Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Pirates of Aden

The big news story of the day seems to be the dramatic take-over of an American ship by pirates, and the even more dramatic retaking of the ship. The situation remains a nail-biter, as the pirates still hold the captain. This led the crew captured one of the pirates themselves, and he was then released in an attempted prisoner exchange for the captain, however the pirates appear to have not negotiated in good faith.
The pirates, still holding the captain, made off in a life-boat... it seems pretty likely they'll be captured... those things don't move too fast.
The problem of piracy in this area seems very substantial. According to the AP:
The Maersk Alabama was the sixth vessel seized by Somali pirates in a week. Pirates have staged 66 attacks since January, and they are still holding 14 ships and 260 crew members as hostages, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a watchdog group based in Kuala Lumpur.

An article
by Jeremy Scahill tries to put a different perspective on these pirate attacks, explaining piracy in part as a response to the greedy foreigners despoiling the sea around helpless Somalia.
Consider what one pirate told The New York Times after he and his men seized a Ukrainian freighter "loaded with tanks, artillery, grenade launchers and ammunition" last year. "We don't consider ourselves sea bandits," said Sugule Ali:. "We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard." Now, that "coast guard" analogy is a stretch, but his point is an important and widely omitted part of this story. Indeed the Times article was titled, "Somali Pirates Tell Their Side: They Want Only Money." Yet, The New York Times acknowledged, "the piracy industry started about 10 to 15 years ago... as a response to illegal fishing."

Take this fact: Over $300 million worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are "being stolen every year by illegal trawlers" off Somalia's coast, forcing the fishing industry there into a state of virtual non-existence.

He further quotes an article from the Independent
As soon as the [Somali] government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

As shocking as this is (and, in my opinion, this seems a more important story even than the pirate attacks), I rather doubt that the attacks which we are focusing on are the work of sea militiamen acting to protect defenseless Somalia against the rapacious west. Still, it's good to bring attention to the way Somalia is taken advantage off.
In the long run, the best way to solve this is for the international community to get involved in sorting out the troubles of Somalia. Unfortunately, that will take to long, so a more short term solution will have to be the Second Amendment on the high seas: armed and trained crews. Countries (with the exception of Russia and Israel) have been resistant to arming their ship's crews, but it seems like the logical way to deal with it. This particular incident shows how important the initiative of the crew can be: the ship was retaken without the help of any Navy. Perhaps pirates will think twice if they face a potentially fatal struggle every time they attempt to board a ship.

1 comment:

dissentingopinion said...

First of all that ship's captain = hero. Second, badass crew. I wish I could say I fought off pirates while I was on a ship delivering food aid to Kenya.
Third, we often forget the huge dividends that the United States gigantic military occasionally offers. While it was mostly crew based awesomeness in this case. Our Navy has been/ will be crucial in many international stability strengthening efforts.
That does not by any means excuse Iraq, but our presence in the world does thwart many very bad things from happening that would otherwise.