Michael Scott Moore (@MichaelSctMoore) is a literary journalist and novelist who wrote about being held hostage by Somali pirates in his latest book, The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast.
What We Discuss with Michael Scott Moore:
- Why high-seas piracy still exists in some of the world’s most desperate places.
- How an outsider — such as a journalist like Michael Scott Moore — can be easy prey for pirates abroad even under the “protection” of hired security.
- The types of people who become pirates and how the devoutly religious among them reconcile their actions with their faith.
- Why you’ll probably never find a restaurant specializing in Somali pirate cuisine.
- How a hostage remains sane over 977 days in captivity through escape attempts and threat of torture.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
Being kidnapped by Somali pirates and held hostage for over two years sounds like a nightmare scenario that none of us would wish upon our worst enemies. But for journalist Michael Scott Moore, it was a reality he managed to endure.
In this episode, Michael talks about these experiences that formed his latest book, The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast. He runs us through the events that led to his capture, how he maintained his own sanity while spending so much time in captivity, what it’s like to attempt escape under such circumstances, how he eventually made it home, and what it took to readjust to “normal” life. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
More About This Show
Most people who have thrilled to fictionalized accounts of pirates — from Treasure Island to Pirates of the Caribbean — might be forgiven for thinking that piracy on the high seas died out more than 200 years ago. But as Michael Scott Moore, author of The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast discovered, the practice is still very much alive in some of the most desperate parts of the world.
“When the last stable but also dictatorial government collapsed in Somalia in 1991, there stopped being these national organizations — including the navy,” says Michael. “The national military was barely existent. So there’s no navy to defend the coastline. And starting in the ’90s, international fishing outfits figured that out and they came close to the Somali coast and they started stealing their fish. So the roots of Somali piracy are in this illegal fishing. And for those first years in the ’90s before any of us heard about Somali piracy, there were local clan leaders that would send out armed men on little boats to stop the fishing ships and say, ‘Do you have a license?’ And they would say, ‘No,’ and they would detain the ship for maybe 24 hours and charge the owners maybe $50,000 — and that would be the license fee. Then fishing went on as usual.
“Although the Somalis had no central national government, they acted as if they did and they sent out these armed men. And it worked. It was not an ideal arrangement, but that’s how things worked off Somalia in the’90s. And because it worked in some half-assed way, we never heard about it until around 2005 when some of these gangs got more organized and more ambitious and started to capture large merchant ships — tankers and cargo ships. Even after they started taking these crews hostage, the pirates insisted that they were still defending their coastline. And it became such a profitable business that starting in 2005 but all the way up until 2012 or so, pirates were a real problem in Somalia — and that’s when I went there.”
He went there to survey the scene and report back to a world curious about this unique situation, but he didn’t bargain on becoming a victim of the piracy epidemic himself.
“Word got around fast that strangers were in the region. It’s a very closed area — it’s always been closed to outsiders, which means word gets around when outsiders are there,” says Michael. “My partner flew off to Mogadishu…I drove him to the airport and saw him off; he got on the plane safely. And then on the way back from the airport, back into town towards our hotel, there was actually a truck waiting for us. It was a truck with a cannon welded in the back — these are very common trucks, they’re called ‘technicals’ because of the civil war in Somalia. At first we thought it was there to protect us, but actually it stopped our car and 12 gunmen from the flatbed came over to my side of the car. They actually fired into the air, opened the door, and tore me out of the car. They were waiting for me, and they were probably hoping for both of us; I think they were a little bit disappointed that there was only one journalist.
“They pulled me out of the car; they beat me. They broke my glasses. They had another car waiting and they sort of bundled me into it and off we drove into the bush. And after that I was a hostage.”
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about the kind of people who become pirates under desperate circumstances, what makes a potential hostage a target, what the first few hours of captivity by pirates are like, why you’ll probably never find a restaurant specializing in Somali pirate cuisine, how Michael’s escape attempt at sea went, how fellow prisoners who speak different languages communicate with one another, what warrants torture from a pirate captor, what led to Michael’s ransom and return, the aftermath of the ordeal, and much more.
THANKS, MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE!
If you enjoyed this session with Michael Scott Moore, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
Click here to thank Michael Scott Moore at Twitter!
Click here to let Jordan know about your number one takeaway from this episode!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast by Michael Scott Moore
- Michael Scott Moore at Instagram
- Michael Scott Moore at Facebook
- Michael Scott Moore at Twitter
- How Somalia’s Fishermen Became Pirates by Ishaan Tharoor, Time
- ‘Pirates with Black Magic’ Attack Shipping in Indonesian Waters by Eric Frécon, The Conversation
- ‘They Be Pirates’ — An Old Scourge Is Reappearing in the Caribbean by Anthony Faiola, The Washington Post
- The Young U.S. Navy Battled North African Pirates: Barbary Pirates Demanded Tribute, Thomas Jefferson Chose to Fight by Robert McNamara, ThoughtCo.
- Who are Somalia’s al-Shabab?, BBC News
- Somali ‘Pirates’ Go on Trial in Hamburg by Kate Connolly, The Guardian
- The Pickup Truck Era of Warfare by Jack Mulcaire, War on the Rocks
- A Story of Friendship for American Writer, Seychellois Fishermen Held by Somali Pirates by Sharon Ernesta, Seychelles News Agency
- Khat out of the Bag by Vaughan Bell, Mind Hacks
Transcript for Michael Scott Moore | What It’s Really Like to Be a Pirate Hostage (Episode 115)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Welcome to the show, I'm Jordan Harbinger and as always, I'm here with my producer, Jason DeFillippo. All right, anytime I hear about international intrigue, a kidnapping or some other crazy situation, I always want to hear the story. So when I heard about Michael Scott Moore getting kidnapped by Somali pirates and held for years, I just had to go and read his book, The Desert and the Sea. First of all, why are there even pirates in Somalia? Is it over fishing? Is it poverty? What is going on? Is there more to the story? Michael and I get into it on this one and hit a lot of details about his kidnapping and his captivity. I was just locked in the entire time here. What was really fascinating to me was how he handled the captivity mentally and emotionally. We go pretty far down that road here and you'll take away some tools to handle adversity better yourself should you find the need for it.
[00:00:49] We also get into the nitty gritty of what changes happened to you emotionally and in your personality as you’re held against your will and how resilience really is an endless well for us as humans. I found that quite inspiring in a way. And last but not least, this is just a wild story told well by the man who lived through it and I think this is absolutely worth to listen. As I sat here and spoke with Michael, it was like hearing it again for the first time and I've been talking about it ever since. And if you want to know how I managed to meet people like Michael and manage my relationships with them, well I use systems. I use tiny habits. I don't have all day. Nobody got time for that. I use specific techniques and I'm going to teach them to you for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And don't forget, we've got worksheets for today's episode so you can make sure that you solidify all the key takeaways here from Michael Scott Moore. That link is in the show notes at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. All right, here's Michael Scott Moore. So tell us why are there pirates now and why are they in Somalia? Well, it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. This is a nation that doesn't even have a Navy. So how are they basically going and hijacking boats? It seems unusual. If they were going to be pirates, I would've expected maybe like, “Hey, the Dutch economy is pretty slow. They're hijacking boats now.”
Michael Moore: [00:02:07] Yeah. No, they don't have a Navy. And that's one reason they do have pirates as a matter of fact, because when the last sort of stable, but also dictatorial government collapsed in Somalia in 1991, they stopped being these national organizations, including a Navy. I mean, the national military was barely existent, you know, so there was no Navy to defend the coastline. And starting in the 90s, international fishing outfits figured that out and they came close to the Somali coast and started stealing their fish. So, the roots of Somali piracy are in this illegal fishing and in those first years, in the 90s, before any of us heard about Somali piracy, there were local leaders, clan leaders that would send out armed men on little boats to stop the fishing ships and say, you know, “Do you have a license?”
[00:03:01] And they would say, “No.” And then they would detain the ship for maybe 24 hours and charge the owners maybe $50,000 -- and that would be the license fee, right? And then fishing went on as usual. So although the Somalis had no central national government, they acted as if they did. And they sent out these armed men to sort of take care of it. And it worked. It was not an ideal arrangement, but that's how things worked off Somalia in the 90s. And because it worked in some half-assed way, we never heard about it until about 2005 when some of these gangs got more organized and more ambitious and started to capture large merchant ships. So tankers and cargo ships and things like that. And even after they started taking these crews hostage, the pirates insisted that they were still defending their coastline. And it became such a profitable business that starting in 2005 but all the way up until 2012 or so, pirates were a real problem in Somalia.
[00:04:04] And that's when I went there. I wanted to learn, you know, what was going on, not just in the world but also in Somalia itself. That saw the resurgence of pirates in a big way in this particular corner of the world because we had gone more than two centuries without piracy on the high seas in a really large, important way. They've always been pirates, but we squelched pirates. I mean, we, the American Navy did, and set up a whole new order on the planet's oceans. That seemed to be falling apart when the Somalis sort of raised their heads.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:43] Yeah. This kind of throwback crime, if you will, is highly unusual. You hear about it in the South China Sea and you think, “Well, okay, South China Sea just sounds like a sketchy place where there would be pirates.
[00:04:53] So fine.” You know, and the way I've envisioned those are kind of like people who live in fishing villages in the Philippines are like, “Hey, I can go steal this tugboat or something, or I can go extort this crew.” Pretty small scale. There's insurance for it. Most of the ships are probably locals going after other near locals or at least regional powers. But then you see Somalia and it's like, “Oh, let's run over and get this giant Dutch or American or whatever oil tank or with hundreds of people on it and tow it in.”
Michael Moore: [00:05:27] And then keep them for a really long time. I mean that's what became so sort of characteristic of Somali piracy is how long they held onto the ships and the crews. There was some piracy and another very important shipping lane off Indonesia in the late 90s and early 2000s. And that was also related to local unrest. So it tends to be groups who need money for some sort of civil war. In Aceh in Indonesia, the rebels there against the central government were also sending pirates to make some money. But, you know, it was a smallish thing. It was not an identifiable era, like the Somali pirate era. And the last identifiable era would have been, you know, the Barbary Coast era, which lasted for several centuries off what's now Morocco. So all this was really interesting to me. And now, you know, you have to say there are pirates in other places too off West Africa, it's a problem and off Venezuela. So it's almost as if the Somalis gave other people ideas.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:26] Interesting. So essentially, wherever there's no strong government, the Navy tends to -- well, it's expensive to run probably. And they say, “You know what, we've got enough problem. We got people throwing Molotov cocktails in the streets of the capital. We don't need to be sailing around protecting some American boat from being attacked. Least of our worries.”
Michael Moore: [00:06:45] Yes. I think in off West Africa, off Nigeria normally and Venezuela, it's tied in with intent, with organized crime. So organized criminals have figured out a way to make it profitable to go and sack other ships. I think the lack of a Navy to keep order in both places is important but it's not as obvious source of the problem as it was in Somalia. It's interesting it becomes an organized crime really quickly because the groups have to be organized. It's just interesting how quickly the idea has spread a little bit and I think it's symptomatic of a breakdown in international order. And I wish I could quite put my finger on it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:26] I can see this and I can understand it. When you live in Somalia, you don't have a central government or at least not a functioning government, you're in a failed state -- terrorism, piracy. It might be one of the better options for upward mobility for somebody with a zero education or even a couple of years of basic education possibly these guys. And the way you described them in the book, and we'll get into this in a little bit, is that they're idiots. Generally. They're not, I'm not just being rude, like these guys seem really dumb. They're not just rural. They're not just uneducated, they're actually just kind of these bumbling fools in a lot of ways -- and not all of them, of course, but this is not a situation where they say, “You know, let me just be a farmer. I'll take my goods to market, I'll have fair trade.”
[00:08:10] These are people that exist in this chaotic, lawless state with terrorism -- Boko Haram on one side, foreign governments on the other, the local government -- and they're just trying to get by. But they become less sympathetic as they do more and more things that are just kind of downright evil.
Michael Moore: [00:08:26] Yeah. So, it's a chaotic situation. I mean, so first of all, Boko Haram is over in West Africa, but they have Al Shabaab in Somalia
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:34] Oh, that's what I meant to say about say, yeah, Al Shabaab.
Michael Moore: [00:08:36] which is the sort of, “Okay to franchise there.” And actually Al-Shabaab and pirate gangs are the two big corporate structures for a young man with no education and maybe some weapons training to consider. So that's what's interesting. I think this whole excuse that pirates use that they're defending the coastline and they’re frustrated former fishermen, that tends to be propaganda. What is true is that these guys have no prospects. They've got very few jobs. And when they look at these organized criminal organizations, which is also what Al Shabaab is, they look at almost a corporate structure where a young man can, you know, move up. And that's what, you know, we take that for granted in the West, but in Somalia that's this very tempting to a young man. I would say that a lot of young Somalis join Al Shabaab also for that reason. And not just for out of ideology.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:28] Well, first of all, I want to point out that when I was in fourth grade, I told my fourth grade teacher that pirates still existed. This is in the 90s. And the whole class laughed at me and the teacher laughed at me and said, “Pirates don't exist anymore.” But my uncle, my uncle Dave, he worked for Chevron for a long time and he told me about people trying to climb up on tanker ships and the crew would be shooting them off with the high powered water hoses and stuff like that.
Michael Moore: [00:09:53] Yeah, and you were right. I mean in that sense, pirates have never gone away, but what I was interested in was the phenomenon of a region where it was actually dangerous to sail. And so there are actually a lot of parallels between Somalia and the Barbary Coast from a couple of centuries ago.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:14] Now you're in Somalia trying to track down pirate gangs for a piece and you start talking about the room or a kitchen. And I'd love to kind of hear what this felt like. You're in this lawless place eating terrible slash mediocre food for like 600 bucks a meal because everyone's just kind of extorting you guys from the sound of it. And it's part of the cost of doing business down there.
Michael Moore: [00:10:38] Well, we certainly didn't spend $600 on every meal. We went with a big security team and we paid, you know, the security team a lot of money. And it was this one portion of a clan in Central Somalia that was supposed to protect us. And when they took us out to the coast, another clan that was more sympathetic to the pirates sort of hosted us and hosted their clan relatives from, there were protecting us. And so we had a big feast and the bill for that feast turned out to be something like $600. One feast, right? And that seemed outrageous to our guards and my partner Ashwin and I pay very close attention to that little incident because we knew that a dispute about money could become very dangerous for us very quickly. It did seem a little bit showy to me and I described that in The Desert and the Sea, but it seemed to fizzle. Our people didn't make a huge issue about it. So only one meal for $600. And that was covered by our security people. But I should say that I wasn't just sort of casting around for stories. I was also looking for background on a trial that I had covered in Germany. So I had spent about a year covering a trial of 10
[00:11:54] pirates in Hamburg who got caught trying to capture a German cargo ship. So, you know, I sort of knew what I was doing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:02] Right. Yeah. And then you start, it's interesting in The Desert and the Sea, you start saying things like, “So I was looking around, people were looking at us. People started to talk about us. People knew who we were before we got there.” And you kind of got this little hint, maybe it's 20/20 hindsight. I would imagine you kind of got this little hint of – “How does everybody know what we're doing here?” You know, and it seems like it would make sense, probably not a whole lot going on down there in rural Somalia, but it started to make you nervous.
Michael Moore: [00:12:31] Yeah, I mean there's a lot of talk and that's what the chapter of ‘the room or kitchen’ refers to. It's from a German phrase which just means the rumor mill. Another word for it would be the Bush Telegraph. I mean, word got around fast that strangers were in the region. It's a very closed area. So it's always been closed to outsiders, which means that word gets around when outsiders are there. I was traveling with another journalist who's Indian born. And you know, it didn't matter, both of us looked like outsiders.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:02] So how did they get you? Where did it go from – “I'm eating bad mediocre stewed goat head” to “Oh crap, I'm chained to a mattress.”
Michael Moore: [00:13:11] Well, it happened in stages, but yeah, my partner Ashwin flew off to Mogadishu and since it was seemed wiser to stick together, we had one group of guards, I drove him to the airport and then, we saw him off. He got on the plane safely and then on the way back from the airport, back into town towards our hotel, there was actually a truck waiting for us. It was a truck with a cannon welded in the back, anti-aircraft cannon. These are very common trucks that are called ‘technicals’ because of the civil war in Somalia. And at first we thought it was there to watch over us or protect us or something, but actually it stopped our car. And 12 gunman from the flatbed came over to my side of the car and they actually fired in the air and then opened the door and tore me out of the car. So they were waiting for me, and they were probably waiting or hoping for both of us. I think they were a little bit disappointed that there was only one journalist.
[00:14:11] But no, they pulled me out of the car. They beat me. They broke my glasses and I was wearing glasses at the time. They had another car waiting and they sort of bundled me in into it and off we drove into the bush and after that I was a hostage.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:28] I can't imagine what was going through your head at that particular time. And what were you thinking right then? Were you thinking like, “Okay, I'm going to get out of this or I'm going to fight these guys off.” Tell us sort of the play by play here. Because I would imagine in the beginning you're like, “This isn't happening.”
Michael Moore: [00:14:43] Yeah, no, I mean I knew it was bad, but at first, I mean I described in The Desert and the Sea that my mind actually recoiled from what was going on. I mean, I actually saw myself in the process of denial, you know, because at first, like I said, I thought they were there to protect us. I thought it was a friendly technical. When it was clear that they wanted something from us, I thought, “Oh, well, it's a traffic stop”, or that happens at random sometimes in Somalia. They just want to see our papers, you know, no problem. But it was obviously, they wanted more than papers. And once it was really underway, the first thing I thought was how horrible it was going to be for my family because I didn't want my own adventures in difficult parts of the world to have an effect on my family. And of course, once I was captured, it did. I mean, my mother had to think about it every day for the next two years and eight months.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:40] Oh my gosh! Wait, no kids, not married? Okay. That's kind of cold comfort. But at least then you weren't worrying about some kids growing up without you or whatever. Not going to go to college because they spent it on your ransom.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:15:58] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Michael Scott Moore. We'll be right back. This episode is sponsored in part by HostGator. When was the last time you thought about your online presence? Sure. You probably have a Facebook account and a Twitter account and an Instagram account and a LinkedIn account, but maybe you had a MySpace account when it was all the rage – and everything you did there is now gone. What's going to happen to what you're sharing today when the masses decided to move on to the next big thing? You can't control the social media landscape, but you can control your own website. HostGator has been around since 2002 and they can set you up with one today. You don't even need to know a thing about coding because HostGator takes care of the technical details and leaves you to make your mark online as you see fit and that's why we recommend HostGator's website builder.
[00:16:43] HostGator allows you to choose from over 100 mobile friendly templates so your site will look great on any device -- smartphones, tablets, desktops, you pick it, they got it. And if you want to use WordPress for your site, it only takes one click. Add-on options are so plentiful and you can do things like integrate with PayPal and allow customers to buy directly from your website, or you can increase your search engine visibility without being an expert in SEO. You'll also get a guaranteed 99.9% uptime and HostGator's support team is there to help with any issues you experience 24/7, 365. Don't worry about all of this breaking the bank either. HostGator is giving our wonderful listeners up to 62% off all packages for new users with a 45-day complete money back guarantee if you are not satisfied. Oh, and you even get unlimited email addresses based from your website that you can hand out in place it that free Gmail address you've been using for ages. Just go to hostgator.com/jordan right now to sign up. That's hostgator.com/Jordan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:39] This episode is also sponsored in part by BrandCrowd. BrandCrowd is a website that offers awesome logo making tools that can help you make an amazing logo design online, even on your phone. So what BrandCrowd does, which I think is pretty cool, it's almost like screwing around brainstorming and yet you end up with something that you might really love. So BrandCrowd takes your business name, generates thousands of logos just for you within seconds. These logos are based on tens of thousands of high quality, handcrafted designs created by designers from around the world and BrandCrowd uses these designs to generate thousands of custom logos just for you based on your business name, industry tags, keywords, whatever. And they generate that logo you like. You can edit it, you can tweak the font, the style, the color, everything, move stuff around. So whether you're a fitness trainer, you're a startup founder, BrandCrowd is an easy way to get a logo going. If you don't want to use something like DesignCrowd for example. And one of the best things about BrandCrowd, it's free to get started. Begin generating logos. Super easy to use. This is kind of where you get your head in the game, like messing around with show our logos, business card stuff, designs for pretty much anything. If you still need a logo after trying BrandCrowd, you can head on over to DesignCrowd where they've got designers ready for something custom, but check out BrandCrowd, B R A N D C R O W D.com/maker to learn more. It's free to try, of course. You don't like it, you don't pay. BrandCrowd.com/maker.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:19:02] Thanks for listening and supporting the show. To learn more about our sponsors and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit JordanHarbinger.com/deals. And if you'd be so kind, please drop us a nice rating and review in iTunes or your podcast player of choice. It really helps us out and helps build the show family. If you want some tips on how to do that, head on over to JordanHarbinger.com/subscribe. And now back to our show with Michael Scott Moore.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:27] So who are you with? Where are you? Where did they take you?
Michael Moore: [00:19:29] They drove me into the bush for about three hours, something like that. Hard to keep track of time. But they drove me to a bush camp and at some point, we stopped. They blindfolded me and they took me a few steps over to a mattress. So there was a mattress waiting for me in the middle of nowhere. There were other people there -- other guards and other hostages. And I sat down and then I was a hostage. But one of the guards gave me some food, some bottled water and some bread and some canned tuna. And that was it. I mean, over the next couple of days, I got to know the other two hostages and they became very important to me. But, you know, at first, obviously I had no idea where I was or what was going to happen. I mean, I had to use clues, including the direction of the sun was setting in, to guess which clan region I was in and to guess which people were holding me because of course the pirates weren't going to tell me that.
[00:20:22] But slowly it was clear that the pirates holding me belonged to the same clan as the pirates that were supposed to protect me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:29] So they essentially sold you out probably?
Michael Moore: [00:20:32] Yeah. Sorry. The guards that were supposed to protect me. Yeah, the clan that hosted me, essentially somebody betrayed me. Someone sold me out to pirate members of the same clan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:41] So you can't even hire local protection because they might just say, “Hey look.”
Michael Moore: [00:20:45] They might turn. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:46] Yeah, there's more in it if we just lock you to this tree or whatever. So they thought, okay. And so there were other hostages there, did they take those guys from boats? Were they taken from land? I'm curious who these other guys are.
Michael Moore: [00:20:59] Yeah, no, it was interesting. They were both fishermen. They were both poor fishermen from the Seychelles, which is an Island country off the coast of West Africa -- an African country. But once they were captured, since they spoke a kind of French Creole, the pirates were happy to assume that they were from France or from Australia. I mean they just came up with wild ideas because obviously they wanted to demand a lot more money than they were going to get from some African country. But these two guys were very poor, independent fishermen who were working, cleaning fish at night on a small boat, about 50 miles outside their home port, hundreds of miles away from Somalia. And at night, a couple of boats of pirates came up and took over their boat and forced them to sail back to Somalia. It took a full week, but one of them, the skipper of that boat, his name is Rolly Tambara, he became sort of my partner in suffering for the next several months. For some reason, the pirates put the two of us together and separated the two Seychellois.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:04] So do you speak French? How are you talking to these guys?
Michael Moore: [00:22:08] Yeah, I speak a little bit of French, but we spoke English. He also speaks broken English and we got along quite well.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:14] You mentioned that you started to speak maritime sounding English at some points. What does that even mean?
Michael Moore: [00:22:21] So before I figured out where he was from, I heard his English now and then, and I thought, “Well that sounds like island English somehow.” You know how the English that you hear from maybe in Jamaica has kind of an island sound. It has a maritime sound because that's the history of Jamaica. So I thought, “Well, there's something about the way this guy talks that makes me think he's from an island somewhere. But I couldn't quite place it”, until he told me his name and I've sort of located exactly where he was from.
[00:22:51] I narrowed it down in other words -- to the Camaros or the Seychelles, before he finally told me. It's funny, Rolly is a chatterbox. But in the first few days, he didn't want to say anything because he was afraid of punishment by the pirates.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:04] And these pirates, your captors, I mentioned this before, they're kind of stupid. They're just high all the time on a khat. Can you tell us what that is? What is going on there? The tune is leaf all the time.
Michael Moore: [00:23:15] Yeah. Khat is a little like cocoa leaf. It's actually a narcotic leaf, but it makes you high at first and very nervous and agitated. It's kind of hopped up high and then…
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:28] It sounds awesome.
Michael Moore: [00:23:15] Awesome. And then when you come down, this is the narcotic aspect, you know, all you want to do is sleep and then you wake up in the morning and you're depressed and you need more khat. So one pirate, I never met a single pirate who wasn't addicted to it. It's a very expensive addiction actually. And one pirate said khat is the Somali beer. And by that, he meant Muslims don't drink alcohol. So this is like sort of easy stuff to get high on that's not alcohol.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:57] Oh my gosh. Talk about it. And that's just one of many points at which the hypocrisy of what these guys were doing because they're like, “We're religious, we can't eat pork.” And it's like, “but you can kidnap people, beat them up, get high on khats, you know, all this dumb crap.” And then they were like at one point, they're giving you a bottle of alcohol and everybody wants a sip of it.
Michael Moore: [00:24:18] Yeah, exactly. The one pirate boss, so the low level guards, they were strangely devout—Sufis, Sufi Muslims. And the bosses, they didn't even pretend. So one boss actually drank, I think gin and gave me a bottle at some point, presumably because negotiations were going well, but I don't know, actually why he gave me a bottle. And the pirates just expected me to sort of empty it and in one glug. But I hung onto it for a few days and they were just sort of electrified by the sight of a bottle of alcohol in the room. Some of them wanted a taste and some of them were like, “No, no, no, I'm Muslim.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:03] Right. “I'm Muslim. I can only torture people and kidnap them from boats. But you know, God forbid I should have a sip of this.” Yeah.
Michael Moore: [00:25:10] I can only kidnap infidels.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:12] Right. Yeah, exactly. Or other people that are the wrong kind of Mus… I mean, it's just…
Michael Moore: [00:25:16] The wrong kind of Muslim. Yeah. They did have justifications. I mean, they did try and work piracy into their religion, which I found really interesting. One thing is that most Somalis who are not Al-Shabaab, who are not the fundamentalist, Al-Qaeda-type, they find nothing wrong with chewing khat. But my pirates also found excuses in the Qur'an to, to kidnap infidels. So, I talked about him because I was concerned about, you know, for his spiritual welfare, or at least that's what I said. And you know, he gave me a very clear but still not very devout reason, you know, that seemed to be in line with his notion of Islam.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:00] Do you remember what that is? I'm curious.
Michael Moore: [00:26:02] Yeah, there was one guard I spoke to easily because he had a good sense of humor. Eventhough he didn't have much English, and I didn't have much Somali, but I said, “Bashko, you pray all the time. You’re a Muslim.” He's like, “Yeah.” I said, “But you're also a thief. You know, these things don't go together.” And he found that quite funny because it was, obviously. I think I pricked his conscience, you know, at first he laughed and then eventually he started to give me excuses and we came back to the topic over and over for a couple of weeks. And then finally, he broke down and gave me what I think he considered the real reason. He said, “You know, the Qur'an says to struggle with the infidel and because we're not Al-Shabaab, we're not going to shoot you for that reason, but we do think it's okay to take your money.” He said stealing from an infidel isn't theft.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:53] Yeah. And it's like, “Well, if that was the reason, how come it took you three weeks to come up with it?” Right?
Michael Moore: [00:27:00] Yeah, he didn't quite want to say that to me, but I wasn't buying as other reasons, so.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:06] Yeah. What are you eating at this point? Because the food in the book in The Desert and the Sea, it sounds pretty gross. And even before you became a prisoner, it sounded pretty gross. Flies everywhere. Everything's greasy. It's like the opposite of anything I've ever thought appetizing.
Michael Moore: [00:27:22] Yeah. One thing that was good in Somalia was camel meat. I was surprised by that, but I didn't mind camel. The thing that wasn't good was goat, and I got goat more than any other kind of meat because they didn't flavor it. They just sort of boiled it and handed it over to me on a pile of pasta. But actually I had a lot of pasta that had nothing on it, just boiled spaghetti, which they've inherited from their colonial era under the Italians. And sometimes canned tuna, which I don't ever have to eat in my life again, and beans but not beans with salt or anything like that, but beans with sugar. Yeah, that was kind of disgusting.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:04] Yeah. It's just, you go from eating greasy goat parts during the phase where you're researching the story, to eating greasy goat parts that other people who actually enjoy eating greasy goat parts, don't really want to eat because now you're a prisoner and they're like, “Here's a part of the greasy goat that I don't even want. Have this on your undercooked boiled spaghetti.”
Michael Moore: [00:28:27] Yeah. Like, thank you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:28] Do you ever draw the line where you're just like, “Look, I'm not eating this. This is disgusting.” What was the nastiest thing that they had over there?
Michael Moore: [00:28:38] The nastiest thing? That's a good question.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:40] Aside from being kidnapped by the Somali pirates. The food-wise though, what's the yuckiest thing?
Michael Moore: [00:28:45] This isn't in the book, but at one point, the guards actually decapitated a pigeon. They killed a pigeon that had gotten caught in the house. I don't know why they did that, and I don't know if they cooked it, but I certainly didn't eat any meat in the few days after that. I think they might've been hoping to cook it for themselves. But I actually quit eating so much pasta. They kept handing me these piles of boiled pasta with very little on it. And I said, “No, just give me whatever you're drizzling on it.” So the boiled potatoes and some flavor, I'll just take that in a dish. I don't need pasta every day because it wasn't doing anything. I wasn't very hungry. And they got worried about my health. So after a long time of not eating pasta, they came up with something. They decided to feed me a kind of pancake, which you and I might know from Ethiopian restaurants. So they call it injera. And it was really just like a crepe, but the proper injera was made with a certain kind of grain, which I don't think the Somalis had at that point.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:47] Wow. Okay. So they're feeding you. You're basically won on the low carb diet because you weren't doing anything. Oh my gosh. For somebody who doesn't eat a lot of that stuff, that would just be so annoying to get this nutrition-less starch crap every day.
Michael Moore: [00:30:05] Yeah. That got on my nerves.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:06] But did you lose weight?
Michael Moore: [00:30:08] Oh yeah. You know, I lost 45 pounds and just in the first few months, I think.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:12] Oh, my gosh! Were you sick? Or were you just like…
Michael Moore: [00:30:15] That was just the sudden change in diet. Afterwards, I did get sick. I had malaria sometime late in the first year, and then towards the end of my captivity entirely, I started to have immune system problems. So I had little infections here and there -- in my skin, in my ear and things like that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:36] Well, the pirate diet is not helping either with all that.
Michael Moore: [00:30:39] No, it was the problem actually.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:40] Yeah. So, okay, they're keeping you for a while. When do you start to figure out you're not going to leave in a week or whatever? Or, are you thinking, “Look, I'm ready to get out of here anytime. This is temporary. Just kind of relax, so keep it together.”
Michael Moore: [00:30:58] Yeah. No, there was no relaxing, but I think in the first week or two, I had this irrational hope that it would somehow resolve itself quickly. In stages that went away. You know, and the one moment when I realized I was going to be there for quite a bit longer was when they decided to quit running from surveillance plans on land -- which we did for the first two or three months. And they put me and Rolly, one of the other Seychellois fishermen, onboard a ship. It was a tuna vessel. Another part of the pirate gang had captured on the open ocean, and they had it anchored near Hobyo. And in mid-April, in 2012, Rolly and I were taken aboard. You know, they loaded us into a pirate skiff and buzzed us out to the ship. And so we spent about five months, five or six months over the summer of 2012 on this hijacked vessel.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:55] Oh wow. So they're using the hijack boats like prisons essentially.
Michael Moore: [00:32:00] It was definitely a prison ship. There were already 28 hostages on board. The crew of the ship, and the pirates when they captured it had killed the captain. So the captain was frozen in the deep freeze with the tuna.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:13] Oh my gosh. Why did they freeze the body? I remember when they shot the Taiwanese captain, but what's the point? Why don't they just throw the guy overboard? Why are they leaving the guy in the freezer? That's mystifying.
Michael Moore: [00:32:23] A couple of reasons, I think a burial at sea is not very Muslim. So they didn't want to just do that. And they also held him as long as the freezer worked hoping to get money for the body. So I actually know that they made a request of something like $1 million just for the captain's body. That didn't work, by the way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:45] No. I mean if they're going to leave the live crews sitting on a boat in the ocean, they're not going to pay for the dead body of the captain. Jeez.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:32:56] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Michael Scott Moore. We'll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:01] This episode is sponsored by Home Chef. Go into the grocery store. Not a huge fan. You know, it's interesting to see stuff that I might be putting in my belly at some point, but otherwise it's just kind of an errand, right? And with all the options out there, you want to get a meal delivery service, but you want to pick the one that is best for you and it can be hectic, man. You've got kids, you've got a business to run, whatever. Go both. Some of you all. Simplify your day and try Home Chef. Got a crazy schedule? Home Chef can help it out. Guilty of making frequent trips to your local fast food joint? Not a problem. Try some Home Chef or quick, easy healthy meals. They've got 16 different meal options each week, so you're not going to be like, “Oh, is it the chicken or the other chicken?”
[00:33:41] You can mix and match based on your prefs and once you join, you just select your meals, customize your delivery dates, the box arrives at your doorstep each week with recipe cards and fresh pre-portioned ingredients. And then voila, you've got a home cooked meal in about 30 minutes. They even have five-minute lunch options for those of you who apparently only have five minutes for lunch. That's a human rights thing right there. But anyway, I've been loving Home Chef. The stuff is super delicious. Everything I got from them has been absolutely bomb. Easy to create -- Well, I'll be frank, it looks easy when I'm watching other people create in my kitchen, but Jen loves it. My brother-in-law loves it and this stuff is super tasty. Jason, have you tried the Home Chef yet?
Jason DeFillippo: [00:34:22] I have indeed tried the Home Chef and as soon as I'm done with this ad, I'm going to go have me some chimi cherry salmon. But for everybody else, you need to go to homechef.com/jordan for $30 off your first order. That's homechef.com/jordan for $30 off your first order, homechef.com/Jordan, go get some. Thanks for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers is what keeps us on the air, and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit JordanHarbinger.com/deals. And now for the conclusion of our interview with Michael Scott Moore.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:55] Now, tell us what it's like to wake up from a dream about like, I don't know, eating In-N-Out burger, grabbing a coffee, read the newspaper, and then you wake up, you realize you're on a stinky bare mattress in Somalia, held captive by a bunch of third world jackasses.
Michael Moore: [00:35:10] Well that happened every night. Yeah, I mean, I didn't necessarily dream about food, but I did dream about my friends. And it turns out that in the meantime, friends have told me that they dreamt about me, you know, some since we met during sleep, but then I would wake up. You know, not after a good night's sleep, I would wake up sometimes three times a night and go, “Oh geez, I'm still in Somalia.” That was miserable.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:35] Yeah. It's just torture. Did you ever think like, “Okay, I'm going to jump off the ship and that’s it.”
Michael Moore: [00:35:38] Well, I did jump off the ship.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:40] Yes, I remember that. Yeah.
Michael Moore: [00:35:42] No, I thought about it almost as soon as I was on the ship because I'm also a surfer so I can swim. And we were only about a mile from shore. But I knew that it had to be done properly. I mean, something had to be arranged and sometimes I tried to arrange things by communicating over the phone with my mom and that kind of thing. I mean, I knew we were being listened to. But nothing quite worked. And I didn't jump until the anchor chain of the [00:36:07][indiscernible] ship actually snapped. It was weak anyway. And for some reason at the end of the summer, it actually broke. And within 20 minutes, it was sort of floating at random downstream. There was a very powerful current along the Somali coast.
[00:36:29] Once we were sort of anchor lists, a surveillance plane actually came to look at us and I thought, “Well, somebody mustered that plane really quickly.” I've been seeing that plane for about a month. And I thought, “Well, if it came over to the ship that quickly for an emergency, then maybe it has some sort of local support like an aircraft carrier or something.” And that night I also thought, because the anchor chain was gone, we were probably going to get moved to shore pretty quickly. So that night, and I knew we were being watched by drones. There's no way that the Navy was not watching the ship because they knew I was on board. So that night I found an excuse to get down to the open deck in the dark. And my guard who brought me down had no gun and I thought this is my chance -- and I jumped.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:21] How do you know that they knew you were on board? They told you when you got off?
Michael Moore: [00:37:25] I had mentioned it more than once on the phone, in German.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:28] Oh, I see, right.
Michael Moore: [00:37:29] And there was one surveillance plane, but there were also drones. So it was clear that we were being watched.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:37] And you said you're trying to sort of signal to these planes. How are you doing that?
Michael Moore: [00:37:41] The only way I could communicate was every once in a while when the pirates gave me a phone, but on land, I had learned to flash the sky with Morse Code because I had bummed a cigarette from a suit from a pirate and also sort of palmed his lighter when I realized it was a lighter that had an led at the end. So whenever I would go out to pee, I would actually aim the lighter at the sky, either at dusk or dawn, you know, when it was sort of half dark, and use a toilet paper roll to contain the flair. And I flashed SOS at the sky hoping that somebody would notice, you know, and I continued to do that on the ship, which means once I was on the ship, I think they knew where I was. I think because of that flashing, they probably also knew which cabin I was sleeping in. So I think once I was on the ship, it was actually helpful.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:34] That's interesting. I can imagine at the time you're just racking your brain like, “Does anyone see this?” Because you're not looking at a plane necessarily through this tube, you're just hoping, “Okay, it's up there or there's a satellite taking a picture of me right now.”
Michael Moore: [00:38:48] Well, just hoping, yeah. We're hoping that the schedule, you know, the sort of regular habit would catch somebody's eye because I only had an opportunity to do it maybe twice a day. You know, going to the bathroom in the middle of the afternoon, that would work. But my first piss in the morning and my last piss in the evening or around dawn or dusk -- those were opportunities. And I thought, “Well, if I do this regularly for long enough, somebody will figure it out and come and try and see what's going on.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:19] How long were you on this boat and how did you keep from going insane?
Michael Moore: [00:39:24] Well, on the boat it was okay. On the ship, I had plenty of company, you know, it was a crew of 28 guys from East Asia and we didn't necessarily speak to each other in the same language, but there was an onboard pigeon, a sort of language that they've cobbled together so we could communicate a little bit. There were five Filipinos who spoke English, and so we had friends. Rolly and I had people we could socialize with and although it was extremely boring and frustrating, it wasn't solitary confinement. But once I jumped and they brought me onto the shore afterwards, then it was solitary confinement and that's where I had to actually guard against going insane.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:04] So I feel like I would try to learn Somali or try to study a language, that language something or my brain would just rust, I think.
Michael Moore: [00:40:12] Yeah. I did since a bunch of the sailors spoke Chinese. I did learn a little bit of Chinese on the ship, but on land, I didn't really want to take Somali lessons from my guards. I think I've lived in Berlin and you know, when East Germans were being educated in what was basically a Russian system and had to learn Russian, some of them were belt didn't, you know, and that's kind of how I felt while I was sitting there. There was also very little paper and pen, so it would have just been sort of oral lessons in Somali and I didn't have the patience for that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:47] Yeah. Especially from a bunch of morons, you know.
Michael Moore: [00:40:50] From the pirates. Yeah, no, exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:52] Yeah. So best case scenario, you end up with like a medium command of the dumbest version of that particular language. The one that signals that you learned it from people who can barely, who can't even read or write or spell their own name or anything like that.
Michael Moore: [00:41:07] Well, I learned a few crucial words, but just the bare minimum, you know, to sort of express my needs to them so I know how to say piss in Somali.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:16] Yeah, sure. You said you made a pigeon with the Chinese guys and the other hostages. What does that sound like? How do you do that?
Michael Moore: [00:41:24] Well, that was a mixture of Chinese and English. Some of the men spoke no English, but new words like ‘washy wash’. So if you double the word like ‘washy wash’ or ‘chum chum’ -- that could mean something to everybody. And ‘washy wash’ obviously meant to laundry or washing your dishes, and ‘chum chum’ meant food or meant eating. Then we had the Chinese word for pirate, which was ‘Hi Dao.’ And a couple of other words like ‘loco loco’. I don't know where they learned a Spanish word, but that was what we said for crazy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:59] So what's a sentence that you would normally use with these guys?
Michael Moore: [00:42:03] Oh, well, the sentence I mentioned in The Desert and the Sea is very good because the other word that was important was for some reason ‘sa sa’ – S A doubled, meant we have plenty of something or too much of something. So if we had lots of water, you could say, “water sa sa”. But if you talked about how the pirates just would flap their mouths and not mean anything, which they did and which came up quite a bit, you would say, “Hi Dao. Ba wow. Sa sa.” Ba wow for some reason meant ‘talk’.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:38] Oh my gosh. It sounds like your company is almost kind of like hanging out with toddler conversations, right?
Michael Moore: [00:42:50] Yeah, they were pretty rudimentary conversations even with our friends. But I mean I really got to know those guys on the crew. And really got to like them. So I hope I can see some of them again.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:02] Did you try to signal? You said you'd tried to signal when you were on the phone with your mom and things like that. I mean, how does that work? Are you saying things like, “Yeah, mom, the C-130s fly over every day at 10:00 AM”, and they're like, ‘Okay, there's a C-130 at this place, every 10:00 AM and he's around here somewhere.” Right? Or something like this. How do you do that?
Michael Moore: [00:43:19] It didn't work like that. I would come up with landmarks and say, you know, just south of this hill or something like that and probably east of Hobyo or whatever. But I couldn't always use those words. I certainly couldn't use the word Hobyo, so I would have to say in German, a town that starts with H, you know. Although come to think of it, that would have been a little bit confusing in that part of the world. I had to come up with these things before I got on the phone because phone calls were so nerve wracking. But I would come up with formulas to sort of indicate where I was and then say them in German. I had to do it in German, otherwise the pirates would have gotten angry.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:58] Sure. I can imagine that. I mean, look, this is just crazy. I've been kidnapped two times, but one, if you count one failed attempt, and I was captive for a day the other times. So not for years at a time. I mean, you were there for over two and a half years.
Michael Moore: [00:44:12] When were you kidnapped?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:13] Once when I was 20 in Mexico. The fake taxi type of abduction. And then another time when I was in Serbia, they thought I was a spy. So their state security guys came after me, but they're not like real cops. These are like these dumb militia guys from Bosnia who are like, “Yeah, we're freedom fighters.” And I'm like, “No, you're high on meth and it's 7:00 AM.”
Michael Moore: [00:44:33] Yeah. And what's that the failed one? Or did that last for a couple of days?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:37] That one was like a day and a half. Yeah, that one. And then that was an escape because they were just so out of it. That eventually they kind of gave me an opportunity and I was able to leave the house where I was, because I had seen where I was and these guys are just high out of their minds.
Michael Moore: [00:44:55] Good. Lucky.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:56] Yeah. Lucky, because when I'm reading your book I'm thinking, “Oh my God, it's still going.” You know, I read the audio book, so I don't see how much is left in the book and I just went, “Oh my God, he's not out yet. I mean for crying out loud,” and I'm sure you felt the same way in real time. You know like, “Oh I'm getting in the car.” And they kept telling you, “Okay, all right, this is good. You're going to be gone in a few days.” And then eventually you're like, “Okay, this is not happening. None of these guys know what the hell's going on.”
Michael Moore: [00:45:20] And I can't believe them. Yeah. I can't listen to them when they say that. And they said it a lot. They thought they were helping I think, but they were not helping at all.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:26] Right. It was just psychological torture. To raise your hope. How did your personality change as you spent more and more time as a hostage? You kind of talk about things like you’re getting quick temper -- no doubt, that's very forgivable, but are there weird things happened that I wouldn't have expected?
Michael Moore: [00:45:44] Yeah, I was sitting on a lot of anger and it just got worse obviously. So I had a quick temper with the guards which I had to restrain sometimes and then sometimes I felt murderous. Sometimes I felt murderous and sometimes I felt suicidal. And so, I had to think about it very carefully on occasion whether I just wanted to pick up one of the [indiscernible][00:46:08] that was lying around on the floor. They weren't very careful about their weapons and I would've had a chance more than once to pick up a gun and try and blast my way out. But I figured out, and I'm glad I figured out, that that would've been a suicidal motion, you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:30] I wonder though, when you had that 28 other hostages, and I know you talked about it with one of the higher ranking hostages -- did you outnumber the pirates at any point? Because it seems like, “Man, you know, the boat had fuel on it. The generator was working. You guys knew the ship really well. You could have locked these guys up or just shot them or throw them over. Half of them couldn't swim. You know, that would've been it.”
Michael Moore: [00:46:53] That certainly crossed my mind. And I mentioned it to one of the Chinese guys who were sort of in charge. He said, “No”, because as a rule, pirates don't kill their hostages. And the other problem with that plan is that we didn't know how many guards were on board. So we were confined to one work deck on a 50-meter ship. The Somalis could go anywhere. So even if we could only see 10 Somalis at one time, we weren't sure that there weren't 30. And I actually, my guess is that there was probably one guard for each person and they were just stashed here and there. I don't know. I don't actually know how
[00:47:30] many guards were on board. And we had weapons. I mean we had scaling knives and other sharp things, but we didn't have guns. And nobody had, no one on the hostage side of things had any military training or very much. So the prospect of actually grabbing weapons and trying to overpower the Somalis was too uncertain. But I certainly thought about it. And I certainly brought it up, but I wouldn't have been the person to lead it. That wouldn't have been possible because I didn't, you know, 10 of the guys on the ship were Chinese and only spoke Chinese. They would've had to lead it, you know?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:10] Yeah. I thought about this so many times, you know, I'm having these fantasies essentially for you. And I'm like, “Look, how would we do this? Okay. When one of them comes into your living area, you grab them, you break his neck or you stab him, and then you throw him overboard at night and then he's missing and then they're looking for him and then he grab another couple and then eventually there's only like five left.” You know? I don't know. There was no good plan. There wasn't one, right?
Michael Moore: [00:48:36] There wasn't. And I actually, I heard, obviously I thought about this a lot and I came up with plans and things like that, but I heard about it, one hostage escaped in Mali, a French engineer, got away from his Islamist guards in West Africa. And some of the circumstances that were mentioned on the BBC when I heard about it made me envious. I mean, he actually managed to lock his guard into the bathroom when his guard prayed. So first of all, lockable bathroom, his guard separated himself from his gun, left his gun outside and went into the bathroom to pray, and then there were keys. I mean, he could actually just show himself out of the compound. In our case, there were men with keys who came and went and my guards were actually locked inside with me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:24] Okay. Yeah, I'm sure. I mean, when I thought about this, I thought, what am I coming up with in the next five minutes that you didn't come up with over two and a half years? You know, the answer is nothing. Yeah. Nothing at all. Because even if you were the biggest wimp in the world, there's a level of courage that you must, or when you decide that you're going to die on a mattress in Somalia.
Michael Moore: [00:49:45] Yeah, out of sheer anger. Sure.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:47] And just some of the things that were so infuriating, which was just, and I know I keep revisiting this and I don't mean to sound negative, but just how dumb these guys were, right? Like they're ripping open all these tuna fish that were in the freezer, looking for treasure when the fish were far more valuable than the wallet that they assumed was hidden inside the fish or whatever.
Michael Moore: [00:50:05] Yeah. Absolutely. They didn't rip them open, but they actually ordered the crew to take these enormous frozen tuna out of the freezer hole and they were going to sort of check inside for who knows -- jewels or mobile phones that they didn't actually confiscate from the crew when they kidnapped them, when they captured the ship. It was crazy. But I think once there's this sort of group mania that takes hold of these guys, these pirates, and I think they just got it in their head that there was some other valuable thing on board and there had to be because they weren't going to get paid enough for the bosses or something like that.
[00:50:42] There was some weird mania going on and they actually took this afternoon to pull up all the fish and go looking for jewels.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:50] So asinine. Yeah, and they beat up your friend to try to get him to admit he was Israeli even though for the last, I don't know, eight months, he was clearly not.
Michael Moore: [00:50:59] Exactly. Yeah, no, I had to be careful when the pirate boss asked me about that actually because they brought us both on shore from the ship for about 24 hours. And one thing they did during that period was torture my friend Rolly, you know, one of the Seychellois. They strung him up from a branch by his feet. And while he was dangling there upside down, they'd beat him with a cane. And I said, “Why are you doing this?” to one of the top ranking pirates who was there.
[00:51:29] And he said, “Well, we have found out that he's Israeli and he won't admit that he's Israeli.” I said, “But he's not Israeli.” And then they said, “How do you know?” And the answer to that could not be, “Mohammed had been to Israel”, you know. But I know Hebrew sounds. So I didn't say that, but I said, “He doesn't talk like an Israeli.” And they just got these ideas in their heads and either for their own convenience and profit or because they really are that stupid, they hung onto them and it had terrible consequences sometimes for the hostages.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:05] So, so frustrating. So you finally, spoiler like you didn't get off the ship when you jumped out or you didn't get away when you jumped off the ship?
Michael Moore: [00:52:14] Yeah, I spent about half an hour in the water.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:15] Right. Yeah. So what's going on here? You mentioned in the book, “Fear and desperation are forms of energy which convert to something powerful if you express them well.” What does that mean?
Michael Moore: [00:52:27] It just means that what I leapt off the boat I was happy, you know, I had wanted to try to escape for so long that once I did, I was just gleeful and it was one of the best swims of my life. And that's because it was an emotionally true thing to do, even if it wasn't the most prudent.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:46] So essentially, I am imagining this in the movie is you flying slow motion off the boat with a big grin on your face, right? With your legs and arms flailing in the air?
Michael Moore: [00:52:53] Well, no, I was terrified. I don't think I was grinning on my way, but once I was in the water, “Wow. It's warm. It's kind of nice out here.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:02] My God. Yeah. To jump off a boat, like imagine the desperation, we are jumping off a boat off the coast of Africa with people who are probably -- I would imagine trying to shoot you with rifles while you're swimming around. I don't know what's going on then.
Michael Moore: [00:53:15] That was the big fear. I mean, that was one reason obviously I didn't do it for as long as I was thinking of it. I was worried that there would just be some sort of curtain of gunfire once I jumped. It turned out no Somali fired a shot, no one fired a shot. So, I was in good shape that way, but there was also nobody. I expected that the ship, which was not in terrific condition, would just keep moving and that they wouldn't be able to turn it around. But they did something sort of half-assed. They didn't turn it around, but they let it come back towards me on this swell that I had chosen to sort of follow off the ship and eventually would have run right over me, you know, so I had to get myself up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:58] Now, you're captive for over a year at this point. What's the negotiation that's happening? Because that seems painfully slow. It seems like a low ROI thing for them to do. Then again, all they're doing is wasting your life. They don't really care about that, right? They've got nothing better to do.
Michael Moore: [00:54:14] Yeah, they didn't care. That was within the first year. All that with the ship happened within the first year and in fact, within the first nine months, and as long as that seemed while I was a captive, the negotiations for my ransom didn't budge at all. So in other words, the pirates asked for $20 million up front, which was a completely ridiculous demand, but they hung onto it for most of that first year. And it didn't budge until after my escape attempt. I'm not sure I would have risked the escape attempt if negotiations had been underway.
[00:54:49] But I thought these guys are, you know, I knew from phone calls that they were still stuck at 20 million and I thought, these guys are being so ridiculous that, you know, it's worth a try.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:58] Who’s negotiating for you? They're just calling your mom and freaking her out? What's happening on the phone?
Michael Moore: [00:55:04] Yup. And that was basically it. I mean my mother heard about my kidnapping from the FBI, so they came to her door and the FBI went to several other places, including the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting where I had a grant, and I'm also a German citizen, so German officials went to the Spiegel Online office where I worked in Berlin and my relatives in Cologne and everybody was ready for a phone call. Everyone had to be, they had a guess, you know, where the first phone call would come.
[00:55:30] And because these pirates had stolen my notes, the only phone number I knew was my mother's here in California. So I called mom and she was obviously terrified, but by then she'd been briefed by the FBI. So she got pretty good advice from them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:46] What was the advice? Just like, “Hey, don't start screaming and crying.”
Michael Moore: [00:55:50] Yeah, keep your cool and don't act emotional. Don't give them the emotional upper hand. And my mother could do that. I mean, not every relative can do that, you know? And that's one thing the agent said was that she was remarkable on the phone. She was obviously emotional, but when it came time to talk to a pirate, she could switch it off. So I don't think just anyone could have negotiated like that for a relative, but my mom was pretty remarkable.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:18] Yeah. That seems incredible. I cannot imagine most people's moms doing that, and you didn't have a whole lot of hope. In fact, you even wrote -- Hope has become a psychological risk.
Michael Moore: [00:56:30] Yeah, I know. It became a problem. Like I said, the pirates kept trying to keep my hopes up and say, “Okay, Michael, you're going to get out in two weeks or you're going to get out in a month.” And I would believe them, at least in the first several months. I was stupid enough to believe them. And then a month would go by and I'm still hostage. And you feel that much worse afterwards. You know, the cycle is not just up and down. It's up and down with a downward trend and your emotion just gets, I mean, the risk of deep and suicidal depression was very real. So I realized that, to save myself from that, I had to detach myself emotionally from the whole cycle – meaning, no hope, but also not so much despair. And I managed to live without hope, that's after two years or something.
[00:57:21] I didn't think I was going to see my family and friends again. I thought that the likelihood I was going to die in Somalia was about 50%, you know. Either in a, who knows, military raid or just to some disease or by accident. You know, the pirates, they try not to kill you on purpose, but sometimes they kill you on accident, by accident. So I just thought that at some point I'm not going to make it out and I can't pin my hopes and my reasons for going on the idea that I'm going to see the people I love again. So I've learned to live just from day to day.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:57] How did you do that? How do you manage your sanity from day to day? Like what advice would you give someone if they're in a situation right now where they think, “I'm in this awful situation, nothing's working out in my life.” Granted, they're probably not listening to this while being held hostage by Somali pirates, but they feel equally hopeless. What sort of advice would you give that person?
Michael Moore: [00:58:17] It's hard to say. It is a spiritual discipline. One thing that helped me was yoga. So yoga was also a physical thing, but it did help me sort of detach from that cycle of, you know, every day that I could do it. It has to be part of your practice somehow. It has to be some part of your mind already. You can’t just do it. You can start practicing, but you can't just sort of start. The other things that helped, and I go into this a little bit in The Desert and the Sea is that writing is also a form of detachment for me. And whenever I could have a notebook and a pen, I did much better emotionally. So those two things, yoga and writing, did it for me.
[00:59:11] But, you know, for someone else it might be meditation. For someone else, it might be some other practice. I've heard that other captives just kept themselves alive by jogging once a day. But if I had started to run around my little concrete cell, I think I would have gotten shot.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:26] Oh, really? They were that high on khat and alert that they would have just…
Michael Moore: [00:59:33] They wouldn't have wanted me. I mean, of course I would have asked for it and they just would've said no, but they wouldn't have wanted me to do something that was potentially so unpredictable, you know? I suppose every captain has a different set of circumstances, but I think it would have been too easy for me to dash out the door or something so they wouldn't have wanted me to do something like that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:50] How did you finally get out of there? Tell us a story of how you were finally released.
Michael Moore: [00:59:53] Well, my mom talked him down. I mean, I have to say the pirates blinked at the end, but still there was a ransom that had to be paid of $1.6 million. And my mom had to scrape that together with contributions from family and friends and some magazines I had worked for -- that kind of thing. And the ransom was delivered in cash. I know that because I saw one plastic bag full of dollars. I'm not quite sure how it got there. Sometimes there's an airdrop or whatever, but once they had the money, I mean, this took an enormous amount of trust from my family's point of view. And once they had the money, they actually, in pretty short order within a couple of hours, drove me out into the bush and gave me to some other Somalis, some middlemen who then took me to the airport and waiting for me there was a contracted pilot who turns out to be a really great guy named Derek. And he flew me out. He flew me away from Galkayo and over to Mogadishu and from there a US Air Force plane landed and took me back to Nairobi.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:00] How are you feeling when you're on the plane? Were you still like, “Oh, this is another”, I don't even know how much hope I would even have left. I'd be like, “Who knows if I'm actually out of here?” I don't know if I’ll believe it.
Michael Moore: [01:01:11] Yeah, I didn't believe it at first. I mean when the pirates told me, of course I didn't because I'd heard that too many times. They said, “Michael, you're going free.” And I'm like, “Yeah, okay, whatever.” So one step at a time, I started to realize it was true. Once they handed me to another Somali, of course I was afraid that the bag of money was like a deal to sell me to Al Shabaab or something like that. And once that second Somali in the second car was not an Al Shabaab member and in fact could call my mom on his phone, I realized it was happening. And then once I got into plane and I felt much better too. I mean before the plane actually took off, all kinds of things could have gone wrong. So I didn't quite relax until we were airborne. And then once we were landed in Mogadishu, that was another stage. Once we are airborne again in the C-130, then I felt really good and really secure because you know, C-130, that's not going to crash, most likely.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:05] Yeah. Most likely. Yeah. What a crazy saga that was. What was the hardest thing about readjusting to society when you got home?
Michael Moore: [01:02:10] By that point I was not used to being with people who meant me well. It's a little bit difficult to deal with people who love me. Just having too many of them in the room at one time would have been overwhelming in the first few days because I wasn't used to communicating with people except in the most sort of brutal way, you know, a couple of words that didn't have any shades of meaning and once I had to interpret what people were saying by all the other cues that we use from day to day just to communicate. It quickly became overwhelming to my mind. You know, my brain was just not wired like that anymore, but I got used to it. I mean, I was also physically in very bad shape and once I started to recover physically, my mind started to recover too. So I probably didn't have a party until two or three weeks after I got out, but once I did, it was good.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:10] Okay. So you started going to the gym and stuff like that to get your body back in shape and that helps you recover mentally?
Michael Moore: [01:03:16] Almost right away. Yeah. Yoga, going to the gym and one of the doctors I saw said you have a protein deficiency. So I started to rectify that right away.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:26] Yeah, surprise! You ate freaking spaghetti with potato juice on it for two years.
Michael Moore: [01:03:30] And the occasional camel and goat once a week or something. So no, my body was actually breaking down as a result of that. And once I rectified it, lots of things start to go much better. It still took a year to recover physically I think. And mentally, I don't make any assumptions. I just assume that I'm still potentially insane. But you know, one day at a time and the body and mind both know how to recover.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:54] Yeah. What happened to the pirates?
Michael Moore: [01:03:56] That's a good question. So two days after I left, there was a little dispute over my ransom money. And two halves of the pirate gang got together to discuss it and argue about it. And gunfire broke out. So five top ranking pirates lost their lives. They killed each other.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:16] So because it ticks me off that you had to pay a ransom. I'm sure it pisses you off too, but in a way it's kind of like, “Well, had you just escaped, they would've been doing this to somebody else, but since you paid, they're dead.”
Michael Moore: [01:04:29] That's exactly right. And one constant fear while I was there is that I was going to get rescued militarily, which would've been, you know, the right and moral thing to do, I suppose, rather than paying them -- a criminal gang. But then there's a risk I would get killed. There's a risk an operator would get killed and for sure my guard would have gotten to know I would have gotten killed. And these are the lowest ranking guys. These are not the guys who richly deserved to catch it. As it turns out, three, if not five of the guys who richly deserved it, killed each other. I can't complain about that particular ending.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:04] Yeah. Yeah. I do find it total BS that nobody rescued you. Aren't you mad about that? Come on.
Michael Moore: [01:05:12] I'm not mad. I've actually had operators come up afterwards. I mean, people who were there, Americans paying attention and who would have been sent in. They actually say, “I'm sorry, we couldn't get you but these decisions are made further up the line, including by the President” and, you know, I don't want anyone to risk their lives if everything, including all the intelligence is not in order. And I think basically guys who are trained to do this don't mind as long as the intelligence is in order, but if it's not, it's not. If the stars don't align, forget it -- it's not worth it. And I would rather be a hostage under a cautious President than under a reckless one.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:56] Yeah. Interesting. What do you mean by that?
Michael Moore: [01:06:02] I'll just leave that there.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:03] Okay, got you. The FBI agent in Berlin, he admitted -- I was looking at photos of you with your, you had this like brightly colored sheet or something.
Michael Moore: [01:06:12] Yeah, no, that was right when I got on the C-130 in Mogadishu. There was an FBI agent normally based in New York who said, “I've been looking at that thing for a couple of years”, and it was a bright pink blanket, which I think can be seen in a couple of pictures of me. And he didn't have to say any more than that. I said, “That's good to hear.” You know, it was confirmation that I was actually being watched.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:38] I don't know if I'd be like, “That's good to hear.” I'd be like, “Oh, thanks. You knew exactly where I was.” Yeah. Like, “Where the hell were you for three, two and a half years?”
Michael Moore: [01:06:48] Well, I mean, those feelings went through me and I'm honest about that in the book. But once everything was over, you know, I'm not going to waste time regretting the way they happened, especially because the way they happen could not have been much better in terms of what happened to the pirate game. And by the way, the FBI can't, you know, they can't order. The FBI doesn't rank that high. You know, they can't order a military rescue.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:15] Yeah, that's true. Do you ever wake up in a cold sweat in your house and think you're still in Somalia?
Michael Moore: [01:07:20] That happened within the first year. I had a few bad dreams in the first year or so.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:26] That must've been awesome though. Like I thought it was really good when I woke up early for school and it turned out it was Christmas. This is that feeling times a million.
Michael Moore: [01:07:34] Times a million. Exactly. And it was the reverse of waking up almost every night in Somalia and finding that I wasn't off wherever I was dreaming, but actually back in Somalia. So the reverse of that was actually very healthy.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:48] Yeah, I would imagine. I mean, I still even to this day, have dreams where like, I'm in Thailand and somebody put a kilo of cocaine in my luggage and I'm like, “No, how did this happen?” Oh, I'm in my house. Yeah. Times a million though because you weren't actually there. This is actually happening to you over a long period of time. And like you said, yeah, you had the reverse going on. Do you ever think about what you do differently in the moment of capture, knowing what you go through over the next 2.5 years? I had this guest awhile ago, my friend Gavin de Becker, who, by the way listeners, is coming back and one of the things he taught on Oprah in the 90s that I remembered that helped me get away from my would-be abductors with the taxi thing was never go to the secondary location, which is stand and fight where you are. Because when they finally take you to the boat or the thatch hut with a mattress in it, that's where no one's coming to get you. Would you fight and at the technical and just get shot thinking, “Screw it. I'm not going. I'm not dealing with this.”
Michael Moore: [01:08:51] No, I'm glad I didn't get killed. I'm also, I think in hindsight, resisting was probably bad because it resulted in broken glasses. And so if I had not had my glasses broken in the dust, I would not have been blind for two years and eight months. So that was a problem. And that was not a necessarily foreseeable problem, but maybe it will be for someone else. Once it happened, I just wanted to rewind my entire life and just decide not to go to Somalia. You know, I mean that happened in the first few seconds, but that was not possible either.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:28] Did anything positive come out of this in your mind after all of the things, after this is all tallied up and all the calculations are done, is there a net positive?
Michael Moore: [01:09:39] Well, the effects on my own, I lost a good chunk of my life in Somalia, but the effects on my own mental focus I think were positive. The other thing that is positive is, you know, some friends of mine have been through horrible sort of bouts of disease and one friend while I was in Somalia said, “Well, if Mike can survive Somalia, I can get through this, you know, bout of cancer”, and she did, you know. Having that on people's minds is not a bad thing and ultimately, the detrimental effect it had on the pirate gang was also I think a good thing. It could have turned out any other way, but I think in the end, the results of my case helped put most of these pirates gang out of business and they're probably working on something else elicit, but probably not capturing hostages.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:33] That's good. Yeah, because it was so long drawn out. And then at the end of the day, three out of the five guys who were supposed to share in the profits have a hole in their head and are dead.
Michael Moore: [01:10:44] Five were killed, three of them were absolutely top bosses. Two, we're a little bit peripheral, but you know, top ranking guys, not low ranking guards. So that's going to have an effect on an organized crime game.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:56] Yeah. That's, wow. That is interesting. You mentioned that it had an effect on your focus. What do you mean by that?
Michael Moore: [01:11:02] I just mean, “Well, what I described about living without hope is, you know, you have to focus on something else and that's a continuing benefit I think.”
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:12] Thank you so much for sharing your story. This is beyond interesting. It's terrible that that had to happen to you, of course. But I will say that the way you wrote about it was highly interesting that you can sort of taste the hairy boiled goats or whatever. You know, the story is written quite well. Are you still interested in Somali piracy or do you just think, “Ugh, I've had enough, I never want to hear about this again after this book is done. I'm over it.”
Michael Moore: [01:11:40] Well, I'm not going back to Somalia. Of course. Piracy is still interesting as a subject to me, but I'm not going to risk myself again for another similar story. I'll find other ways to write about it and I have plenty of other things to write about too.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:53] Are you afraid to travel at all now or are you kind of like, “I'm not going to New York, it's dangerous over there.” Or is it like, “Okay, let's not go there.”
Michael Moore: [01:12:00] No, I love New York. Are you kidding? I love the subway. But no, my mom says I need a visa from her before I go to any dangerous countries now.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:07] Yeah. She wants to be there to protect you next time, right?
Michael Moore: [01:12:09] No, she wants to cancel my visa and deny me that. No, I will still travel. I can still think of a couple of other good book ideas that will involve, you know, leaving the parts of the world that I know very well. But I don't need to go to dangerous parts of the world. That's not what my career is based on. And it was never about seeking thrills or anything like that. So I don't need to go to a war zone anytime soon. But there are certainly other things to write about.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:42] Michael Scott Moore, thank you very much.
Michael Moore: [01:12:44] Thanks a lot, Jordan.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:47] All right, Jason. Kidnapped by pirates. WTF.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:12:50] Dude. What a story. I mean when he talked about losing his glasses -- because I've worn glasses since the fourth grade -- I'm like, that would be torture in and of itself. Not even the fact that you've been kidnapped by pirates in this day and age. It's an insane story.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:05] I know. And the fact that he was there for so long, I don't know how he didn't come back just bitter and hating on everybody. I guess he's grateful to be alive and free, but, geez, what an ordeal. I don't know, man. I think I would've probably tried some suicide escape attempt where I'm just like, “Hey, if I take 13 of these idiots with me, it's worth it.” You know? I don't know.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:13:26] Yeah, we have the Rambo gene. I think we'd be trying to get out, but I can see what not being able to see, how difficult it would be for him. You just kind of have to go into your Zen place and just survive. Because if you can't see, how the hell are you going to escape? Where are you going to go?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:42] Yeah. I mean that was the thing. Where's he going to go? Right? There's no way he could go anywhere. So he gets out of there, and what? He's got to walk like hundreds or possibly thousands of miles through hostile barren territory to get to anywhere? I mean.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:13:54] With no food or water.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:55] Yeah, just not going to happen. Not going to happen. Wow. Well, great big thank you to Michael Scott Moore. That book is called The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast -- whoosh. If you want to know how I managed to book all these great people and manage my relationships, well, I use systems. I use tiny habits. Otherwise, I'd be going bananas over here. Check out our Six-Minute Networking course where I teach you these systems and these tiny habits that just take a few minutes per day. It's at jordanharbinger.com/course. I'm going to teach you about reaching out. I'm going to teach you how to make intros in the way that people signal professionalism. I'm going to teach you how to get ahead because when you need relationships, you can't just start making them then, it's already too late. You've got to have them in place beforehand and you've got to have them managed. So this is the stuff that I wish I knew 10,15 years ago. It's all at jordanharbinger.com/course. And speaking of building relationships and communication, tell me your number one takeaway here from Michael Scott Moore. I'm @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. And if you want to learn how to apply everything you've learned today from Michael Scott Moore, make sure you go grab the worksheets
[01:15:02] also in the show notes at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. This show is produced in association with PodcastOne. And this episode was co-produced by Jason “Pirate Bait” DeFillippo and Jen Harbinger. Show notes are by Robert Fogarty. Worksheets by Caleb Bacon. And I'm your host, Jordan Harbinger. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful, which is hopefully in every single episode. So please share the show with those you love and even those you don't. There's a whole lot more just like this in the pipeline. I can't wait to get it to you. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you listen and we'll see you next time.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.