Pirate Perspective. Arrrrrr.

… but seriously … even though we all hate it when a bunch of armed and desperate people board a ship of humanitarian relief supplies that they don’t own and demand large sums of money, we also know that few people grow up to become pirates without a reason.

So let’s get some perspective, and start with an overview by Rachel Maddow:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

To this I’d like to add the important fact that over the last several years, more “acts of piracy” that have occurred in this region have come from bases NOT in Somalia than those in Somalia. This is perhaps changing, and Somalia is probably the biggest factor right now, but Yemen has always been a source of low level, near coastal piracy. And cultural and political boundary between Yemen and Saudi Arabia is vague. Really vague. In other words, the bleed-over effect once the West starts attacking land bases where pirates operate will be significant and probably quick to start.

Then there is the deeper and larger context for western Indian Ocean piracy. This very morning, a student of mine (J.O.) sent me an interesting writeup from an alternative news web site that is worth reading.

Pirates have never been quite who we think they are. In the “golden age of piracy” – from 1650 to 1730 – the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage thief that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda-heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often rescued from the gallows by supportive crowds. … If you became a merchant or navy sailor then – plucked from the docks of London’s East End, young and hungry – you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off [the] captain would whip you with the Cat O’ Nine Tails. If you slacked consistently, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world.

The article goes on to describe the plight of Somalia and the Somali people, and to identify the cause of much of the bad stuff going on there as the same Western countries that are running their ships through these seas.

The Somali littoral has become a favored illegal dumping grounds for Western nuclear waste. The world’s fishing fleets have been scouring this part of the Indian ocean for fish, out cometing and putting out of work the local fisher people who cannot protect their own waters. and so on.

This is the context in which the men we are calling “pirates” have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a ‘tax’ on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and it’s not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters… We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” William Scott would understand those words.

Of course, within this context, it does seem that some or all of the “Volunteer Coastguard” has specialized a bit more in high ticket ransom, and in the context of the corrupt non-government of the region, the pelagic version of Somali War Lords have risen and regular piracy rather than radical political action has become an important, if not the main activity of these folks. We really have no idea.

The article is here.

And, the latest news from the region? Pirates have taken another vessel, this time a Greek-owned Tanker flagged under the Philippines, named the MV Irene, in the Gulf of Aden. (bbc)

Comments

  1. #1 Virgil Samms
    April 14, 2009

    we also know that few people grow up to become pirates without a reason.

    To defeat global warming?

  2. #2 Matt Springer
    April 14, 2009

    “The Somali littoral has become a favored illegal dumping grounds for Western nuclear waste.”

    There’s no question Somalia is in a pretty bad situation, but I’m not sure I’d believe this without good physical evidence.

  3. #3 bigTom
    April 14, 2009

    I would agree with Matt, I am extremely skeptical of claims of the area being used to dump Nuke waste.

    A reality is that many armed resistance (or terrorist -depending upon whether you sympathize or not) groups, is that over time they usually morph into criminal organizations. Over time the relevance of the original mission becomes unimportant.

    At least so far, the pirates have been relatively non-violent. I suspect that after this weekends actions (US and French special forces conducted rescues that had lethal consequences for at least some pirates), that the rules of engagement have now become less benign.

  4. #4 Newfie
    April 14, 2009
  5. #5 Spiv
    April 14, 2009

    I’ll just echo the sentiment about questions of truth to the claims presented.

    However, if true, that certainly is a very interesting conflict we’re about to jab ourselves in to. Possibly on the wrong side of things. We Americans would not stand up for such environmental and social atrocities were they happening to us either. I would hope, anyway.

    However I can’t say I could approve of their retaliation.

  6. #6 Stephanie Z
    April 14, 2009

    How about a article about a U.N. report that’s the second Google hit for “nuclear dumping in Somalia”? Will that do as a start for evidence?

  7. #7 Anne Gilbert
    April 14, 2009

    Interesting bunch of comments. It’s painfully obvious(though I haven’t been following this story fully until them most recent incident), that these Somalians are trying to protect themselves and eke out a livelihood for themselves and their families as best they can. It has not helped that European fishing fleets have come into their waters and scooped up this livelihood. Nor has it helped that there is no Somalian government, and the European fishing fleets are fully aware of this. I didn’t know that nuclear waste and other pollutants were being dumped in the waters of the region, but if true, again, the European governments that allow this know full well there is no sovereign government or effective laws in that part of the world to stop them. Which leaves the people of Puntland(where most of these pirates apparently come from), extremely vulnerable. What are they supposed to do? Let their families starve? My understanding, from what I’ve read,is that some of the pirates(or whatever you want to call them),have plowed at least some of their earnings back into their own communities, so they are better off than those who don’t have pirates trying to stop these assaults on Somalian seas and coastlines.
    Anne G

  8. #8 Russell
    April 14, 2009

    That story might provide some legitimate sympathy if the Somali warlords declared a ban on foreign fishing vessels, and their privateers (not pirates, in this case) took only those foreign fishing vessels. That would be a targeted response over disputed fishing grounds. It would play quite differently on the world stage that what now occurs.

    When they take any ship, from yacht to humanitarian relief vessel, to hold their crew and passengers ransom, concerned with their victims’ lives and identity only to the extent that it converts into lucre, they are no longer responding to past grievance. They are but pirates. On a personal level, I can sympathize with their individual plights and the paths. From a legal and practical perspective, I want them caught, tried, and hung at Wapping dock.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    April 14, 2009

    The Somali government for what it is worth has tried to ban foreign fishing vessels. I once had a long conversation about this with the Somali ministry of fishing. He had a very good plan in mind and it was almost implemented.

    The bad news is that he is now a cab driver in Minneapolis.

    Yes, the nuclear dumping is real. Of course its real. Where do you think this shit goes?

    Russell: I don’t think the current pirates taking big ships and hostages are the same as the “volunteer coast guard” but it does seam a reasonable hypothesis that they are an outgrowth. Obviously, this is complex.

    Yes, the US and various European countries are going to have to go in and fix this problem that they have created. Denying that we have created this problem will be the first reaction, but I hope we can just get past that quickly and get on to doing the right thing for once.

    (Whatever that is…..)

  10. #10 natural cynic
    April 14, 2009

    I would be curious to know what percentage of the ships attacked by the Somali pirates were actually fishing trawlers and waste dumpers?
    And have the activities of the trawlers and dumpers been greatly diminished?

  11. #11 jj
    April 14, 2009

    Hey Greg, it looks like something is askew here, I see both the Nigerian Oil post as both the next and previous Post, which leads to a loop.

  12. #12 Rowan
    April 14, 2009

    I was curious about where ransom money was being utilized when paid. I came across an interview with a “pirate” from December 2008 on a VOA news site.

    Kahiye continued, insisting that no money is ever given to the Shabab. He said all of the money ends up being spent on recruiting new pirates and buying houses, cars, and huge quantities of a mildly narcotic leaf called khat, which is chewed by many Somali men.

    Kahiye said he believes some investors pay bribes to local, regional, and government officials to look the other way. Kahiye acknowledged he does not fully know how investors spend their portion of the ransom payments.

    Hobyo, like the village of Haradhere to the south, are currently under the control of Islamist fighters belonging to the Shabab and another rival group made up of more moderate Islamists. Both groups are firmly opposed to piracy, calling it an offense against Islam. In 2006, Islamic courts officials implemented strict Islamic laws, which briefly stopped piracy in Somalia.

    Well-placed Somali sources told VOA that while it is unlikely that investors and pirates are willingly handing over millions of dollars to hard-line Islamist leaders who have vowed to stop piracy, it is possible that they do pay some protection money to local Shabab commanders and other low-level Islamist officials to keep them from interfering in piracy operations.

  13. #13 chezjake
    April 14, 2009

    we also know that few people grow up to become pirates without a reason.

    One of the problems here is that many of these pirates haven’t grown up yet — most are still teens. They’ve been recruited, indoctrinated and directed by “elders” who never leave shore and who promise them a cut of any ransom they generate. Until we do something about those elders nothing will change.

  14. #14 Rowan
    April 14, 2009

    I truly hope the international governments heed these words of wisdom. From an article in the L.A. Times tonight:

    Pirates have learned from experience that foreign naval ships won’t follow them into Somali waters.

    “But as Somalis, we don’t hesitate to track them down on land,” said M.A. Jama, chief executive at Dalkom, a telecommunications provider that has been combating pirate attacks as it attempts to lay underwater cables. One of his European shipping contractors wants to arrange for a French naval escort to guard its boats, but Jama is trying to convince it that Somali security guards would be a better deterrent.

    “If pirates see Somalis, they know when they get ashore, those guys will be waiting for them,” Jama said.

  15. #15 Askari
    April 14, 2009

    The Somalis would be who to hire. This is how these things work.

  16. #16 Troublesome Frog
    April 15, 2009

    Well, FARC supposedly still has some political goals buried in it somewhere, but from the outside it’s awfully difficult to distinguish it from any other organized crime outfit. Being a simple criminal is a lot more profitable than having political ideals. I can see how it usually wins out in the long run.

  17. #17 Paul Murray
    April 15, 2009

    Of course, within this context, it does seem that some or all of the “Volunteer Coastguard” has specialized a bit more in high ticket ransom

    Or, to put it another way, they charge an entry tax for ships entering their national waters, and impound vessels until the tax is paid.

  18. #18 sailor
    April 15, 2009

    Pirates of old wee the first progressive democrats. They could change the captain at anytime (except during action) by vote, (one man one vote), Black and white were treated equally, and the captain only earned twice as much as the sailor.

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