… 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:
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)