Power & Motoryacht

A Hopeless Place

After covering the 2012 trial of 10 Somali pirates in Hamburg, Germany, American literary journalist and novelist Michael Scott Moore was intrigued. He had listened to the defendants’—poor fisherman in a country that’s been blanketed in the darkness of war for many years—accounts of failing to defend their home waters from international fishing vessels pillaging the sea. Armed with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and an impartial mind, he went to Somalia to investigate how the Somalis fit into the history of piracy at sea. After several days in the field, Moore’s small caravan was ambushed by pirates; he spent the next 977 days as their captive. The Desert and The Sea, published last year and out in paperback May 28, is part memoir, part journalistic look into the failed state of Somalia and Moore’s frightening ordeal as a hostage. He was often moved under the cover of darkness from barren, desert prison houses to camps in the bush to avoid drones and other aircraft that may have been looking for him. The pirates—frequently high from chewing khat leaves, a compound with effects similar to those of amphetamines—demanded a $20 million ransom, so he was allowed to make some calls from a satellite phone to negotiate his release. The following excerpt (edited for space) picks up as Moore and a fellow hostage are moved to a floating asylum of sorts, a hijacked tuna vessel anchored in the Somali Sea, all but ending Moore’s hopes for continuing negotiations for his release. Seized by fear and hopelessness, Moore does his best to keep his hold on reality as he slips into a dreadful state of boredom and despair.


That night the pirates woke Rolly and me and hustled us into a car. We slept in the bush again, with Ahmed Dirie’s group of guards. Despite the pirates’ efforts to keep us, free!” But there was no phone call. Instead we sped toward the coast, and while I considered how it might feel to see my family and friends again, our driver steered crazily through the quiet houses of Hobyo, past dimly lit businesses and food shacks—where townspeople had gathered for late-night meals—and raced across the curving beach until the Land Rover came to a stop beside the water’s edge.

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