The truth about Somali Pirates

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(AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

I remember I was sitting in my friend’s dorm room watching mid-day TV. I had no classes that day, so my day revolved around whatever FOX or NBC had scheduled. While my show was airing, I could not help but notice a reoccurring message at the bottom of my screen. It had appeared numerous times throughout the programming saying something along the lines of “Breaking News: Somali Pirates attack a French ship”. Now, growing up in the West, when I think of pirates, I automatically collate the term with the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. For those unfamiliar with that film, it is a fantasy/adventure film series about a captain on a search for treasure. It is a very archetypal story.

So, it is completely understandable for my initial reaction to assume that news caption must have been a joke. As I continued to watch my show, another message appeared at the bottom of my screen, this time the caption stated that these ‘pirates’ were asking for a ransom, and that they were also holding hostages captive. I automatically became intrigued. I don’t know if it was the constant interruption of these messages or the fact that I could not fathom the existence of pirates in this day and age. But, regardless, I wanted to know about these Somali pirates.

I proceeded to Google, ‘Somali Pirates’. And, as expected all the search results were negative articles, labeling these pirates as a menace or as a hazard to the safety of seamen and their ships. As I scrolled through the images of these apparent “nuisances”, I couldn’t help but notice that these grave safety threats consisted of men, no more than four, in extremely old looking speedboats. Yes, speedboats. These boats looked so old; I was actually concerned for their own safety. I mean, what harm could speedboats do to monstrous ships? Nothing, I thought. As I read more, I wanted to learn the rationale behind these men and why they would risk their lives to hijack these international vessels. It did not seem worth it in my eyes. I continued to research.

Somalia is a small nation located in the Horn of Africa right near the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Historically, since 1991 the government of Somalia has ceased to exist. The collapse propelled Somalia to be one of the few failed states in the world. The lack of political leadership and constant civil war left the Somalis to fend for themselves, and themselves alone. The Somali nation throughout those 22 years has been pledged with droughts, famines and wars.

Due to the lack of governance, Somalia was left extremely vulnerable. As each tribe and region were left to deal with their own issues. The coastal regions were faced with a unique predicament, the lack of governance provides a perfect opportunity for Western nations to take advantage of Somalia’s ungoverned seas and exploit their resources, ie. Illegally fish and dump nuclear waste. The fragile state and ungoverned space of the sea allowed for numerous nations to take advantage of the lawlessness of Somalia. As result of the lack of the legitimate government or any legislation to protect the Somali people, the existence of these infamous pirates comes into play, as the self-proclaimed protectors of the Somali shores.

The initial concerns arose during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami when broken hazardous waste containers eventually found their way onto Somali shores leaving a large majority of the population suffering from various illnesses, such as radiation sickness.

A former UN diplomat for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah stated in an interview published in 2008 by a Middle Eastern site, that “because there is no (effective) government, there is … much irregular fishing from European and Asian countries” Ould-Abdallah even went as far as saying that the UN has creditable sources of this illegal fishing and dumping of wastes, but has failed to acted upon it. We cannot expect Somalis to passively allow the continence of these crimes to hinder their livelihood. These pirates, in a sense, personify the Robin Hood ideology as they ‘rob from the rich and give to the poor’. The ransoms go back to the coastal towns as well as families affected by the polluting and illegal fishing.

This photo was taken by me during my trip to Somaliland in 2011. It was my view from the local restaurant in Berbera, Somaliland.
(IMH Photography/Iman M Hassan)

The overwhelming support for their cause is echoed throughout Somalia/Somaliland. For instance, in Berbera, where I spent a few days, I remember eating at the local restaurant and the “pirates” came around and essentially ate their meals for free. The emergence of the pirates seem logical, now do not confuse that statement by assuming I am justifying their hostages and violence rather I understand the context of their existence. Somalia needed the pirates.

We could not expect the Somalis to allow these Europeans and Asian bullies to continue to rob them while they starve and suffer from various famines – an end was needed, and these pirates were able to provide one. The pirates insistent on being the defenders of the seas rather than the nuisances they are perceived to be. Now, if Western nations are truly concerned about eradicating the piracy issue maybe they should simply stop stealing Somali resources and polluting their waters. However, an eye for an eye will make the world blind, so when does this all end? I guess we may never know.

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