Friday 1 May 2009

The Pirate Code

Pete Leeson should be (and probably is) all over this one.

The National Post today reports on some features of the Somali Pirates' code of justice. Stylized facts:
  • Hundreds of small pirate cells in communication with each other
  • A strict code of conduct across the different cells: no rape, no robbing the hostages, no killing: just peacefully waiting for the ransom
  • Adoption of the prior Somali system of clan justice to resolve disputes across cells
  • A mobile court based in Bedey where any transgressing pirate can be tried and punished.
From the article:
But while differences remain among various groups, the pirates' first set of rules is precisely aimed at neutralizing rivalries, Mohamed Hidig Dhegey, a pirate from Puntland, explained.

"If any one of us shoots and kills another, he will automatically be executed and his body thrown to the sharks," he said from the town of Garowe.

"If a pirate injures another, he is immediately discharged and the network is instructed to isolate him. If one aims a gun at another, he loses 5% of his share of the ransom," Mr. Dhegey said.

Perhaps the most striking disciplinary feature of Somali "piratehood" is the alleged code of conduct pertaining to the treatment of captured crews.

"Anybody who is caught engaging in robbery on the ship will be punished and banished for weeks. Anyone shooting a hostage will immediately be shot," said Ahmed Ilkacase.

"I was once caught taking a wallet from a hostage. I had to give it back and then 25,000 dollars were removed from my share of the ransom," he said.

Following the release of the French yacht Le Ponant in April 2008, investigators found a copy of a "good conduct guide" on the deck which forbade sexual assault on women hostages.

As Ilkacase found out for himself, pirates breaking internal rules are punished. Conversely, those displaying the most bravery are rewarded with a bigger share of the ransom, called "saami sare" in Somali.

"The first pirate to board a hijacked ship is entitled to a luxurious car, or a house or a wife. He can also decide to take his bonus share in cash," he explained.
This seems a solution to a rather large prisoner's dilemma problem. Any pirate cell can do better in the short term by becoming more violent and by taking more from the victims. But that would draw a much more vigorous response from American and other navies. So they restrain themselves and punish anybody who gets out of line. Honour among thieves and order within anarchy.

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