Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The complex roots of the piracy epidemic 

More piracy thoughts as the Somali piracy events continue to reverberate.

Piracy is not the only illegal activity rampant off the coast of Somalia according to the UN Special envoy on Somalia. Toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing in Somali waters is also happening. These are not matters covered for example in the BBC Q&A on Somali piracy.

This issue is discussed by Christopher Jasparro, an associate professor – lecturer in UK terms – at the US Naval War College in an online article “Somali’s piracy offers lessons in global governance”.

The wave of piracy off Somalia began in 1991 following the collapse of the Barre regime. Dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes by international companies (possibly with organized crime involvement) increased. Unlicensed foreign fishing vessels eagerly targeted Somalia’s fish-rich waters. Local fishermen claimed that foreign boats use intimidation tactics such as ramming and hiring local militants to harass them.

In response disaffected fishermen then began attacking foreign vessels in the early 1990s, ultimately leading to full-scale piracy and hostage-taking. In 2005 a UN agency estimated that 700 foreign fishing vessels were operating in Somali waters, many employing illegal and destructive fishing methods.

Weakly governed and failed states are themselves often exploited by foreigners, and a resolution of this situation has to go far beyond armed responses and convoys for shipping.

Authorised extracts from another lengthy book dealing with piracy off Somalia and elsewhere are at this point available online on Google Books. Violence at Sea; Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism edited by Peter Lehr is published by Lloyds Maritime Intelligence Unit.

While discussing the toxic dumping and illegal fishing aspects, the Lehr book also suggests why Somali piracy escalated so hugely in 2005 and after. The Somali coast was devastated by the ‘Boxing Day 2004’ Tsunami. Fifty thousand Somalis are believed to have died and no Somali government our outside aid was available. Poverty stricken fishermen resorted to whatever they could do to snatch at a livelihood. At the same time the unstable clan politics in Mogadishu led to huge increase in the costs of arms needed for the internal wars and the coastal peoples are part of one of those clans and so need to generate income for the clan.

The Lehr book suggest that attention to piracy will increase if it can be presented as a kind of training ground for maritime terrorism within the ‘conceptual framework’ of a global terrorist epidemic rather than as a problem in its own right.

And it is not just off Somalia that problems persist.

There is a problem zone running from the coast of China, past Vietnam and the Philippines, through Malaysian and Indonesian waters, across the Indian Ocean and so to the current news bulletin hotspot off Arabia and east Africa. The complexities include the need for the Indian and Pakistani navies to co-operate if civil maritime security is to be maintained in both their waters, while at the same time both states are in a semi-standoff militarily.

Shooting three pirates is not going to end all this.

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To, add to this a posting on the Huffington Post expands on teh toxic waste and tsunami connection:

" In 2004, after a tsunami washed ashore several leaking containers, thousand of locals in the Puntland region of Somalia started to complain of severe and previously unreported ailments, such as abdominal bleeding, skin melting off and a lot of immediate cancer-like symptoms. Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the United Nations Environmental Program, says that the containers had many different kinds of waste,including "Uranium, radioactive waste, lead, Cadmium, Mercury and chemical waste." But this wasn't just a passing evil from one or two groups taking advantage of our unprotected waters. The UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, says that the practice still continues to this day.

It was months after those initial reports that local fishermen mobilized themselves, along with street militias, to go into the waters and deter the Westerners from having a free pass at completely destroying Somalia's aquatic life. Now years later, the deterring has become less noble, and the ex-fishermen with their militias have begun to develop a taste for ransom at sea. This form of piracy is now a major contributor to the Somali economy, especially in the very region that private toxic waste companies first began to burry our nation's death trap. "

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