Stolen Seas: In Deep With Honest-to-God Pirates


‘If the state can’t stop 12 guys in a boat, how powerful is it?” asks Matthew Raffety in Stolen Seas, Thymaya Payne’s investigation into the causes and reality of piracy near Somalia. Raffety is the possessor of the world’s greatest on-screen title: “pirate historian.” But the romantic buccaneering that suggests is far from the hard truths of Somali pirates’ hostage-taking, ransom-holding, and brandishing of Kalashnikovs. With audio of negotiations between pirates and a Danish shipping company, and occasional photos and video diaries taken by actual hostages, Payne traces the protracted 2008 ship-napping of the CEC Future. This drama is couched in illuminating context: how the deregulatory zeal of shipping companies has made piracy all but inevitable, how it’s impossible for first-world navies to stop every small-crewed ship, how Cold War brinksmanship has left Somalia ruled by regional tribes, how poverty and famine have ravaged the Somali population, how for some young men there a couple years’ work as pirates is enough to ensure a lifetime free from want. Older men believe that, too, including Ishmael Ali, the film’s most arresting character, a dad who insists that it was to give his son a better life that he signed on to serve as the translator for the pirates during their negotiations with the Danes. In memorable interview segments, he boasts of how many camels he owns—and how once he got embroiled with honest-to-God pirates, he found himself in much, much deeper than he expected.