PRISONERS grasp the bars of a hell-hole jail cell — a stark warning of the fate that awaits Somalia's notorious pirates.
The strife-torn East African country is finally winning the battle against the seaborne hijackers who shame its name.
The Sun yesterday saw the grim prison where 17 suspected pirates are among 75 captives jammed into a cell built for four.
Murderers and al Shabaab terrorists also endure 24 hours a day in a sweltering, dark cage with no basic sanitation.
Any prisoner rattling the cell's single door has his hands bashed by hosepipe-wielding guards.
The jail in the town of Garowe shows how justice is dealt out in Puntland, a semi-autonomous area of northern Somalia free from fanatical Islamic control.
Some of the £69million annual British aid to Somalia goes on combating the pirates. But Puntland's planning minister Abdulkadir Abki Hashi defended the harsh prison regime.
He said: "What's the alternative? You want us to release them? We don't have the money to incarcerate them in space that is conducive for the human rights ideal, so we do what we must to stop them hijacking more ships.
"Piracy is a crime, we take it very seriously. It is very embarrassing for us to have pirates so we are determined to catch them."
British aid to Puntland has paid for the training of detectives, lawyers and judges to deal with the pirate scourge.
There are now 35 legal officials in Garowe — up from just seven a year ago. And some of the cash will go to a bigger prison with better conditions. About 1,000 Somali pirates are now in jails in 20 countries around the Horn of Africa. Ten ships and 247 hostages are still being held for ransom — down from 26 ships a year ago.
Warships from around the globe have joined the Royal Navy in patrolling the waters off Somalia's 1,000 miles of coastline.
But the success against piracy has seen an alarming increase in the number of Western aid workers, journalists and tourists kidnapped on land.
US Navy Seals swooped into the country last week to rescue an American aid worker and her Danish colleague from pirates.
Kent couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, whose yacht was seized by pirates, were freed in November 2010 after 13 months in captivity.
The Sun joined International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell as he inspected UK-funded projects in Puntland.
Mr Mitchell — the first British minister to visit the war-ravaged area in decades — said: "The people of Somalia despise the pirates and are pleased that some of them are finally under lock and key. They are clearly keen to tackle this problem and Britain is giving them strong support."
The minister's three-day trip comes ahead of PM David Cameron's international conference on Somalia in London next month.
Locals told Mr Mitchell their young men are sucked into piracy because it is the only way they can earn a living.
Puntland vice president Abdisamad Ali Shire told Mr Mitchell: "You fight piracy on land not at sea. Please help us find jobs."
Source: The Sun (UK)