Author Tells Of Kidnapping By Somali Pirates He’d Gone To Interview

Michael Scott Moore is walking a bit gingerly these days, but it has nothing to do with the two-and-a-half years he spent imprisoned by Somali pirates, the beatings he suffered, his time spent in chains or the lousy food that caused him to lose 40 pounds. “I got thumped by a wave surfing off Manhattan Beach the other day,” the author of The Desert and the Sea: 977 days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast says with a sheepish grin. “I’ve got a cracked rib.”


Otherwise Moore, freed by his pirate captors in 2014 after his mother raised a USD $1.6 million ransom, looks fine. He’s dressed casually in a dark blue shirt and jeans as he sits down in the shade of the century-old art-deco building that houses Los Angeles’ downtown library to talk about his latest book.

The Desert and the Sea goes on sale this week, and its 49-year-old author is about to embark on a cross-country tour of readings and signings. The page-turning thriller, published by Harper Collins, takes readers on a relentless journey as Moore reveals the squalid living conditions that nearly killed him, the beatings he endured and the thoughts of suicide he weighed, along with other thoughts of grabbing one of his captor’s machine guns (they were careless about leaving them lying around) and seeing how many of them he could kill before they killed him.

“I don’t know,” he says with a smile when asked how he survived it all. After several seconds of quiet contemplation, he adds that a combination of giving up any immediate hope of freedom and living in the moment helped. So did maintaining a sense of humour while trapped in a very unfunny situation. Thus, the book contains several darkly comic moments.

Like the one when Moore hid the keys to the chains the pirates kept him in after he tried to escape by leaping from an old fishing vessel and attempting to swim to shore. They never could find them and had to buy a new set, something that delighted their captive. Or the time one of the friendlier pirates, knowing Moore holds dual US-German citizenship, woke him one morning to say excitedly that Germany, that year’s World Cup winner, defeated Brazil 7-1 in the semifinal game. Moore dismissed the news as “more pirate bulls–t,” replying that no team scores seven goals in a soccer game. Then he turned on the radio and learned it was true.

Moore first thought of writing a book about modern-day piracy when he came across examples of it in coastal African and southeast Asian nations he visited while seeking out some of the world’s best surfing spots for a 2010 book. Sweetness and Blood, documenting how a loose-knit band of hippies, star-struck wanderers and US military personnel helped turn an ancient Hawaiian sport into an international pop-culture phenomenon, has been hailed as arguably the best historical account of modern-day surfing.

His plans to report on piracy weren’t sealed, however, until he covered the trial of 10 pirates captured after abducting a German cargo ship off Somalia in 2010. Their two-year trial, which Moore covered for the publication Spiegel Online, marked the first case of piracy prosecuted in Germany in nearly 400 years.

“I really wanted to write a book that had material that I hadn’t seen. On pirates,” he says now. “And it became an obsession.” By the time he arrived in Somalia in January 2012, piracy had become a cottage industry for a nation plunged into poverty and lawlessness by years of civil unrest. Young men unable to find other work sailed the high seas in small skiffs looking for people to kidnap and hold for multimillion-dollar ransoms.

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