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How Johnny Depp Helped Gulf of Aden Pirates Go Legit

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Johnny Depp has a lot to answer for. The "mockney" drawl, the swagger and the healthy disdain for maritime authorities he perfected as Captain Jack Sparrow lent a cachet to piracy that had eluded the profession for centuries.

Don't get me wrong -- pirates have always been cool, but not Johnny Depp-cool. It is surely no coincidence then that from 2003, when the first Pirates of The Caribbean movie hit the big screen, the incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Aden began to chart a swift northerly course.

More recently, the prolonged global economic downturn has dispensed with many of the other employment opportunities for coastal Somali men -- not that there were that many prospects in the first place -- further adding to the allure of the pirate's trade.

You can make a good living as a Somali pirate.

According to the latest data, the average annual earnings for your modern-day buccaneer range from $33,000 to $79,000 a year. That's an almost identical salary spread as for elementary schoolteachers in New York City, according to salary.com.

And having lived a block away from a New York City elementary school, I would venture that Gulf of Aden pirate is probably a far safer career option.

What is more, given the comparable cost of living in Somalia, such a salary would afford any pirate a lifestyle far beyond the reach of the staff at PS151. In Somali society the pirate's buying power would be more akin to a Wall Street banker or an Upper East Side dentist.

The average annual earnings for non-pirate workers on the Somali coast, such as fishermen or animal herders, run at just $500 a year, which gives you an idea of just how much a pirate is really worth.

With such a boom in boarding ships, it is no surprise that potential lifetime earnings for your average pirate are also pretty high. The latest data show that a pirate can expect to earn $168,000 to $394,000 over his working life, which means the average length of a career from day one to retirement for a pirate is just a little more than five years. That's certainly preferable to the 30 to 40 years most of us spend behind a desk.

Hang on a minute, I hear you cry. Since when has there been detailed data on the earning power of pirates? And if this data exists, where does it come from? As far as I was aware pirates aren't renowned for double entry bookkeeping and the crew is hardly likely to have a human resources department. They certainly don't file tax returns and I doubt any of them keep their payslips.

But, in a further sign of the increasing acceptability of piracy as a legitimate industry, the management consultants have decided that there might be a buck or two in buccaneering. At least they seem to have prepared the ground for the day when pirates might come knocking for their services.

Geopolicity, a firm based in the UAE that describes itself as specializing in economic intelligence, produced the fascinating report on the economics of piracy that provided all the data used above.

Geopolicity staff say they based their report on data gleaned from 1,500 pirates, which is a pretty big sample, given how hard it is to track a pirate down.

There is a very serious side to the report, of course. Piracy is estimated to cost the global maritime economy as much as $8.3 billion a year, and Geopolicity projects that number will rise to as much as $15 billion by 2014. Hundreds of honest seafarers were taken hostage by pirates last year; some were killed.

But in much the same way that Johnny Depp lent pirates a new-found cool, so economists and consultants imbue them with a lameness the likes of which they could have never imagined.

What next for pirates -- bank accounts? Managed retirement plans?

Now that the report is out there, it is surely only a matter of time before a pirate's mobile phone rings at a crucial juncture in boarding a soon-to-be-captured merchant vessel.

"Hello, is this Captain Sparrow?" the voice on the line might inquire. "Have you taken the time to think about life insurance recently?"

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