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Who are Somalia's pirates?

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Thousands of pirates now operate off Somalia's coast, although there are no accurate numbers on precisely how many there are.

United Nations monitoring reports on arms smuggling in the Horn of Africa have pointed to evidence that pirate gangs have established relations with corrupt officials of the Puntland government. They bribe port officials to allow the pirates to use Eyl and other ports as their bases of operation, and to bring some of their captured ships in for safekeeping while the pirates negotiate ransoms with the ships' owners.

There is also evidence that expatriate Somalis living in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and throughout the Persian Gulf may be feeding information to the pirates about ships that have docked in those regions and may be heading toward the Gulf of Aden and other pirate-infested areas.

Who benefits from this piracy?

The money seems to be distributed by warlords to their families and friends, and then further outward toward their fellow clan-members, says Jhazbhay.

There have been charges recently that local Islamist groups may be linked to the pirate gangs, and may have begun to use piracy as a source of funds to buy weapons.

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