Ali Mohamed Ali faces life in prison on piracy-related charges. But is he a criminal mastermind or a Good Samaritan? The truth is likely something in between.
Ali never considered himself a criminal, let alone a pirate. He was well-educated. He spoke English. He may have asked his friends in America to send the occasional loan while he lived in Somalia, but he didn’t need to steal or hold innocent people hostage to earn money.
…Ali was not what one would typically call a pirate. He never wielded a gun or captured a ship. But on November 9, 2008, he boarded the CEC Future, a Danish cargo vessel that had been seized by Somali pirates while sailing in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Yemen. Since he was fluent in English, Ali had been recruited by pirates to negotiate a ransom with the hijacked ship’s owner. After 71 days, the company that owned the CEC Future agreed to pay $1.7 million for the release of 13 hostages—including the captain, who was on his maiden voyage—and the ship’s freedom.
Ali doesn’t dispute these facts. But he says he’s not a pirate conspirator, simply a man trying to do his civic—and particularly Somali—duty to help those in need. If no ransom were paid, he says, the hostages might have been killed. The U.S. government, on the other hand, says his motives were purely material. The government says that even after the $1.7 million ransom had been agreed upon, Ali delayed the release of the hostages to negotiate a separate $75,000 for himself. Ali says that money wasn’t for him, but for two higher-level pirates who demanded extra ransom for themselves. Requests for comment from prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office for this story were denied.
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