Tuesday July 31, 2018
Michael Scott Moore was captured by pirates after traveling to Somalia to write a book about the history of piracy in the Horn of Africa. Chris Pizzello/AP
Kidnapped by Somali pirates, journalist Michael Scott Moore spent two
and half years in captivity. At times he was held on land, other times
at sea. Once, when he was on a 160-foot tuna boat, he tried to escape by
jumping over the side at night.
"It was, like, a 20 foot leap off the deck of the ship, and I was just exultant at first," Moore says.
had hoped the pirates would leave him behind in the water. "The engine
wasn't in terrific shape, so I didn't think there was a way to turn
around the ship," he says.
Instead, the captain cut the engine
and let the boat drift towards him. As the big industrial ship closed in
on him in the dark water, Moore made a snap decision: He opted to get
back on board.
"They found me eventually with the search lights and I raised my hand
and they threw me a life preserver," he says. "By that point everything
was pretty desperate and pretty hopeless."
The pirates had
initially demanded a $20 million ransom, but as the years passed,
Moore's mother negotiated the figure down to $1.6 million. Eventually
she raised enough money to free her son. Moore writes about his ordeal in the memoir, The Desert and the Sea.
On the pirates calling his mother and asking for a $20 million ransom
The only number I had in my head was my mother's number in
California. She wound up being the negotiator on the phone with the
pirates, which is not something I intended. ...
She was horrified but I mean she was obviously trembling
she was obviously scared. She was also obviously waiting for the call.
So in other words, she knew I had been kidnapped. The call came about a
week after my capture and by then she'd been visited by the FBI and so
she knew more or less what was going on.
On his initial plans to jump from the ship
a surfer, so I paid attention to the currents. I paid attention to
which way the swells were moving. The first idea if and when I jumped
would have been to get away from the ship as quickly as possible,
because I assumed they would start to open fire. So I had to think about
how to get away from the ship as quickly as possible. The whole thing
seemed ridiculous and dangerous and stupid.
On being brought from the ship to a prison house and doing yoga
it settled in, after about a month or so, that I was going to be there
for a long time. And so once I realized I was in a house where I wasn't
going to move for a while, I asked for a yoga mat. ... And I tried to do
it out of eyesight of the pirates, because I figured it would just sort
of baffle them or make them laugh, and that's exactly what it did.
you know, they never had me out of their sight. So [the] first time I
did yoga all their heads sort of looked in through the doorway and they
started to laugh, but then they started to do yoga with me. Some of them
were aware of not getting much exercise either in these prison houses,
so they would come in with sort of cardboard flats, broken down boxes,
to stand on the filthy floor and they had these makeshift yoga mats and
started to do the same postures. ... I had my own class, yeah, after a
while I started to correct their postures.
On considering suicide
father died when I was 12. I thought it was a heart attack for a long
time. I didn't realize until I did some research myself in 2010 — so not
very long before I went to Somalia ... — that he had shot himself. So
he committed suicide and that was on my mind obviously once I was
captured in Somalia. I felt that somehow I had steered myself into this
situation where I had to make a similar decision, and it was on my mind a
lot, especially after I wound up on land. ...
There were weapons around all the time, and sometimes the pirates
actually abandoned a Kalashnikov on the floor... And so then I would
have to think very carefully about whether I should pick up the
Kalashnikov, and whether I should start trying to escape that way. ...
... even if it was half successful, I probably would have been shot
dead by the rest of the guards. There was never fewer than seven of them
in a prison house. So in the end it would have been a suicidal gesture.
For a while it was a daily decision whether I should do it
or not, and I had to make a determined decision to stay alive, because I
knew ... there was a crisis at home. I knew my mother was suffering to
get me out. And I also knew that there were probably military plans in
place, and some somebody somewhere might actually risk their lives to
come and get me. And I thought well, suicide could solve all that. You
know it could end the problem at home and save any SEALs the incredible
risk of trying to come get me. All these things went through my head.
On why he decided against suicide
At some point, I made a conscious decision to forgive my guards, to
forgive the most immediate people who were causing me pain. That was an
incredible mental transformation. Once I reordered my brain like that, I
no longer had that impulse to kill myself. It was a daily discipline,
but it worked. And it was also a good thing that I had pen and paper at
that time so I could write and I could distract myself, but that mental
orientation was absolutely crucial.
On eventually being released for $1.6 million that his mother gathered from family, friends and magazines he had worked for
happened very suddenly and I didn't know what was going on. And I
certainly didn't believe that I was about to go free. Even though the
pirates kept telling me that. ... They had told me 100 times before, and
I stopped believing them months, if not years, before.
then a car arrived in the middle of the day, which was slightly unusual,
they said, "Michael, we're going to take you to the airport," and I
didn't dare believe them. But I packed my things, and sure enough when I
got in the car they said, "We're not going to actually take you to the
airport. We're going to drive you into the bush and hand you to some
other Somalis." I thought, fantastic. You just sold me to another gang,
if not al-Shabaab. So I was angry again.
But there was a slight
difference in the way I was being treated. I wasn't being packed into
the car with a bunch of guys holding their rifles. It was just a couple
of English speaking translators with not very much in the way of
weapons. And I was handed to another Somali who managed to get my mother
on the phone.
So he called a number and got a negotiator who'd
been working on my case ... and they both sounded elated, they sounded
really happy, and they said, "Michael you're going to the airport and
your pilot's name is going to be Derek." And then I knew I was going
free. ... I felt lighter, but it was a progressive experience. It wasn't
sudden elation, "Oh my gosh, I'm going free." It was one step at a
time, towards not feeling quite so oppressed.
Krenzel and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for
broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted
it for the Web.