pirates win some respect from those involved in the hunt. The pirates, either ignorant or heroic, sometimes attack the navy ships sent to capture them.
Those taken hostage during raids have lived with the sea and its natural dangers for their entire lives. That risk was expected, and could be accepted with equanimity. What is harder for those taken hostage to accept is that even at sea it is possible for human malevolence to rear its head. To drown in a storm might be expected, but to be captured by an angry, gun-wielding teenager is incomprehensible. Boyle shows us how the pirates leave their victims – be they fishermen or tanker workers – disorientated.
Now that IS dominates the news, the Somali pirates, with their quaint tradition of exchanging hostages for money – even at times taking care of them – seem relatively chivalrous. Such are legends made.
BLOOD RANSOM: Stories from the Front Line in the War Against Somali Piracy by John Boyle; Adlard Coles; £16.99 (hardback)
This review was published in the September 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine