Before I sat down to write Riding a Tiger, my novel about Talisman, a super yacht which is hijacked by Somali pirates on its way back to its mooring in Cyprus from the Seychelles, I read a lot of books about the recent phenomenon that has received so much media attention worldwide. Here’s my non-fiction reading list:
1) Hostage by Paul and Rachel Chandler
This husband and wife’s harrowing first hand account of what happened after they were hijacked on their private yacht off the coast of Somalia had me gripped from the first page. Paul and Rachel Chandler invest their life savings in Lynn Rival, their yacht, and set off to sail her around the world and enjoy their retirement. Hijacked off the coast of the Seychelles, they are forced to Somalia and then onto land where they spend over a year in miserable conditions as the pirates futilely try to negotiate a ransom for their release. This story made the headlines but it was the love and solidarity between the couple throughout their ordeal that made the story for me.
2) A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips
A seriously impressive first hand account of fifty-three year old Richard Phillips’ (captain of a US cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama) five day stand-off with Somali pirates and his eventual rescue by a group of Navy SEALs. A heart-stopping, adrenaline-packed tale of adventure and courage and an escalating battle of wills where training meets instinct and character is everything.
On his rescue, President Obama said: “I share the country’s admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew. His courage is a model for all Americans.”
3) Kidnapped by Colin Freeman
After his bodyguards double-cross him, journalist Colin Freeman finds himself captured by Somali pirates – beginning a nightmare 40 days in the hands of some of the most dangerous men in the world. It is a terrifying experience – the gang’s hideout is attacked by rival pirates, Freeman is threatened with being handed over to Islamists who wish to execute him and he constantly fears death at the hands of his constantly drug-addled captors. But he survives – thinner, greyer and wiser – to tell the tale of an astonishing adventure in a surprisingly funny and fond way. ‘Essential reading for anyone interested in the world’s most broken state, and why it became that way’ – Oliver Poole, London Evening Standard
4) Hunting Pirate Heaven by Kevin Rushby
Kevin Rushby’s objective is to locate the descendants of the 16th century pirates who had carved kingdoms for themselves in the remote jungles of north-east Madagascar. Hitching rides on a motley assortment of freighters, dhows, yachts and fishing smacks, he sails up the African coast, then east towards his goal. It is a story full of incident: voyages to islands where forgotten Portugese forts lie covered in jungle, places where some have tried to shoot their way to paradise, and where the ever-present ocean can destroy lives and dreams as quickly as men and women create them. An enthralling guide to a little-visited corner of the world, haunted by the ghosts of its pirate past.
5) Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money by Martin N Murphy
Serious and sober, this is a text used at Naval War College. British scholar Martin Murphy seeks to untangle a difficult set of problems: what sort of threat do piracy and maritime terrorism present to the world and its shipping, what evidence suggests that terrorists and criminals might work together in some fashion, and what can be done about these threats? It is a book so meticulously researched that after more than 400 pages of heavily footnoted material the book places its substantial bibliography in an online .pdf rather than making an already long book even longer. If one has a personal, academic, or professional interest which would require a knowledge of piracy, the vulnerabilities of ocean-borne shipping networks, or maritime insurgency and terrorism around the world, this book is an essential read.
6) Pirates of the 21st Century by Nigel Cawthorne
Not just about Somalia, this book looks at piracy in the South China Sea, the Caribbean and South America too. It examines how a phenomenon thought to be consigned to history is once again a worldwide problem. It looks at attacks that have taken place in the Malacca Straits and the fate of the Chandlers (see above), and questions how the international community and its peacekeeping forces can try to bring stability and security back to the oceans. Nigel Cawthorne is the author of over a hundred books, from serious political works such as The Iron Cage to lightweight comic romps such as Sex Lives of the Popes. Sex Lives of the Presidents got him on the Joan Rivers Show. He was hauled in front of a Senate Select Committee for The Bamboo Cage.
7) Pirate State by Peter Eichstaedt
In 2009, the United States was hit broadside by Somali pirates who attempted to capture the U.S. flag ship Maersk Alabama (see A Captain’s Duty above). Suddenly, the pirates were no longer a distant menace. They had thrust themselves onto the American stage. Are the Somali pirates a legion of desperate fisherman attacking cargo ships and ocean cruisers to reclaim their waters? Or is piracy connected to crime networks and the madness that grips Somalia? What threats do pirates pose to international security? To answer these questions, Peter Eichstaedt crisscrosses East Africa, meeting with pirates both in and out of prisons, talking with them about their lives, tactics, and motives. He discovers that piracy is a symptom of a much deeper problem: Somalia itself.
8) Dangerous Waters by John S Burnett
While sailing alone one night in the shipping lanes across one of the busiest waterways in the world, John Burnett was attacked by pirates. Through sheer ingenuity and a little bit of luck, he survived, and his shocking firsthand experience became the inspiration for Dangerous Waters.
Today’s breed of pirates are not the colorful cutthroats painted by the history books. Unlike the romantic images from yesteryear of Captain Hook, Long John Silver, and Blackbeard, modern pirates can be local seamen looking for a quick score, highly trained guerrillas, rogue military units, or former seafarers recruited by sophisticated crime organizations.
9) Deadly Waters by Jay Bahadur
What are the lives of modern day pirates like outside of the attack skiffs? How do they spend their money? What clothes do they wear and what is their drug of choice? Deadly Waters takes us to the heart of Somalia, where Jay Bahadur, the intrepid 25-year-old author has ventured where most journalists fear to tread. As the ‘go to’ journalist for all major media, and with unparalleled access to all the major players, from government officials to local residents – and of course the pirates themselves – Bahadur sets out to discover who is behind the masked menaces who appear on the news. Exploring the politics and history of the self-governing region of Puntland, Bahadur looks at the challenges facing this troubled mini-state as piracy rises – and examines how the UN and other bodies are attempting to deal with the scourge of every sea-faring nation. Evocative and incisive, Deadly Waters is a highly original analysis of the international pirate crisis.