NAIROBI, Kenya - There's at least one job these days that's recession-proof, if you can handle shark-infested seas, outrun some of the world's most powerful navies, and keep your cool when your hostages get antsy.
A pirate's life in Somalia isn't for everyone. However, nothing comes easily in one of the poorest and most unstable countries on Earth, and when you consider the dearth of career options for Somalis on land, a pirate's life starts to look more than cushy by comparison.
"Is there any Somali who can earn a million dollars for any business? We get millions of dollars easily for one attack," brags Salah Ali Samatar, a pirate who spoke by phone from Eyl, a pirate den on Somalia's desolate northern coast.
Hundreds of pirates such as Mr. Samatar – zipping around in simple fiberglass speedboats and usually armed with nothing more sophisticated than automatic rifles – have turned the waters off East Africa into a terrifying gantlet for cargo vessels, oil tankers, and even cruise ships sailing between Europe and Asia. The International Maritime Bureau says at last count 42 ships have been hijacked off Somalia this year, and experts in neighboring Kenya estimate that Somali pirates have pocketed $30 million in ransoms.
While their countrymen suffer through another political crisis and the looming threat of famine, pirates are splashing hundred-dollar bills like play money around the nowhere towns of northern Somalia.