Somali pirates have a problem Captain Hook never faced: how to invest millions worth of ransom payments.
Like many a corporate raider, Somalia's pirate financiers often look to create a vertically integrated, diversified business, according to the "Pirate Trails" study by the World Bank, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Interpol's maritime piracy task force.
"Piracy is a lucrative business," Stuart Yikona, a senior financial sector specialist with the World Bank, said in a blog posting. The World Bank estimates Somali pirates collected between $339 million and $413 million in ransom payments between April 2005 and December 2012. "The exact amount is very hard to pin down, given the reluctance of the shipping companies and pirates to reveal the cost and rewards of piracy."
(Read more: Hollywood-style sting nabs alleged pirate kingpin)
After expenses, including paying low-level foot-soldiers who carry out the attacks as well as other employees, such as cooks and mechanics, pirate financiers collect between 30 and 70 percent of the total ransom, he said.
But where does the money go?
Most often it goes into developing militias or political influence, the study found after conducting a series of interviews which included low- and mid-level pirates as well as law-enforcement and military officials and victims. "Pirate financiers have now evolved to the point where they are not only the most successful criminals at sea, but also some of the most powerful actors on land, thanks to their weaponry and economic influence," the report said.