977 Days in Hell. Michael Scott Moore Reveals His Last Two and a Half Years – Held Captive by Somali Pirates.

by Owen James Burke

“I spent my entire captivity, more than two and a half years, in a fuzzy state of near-blindness.” Photo: Cynthia E. Wood.

In early 2012, Berlin-based American journalist and novelist Michael Scott Moore flew into Somalia to investigate “how Somalis lived and what pirates thought” for a book he was–and still is–preparing to author. Little did he know, it would put his life on hold for nearly three years.

Moore was only a few days away from completing his research when, against his instinct, he decided to see his colleague, Ashwin Raman, an Indian-born filmmaker, off to the airport.

An armed car full of men with machine guns stopped his car on the way back to the hotel. He’d been discovered at the airport. Pirate intellect, an evidently intricate web of communications, had matched him to an author photo in a New York Times article he’d penned in the years previous, and fancied him as being a worthwhile hostage. They pulled him out of the car, snapped his wrist, cracked open his skull, broke his glasses and threw him into another car.


Moore was held in a rusty old commercial fishing vessel like the one pictured above (c. 2012) for a time. Photo: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP.

Over the next two and a half years, Michael Scott Moore–nearsighted and now effectively blind without his spectacles–would be held captive in abandoned dwellings, a derelict pirate vessel and oftentimes in the open bush with nothing but a mosquito net covering him, if he was lucky.


“Suicide”, recalls Moore, “would have been easy. AK-47s lay around like junk.” Photo: Michael Scott Moore.

Though his beatings were infrequent, he wasn’t fed much, lost 40 pounds in two months, and spent most nights with his feet bound in a bicycle chain. He had to request permission to do so much as urinate.

Obtaining a hostage in Somalia is not only exhausting, but expensive too, it turns out. Kidnapping Michael Scott Moore cost the band of pirates a cool $2 million, and while his ransom was a lofty $20 million, his release fetched only $1.6 million. A frustratingly bitter end, arguably on both accounts.


“The appropriate answer to the question, Why me? is the other question, Why not me?” — Essayist Richard Mitchell, whose writings helped keep Moore’s morale up during his darkest hours. Photo: Christian Jungeblodt


Read Sweetness and Blood, a book by Michael Scott Moore (who’s also a surfer) on the globalization of the “obscure tribal sport” we call surfing, and read more about his 977 days held hostage in The Guardian. -OJB

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