The Chairman of Lloyds insurance has told Channel 4 News it is "highly likely" that the owners of the hijacked tanker, the Sirius Star, will pay a ransom to have the ship released. 2 Britons are among the ship's crew of 25. Lord Levene, the Chairman of Lloyds- home to the world's biggest insurers - called the ship's hijackers "terrorists" and said hunting down Somali pirates was like "looking for a needle in a haystack". The pirates holding the Sirius Star are currently asking for $15 million dollars. And one of their associates has warned that hostages will be harmed if military force is used against any hijacked ship.
The village of Eyl in northeastern Somalia is widely regarded as the main pirate stronghold - and Jamal Osman, a Somali journalist, has been filming there. Our diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Rugman has this exclusive report from inside the pirates' lair.
500 miles north of Mogadishu lies a tiny fishing village called Eyl. Its a windswept tumbledown place, hardly the multimillion dollar pirate
capital one might expect. Yet incredible as it may seem, Eyl is the hub of an industry engaged in daylight robbery on a massive scale.
A few miles offshore you can see the pirates' booty; 3 vast ships.They're from Turkey, the Philippines and south Korea and they're worth hundreds of millions of dollars to their owners.
They've been hijacked and their crews held hostage on board for up to six weeks.
Eyl like the rest of wartorn Somalia has enjoyed no stable government for almost 20 years. Foreigners risk being kidnapped or killed; but a Somali journalist
managed to film these pictures for Channel 4 News, often working secretly and travelling at night.
And here in the darkness this is the pirate's lair. A dingy cafe where a motley crew is bragging about how they've struck fear along one of the busiest
shipping lanes in the world.
One pirate agreeing to a rare on camera interview about his role in stealing a ship at gunpoint this summer.
"We had two small boats and the first one attacked the ship. We climbed aboard and demanded the captain stop. We put the crew in one room and we brought
the ship over here to Eyl. We held the crew for about 2 months. We gave them nice food and we understood each other.
When we got our money we divided it up. I got a little. About $20 000 dollars. And then we released them and left the ship"
The pirates' car of choice is a favourite with the criminal fraternity the world over; a four wheel drive with blacked out windows. The gettaway cars are paid for with ransom
money shelled out to the pirates by marine insurance companies, many of them based in London. Yet Eyl's locals seem uneasy about their village's
This shopkeeper complaining that a poor fishing community has been swamped by pirates who spend their ill gotten gains elsewhere.
"There's no truth in stories that the pirates build nice big houses and marry beautiful girls. They just use Eyl as a launching pad
and a hiding place. Most of the people can't stand the actions of bandits. But if the whole world can't stop them, how
Yet the hijacking of the Sirius Star this month - the biggest ship ever captured- has awoken the world to the problem. The supertanker's carrying 2 million barrels of oil worth
around 100 million dollars. Her 25 crew include 2 from Britain. And she's just one of 15 ships now held to ransom off Somalia,
where pirate attacks have tripled this year.
We've identified the 3 hijacked ships off Eyl.
This is the African Sanderling, carrying fertiliser to China. She's from South Korea and brand new and neither she nor her 21 Filipino crew have been seen for 6 weeks.
Next to her the Yasa Neslihan. She's a Turkish ship and was taking iron ore from Canada to China. Her crew of 20 Turks have been held hostage since the end of October .
Then there's the Stolt Strength. carrying chemicals to India under her Filipino crew of 23. she was hijackedcaptured over two weeks ago
The UN estimates the pirates have earned $30 million dollars in ransom money this year. Yet they're a small band. The Royal Navy
reckons there may be fewer than a thousand of them,
including these recently captured by Royal Marines.
The question though is whether there's enough political will to bring them under control..
Next month the EU is forming its first ever naval mission off Somalia. Though only 6 ships have so far been offered to patrol an 1800 mile coastline and millions
of square miles of ocean.
Back in Eyl, the village governor can't understand why the world's richest nations haven't rid these waters
of the highwaymen of the high seas.
Abdulkadir Yusuf Musse
Governor of Eyl
"In most cases these pirates are nothing more than unemployed youth, mostly armed with AK 47 assault rifles. They want to get
their hands on easy money. I don't know why the Americans and NATO aren't dealing with it. I don't know why a warship with planes and
helicopters and thousands of marines can't stop a few bandits armed with AK 47s."
That frustration is shared thousands of miles away in London. At the Lloyd's building, the centre of global shipping insurance, its chairman Lord Levene reckons his fellow Lord, Horatio Nelson, would have blasted the pirates out of the water by now.
Chairman of Lloyd's
"These are not loveable characters, they are thugs, terrorists.
Q But you have been paying them money?
At the end of the day there's no alternative, if you don't want lives lost.
Q British Foreign Sec says don't pay ransoms?
We don't want to pay ransoms either, navies a better solution"
Here's how military muscle can work. In April the French navy helped deliver a ransom for a luxury yacht whose French crew had been held for a week. And unusually the French filmed the whole affair. The ransom of $2 million dollars was ferried in a dinghy to a pirate speedboat. An aircraft carrier then took
receipt of 29 relieved hostages. But then the twist in the tale. French special forces tracked the hijackers' car with long range cameras and flew off
across the Somali desert in hot pursuit. A helicopter sniper shot out the car's engine. 2 pirates were killed and 6 caught. But only 80 000 dollars
of the 2 million dollar ransom was ever found.
JR ptc "Perhaps nobody knows more than the French do about taking on pirates. But military sources here in Paris say the chances of taking on those holding the Sirius Star are minimal; its highly unlikely that the Saudis who own the ship would allow special forces from western nations to open fire on the Somali muslims holding their ship."
And when the military is deployed you can still make mistakes.
Today it emerged that the alleged pirate ship the Indian navy blew up last week was full of innocent Thai sailors. Pirates had hijacked their ship - but the attack left 14 Thai crew missing and 1 listed as dead.
In Eyl a pirate commander who refuses to show his face says the captors of the Sirius Star are friends of his. And that force will be met with force.
"If anyone tries to take a ship back by force, the hostages will face bad consequences that we don't wish upon them. We have the confidence to fight anyone in the world."
Chairman of Lloyd's "shipowners will highly likely pay up"
And if the Sirius Star's owner does pays the ransom currently running at 15 million dollars, the regional capital of Garowe will be in the money.
For this is where Somalia's pirates spend much of their loot. Where pirates are hailed as heroes,
while the local police haven't been paid in 7 months.
"I very much support the pirates, nobody else gives us anything." says this woman.
While the region's governor says fixing the problem can't be achieved solely at sea.
Governor of Puntland province
"Even if thousands of ships assembled here there's nothing they could do about it. The only effective way is to wage a land war, to attack their
camps and bases on the mainland."
In Eyl the locals fear the Americans could bomb at any minute and kill civilians. But the call of the sea remains a strong one; ships' ransoms have doubled in the last year - . And the pirates say that with so little to lose after 19 years of civil war here they will fight on till death.