WITNESS: "Hi, is that the Somali pirates?"

Sun Apr 12, 2009 3:48pm EDT
 
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By Andrew Cawthorne

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Your best source is jailed. You track high-sea hijacks by text and email. You get through to captors on a satellite phone but are then roundly abused.

Reporting on Somali piracy can be surreal.

While some in the world only woke up to the phenomenon with the first seizure of an American hostage, Somalia's modern-day buccaneers have been marauding off the Horn of Africa for years, taking hundreds of captives and millions in ransoms.

Covering their exploits is a near-daily task for reporters in Somalia and foreign correspondents in East Africa.

At times, like the saga of just-released American hostage Richard Phillips on a lifeboat with four gunmen, it becomes a 24/7 job, requiring moral judgments and canny journalism.

Reuters reporters in Somalia were able to contact Phillips' captors -- on their fuel-less, floating lifeboat stalked by U.S. warships -- at the start of the standoff. They issued various defiant messages to the world in barked conversations.

Having then been informed, however, that their remarks were making instant headlines on TV networks across the world, the pirate gang became less cooperative.

"We are tired of your calls. We have no time for journalists," is a polite translation of some of the last quotes our team managed to extract from the pirates.   Continued...

 
<p>Reuters East Africa Bureau Andrew Cawthorne sits next to a Somali gunman during his visit in this July 2006 file photo. Reporting on Somali piracy can be surreal. While some in the world only woke up to the phenomenon with the first seizure of an American hostage, Somalia's modern-day buccaneers have been marauding off the Horn of Africa for years, taking hundreds of captives and millions in ransoms. Covering their exploits is a near-daily task for reporters in Somalia and foreign correspondents in East Africa. REUTERS/Andrew Cawthorne</p>