The last time I passed through the Suez Canal and down the African coast was in the 1980s. Somalia was desperately poor then, too, although not quite so desperately poor as it is today; and piracy hadn't started yet.  I remember a stop at Djibouti and the shocking poverty there. 

There was a French Foreign Legion detachment in Djibouti. I didn't speak French, but my friend & shipmate Rojko was from Yugoslavia and spoke several languages, including French. We went ashore together, ran into several of the Legionnaires, and did the town with them. It was a dreary town to do, but we managed to have fun. I liked the Legionnaires - they were very sharp, very fit, like Marines, very disciplined - and a little wild on the town like Marines, too.

Things have changed in the Horn of Africa since then, and - as bad as conditions were then - not for the better. No one knows about this better than seamen, who are caught in the middle. As violence has escalated, seamen have been tortured, killed, imprisoned for long periods, and allowed to starve. Pirates have done these things to punish ship's crews who stood up to them, or in retaliation against violent measures directed against them, or to pressure shipowners to come up with ransoms. In some cases, even when the ship has been released some of the crew have been kept prisoner. 

Everyone knows about the international anti-piracy mission - joined by ships from the world's navies from China to North America - and how, in spite of the warships' occasional successes, piracy continues virtually unabated. And as time goes on, piracy is increasingly being associated with terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab.

This link gives some details of an open battle between pirates and NATO forces near Kudha Island, recently taken from Al-Shabaab forces:

While shipping companies and governments dither, seamen pay. Have you passed through the area in the last couple of years? We'd very much like to hear your experiences. Please respond in the Comments section!

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