Somalia: When Is a Pirate Not a Pirate?

Oh, the pirates! What a nice word. It brings us sweet memories from our childhood. Unscrupulous, merciless, astute characters, and today armed with automatic guns. We are longing to see before the High Court in Madrid, Spain, the two Somali pirates captured by our brave Atalanta operatives in the Indian Ocean on 4 October.1

We have had enough of the corrupt CEOs who sail towards offshore banks. We do not want to hear anymore about the prime ministers who attack and invade faraway countries. What we really want is to see real pirates. While those corsair and freebooter businessmen and politicians are well-known and still at large, you can confidently expect that the two detainees will spend a long time behind Spanish bars. Everyone knows that they are poor, black, Muslim and dared to attack a Spanish fishing boat.

PRISON PREFERABLE TO FREEDOM?

However, if you think twice, you might conclude that their future in prison is not so gloomy. First of all, they will enjoy three hot meals a day and they will see a doctor, probably for the first time in their lives. Besides, they will be spared the random bombing of their land by United States F-16s, and also the bullets shot by Ethiopians and Somalis working for imperialism.

In spite of the storytelling by NATO and European Union security high priests, who make a comfortable living out of sending troops to third world lands and seas like Somalia and the Indian Ocean, supposedly swamped by pirates on a rampage after European fishing boats, in the real world things are the other way round.

Perhaps Spanish fishers could forgive Somalis for not knowing the differences between the foreigners who approach their coasts in order to take away their fisheries, from those who land in order to impose a political regime, and both from those who just choose to dump their nuclear waste in the sea bed.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Somali fishermen live in one of the world’s poorest countries. Life expectancy is approximately 48 years. Around 60 per cent of the population is illiterate, while there is no compulsory basic education law. Close to 36 per cent of infants are underweight. There are half a million refugees and another million internally displaced. Hundred of thousands undergo similar living conditions. Almost everything is scarce, especially human rights.

Unicef announces that a Somali child’s chances of surviving to adulthood are among the lowest of children anywhere in the world. Add to this the fact that the odds of the child’s mother dying during pregnancy or in childbirth are also extremely high. These high death rates stem from the interaction of a number of causes set within a complex socio-political context, but are largely attributable to disease, dehydration, malnutrition, lack of safe water, and poor sanitation.’

GOOD PIRATE, BAD PIRATE

Perhaps Somalis could forgive Spanish fishers for not knowing the difference between illegally fishing in Somalia and in Norway, and not knowing the different ways each people has to protect their riches.

In 2005, a Norwegian Navy vessel seized a Galician boat illegally fishing halibut. The Navy communiqué says that ‘during the inspection we found out that the boat had big amounts of halibut hidden in its hold’. It also informs that ‘we ordered the boat to sail to Tromso (a north-western city), but the Spanish captain refused to comply with.’

Perhaps one could forgive the Norwegians for being so insistent. The very next day (20 November) they seized another Spanish fishing boat: ‘The Garoya is the second fishing boat captured in two days. It has been reported that it kept in the hold more than 100 tonnes of halibut, just like the Monte Meixueiro seized yesterday. Its captain has been charged with providing wrong information to the fishing authorities and tampering the books.’

Perhaps one could forgive Spanish mass media for not reporting these days about the story of the Spanish boats seized in the past, which took place in the seven seas. Boats have been captured by Norwegian, Moroccan, Irish, Canadian, South African, British patrol boats.

It is also rather ironic that the British engage today in chasing Spanish pirates, although they could be forgiven for this, since classical Spanish author Lope de Vega and Literature Nobel Prize winner Garcia Marquez – as well as various film directors – were inspired by Sir Francis Drake.

THE STATE OF SOMALIA

Somalia has not had a real government in the last fifteen years. During this period, the king of the seas (and indeed of the sky and the whole world), the greatest pirate of all times, ordered yet another military operation in Somalia.

Siad Barre, former Somalia president, was a client of the Soviets during the seventies, but this did not prevent the United States from supporting him during the eighties. When the White House decided to support the warlords in their war against the Islamists from 2000 on, the US president did not hesitate.

Westerners could be forgiven for remembering (and praising through a Hollywood film) the killing of 19 marines who took part in the Mogadishu military operation carried out by the United States in the early 90s, and forgetting the approximately 1000 Somalis that were killed in the attack.

This operation capped many years of US actions in Somalia. Somalis, like other lesser peoples, enjoyed US international aid, which mainly means shipping arms to a country in order for the beneficiaries to kill each other, and at the same time providing political support to justify the killing according to the motive in fashion: Communism, drug trafficking, Islamist terror, tribal fighting and so on.

One has to add the dumping of US-subsidised agricultural produce in Somalia, and other political and economic interventions related to oil and strategic interests, to produce a ravaged nation, physically and morally devastated.

Somali seas have not been spared foreign interventions. As Johann Hari writes, some Western countries have taken advantage of the lack of government in Somalia to dump their nuclear waste in its waters.2 For Somalis, the consequences are as harmful as the consequences of war and long lasting.

To make matters worse, Somali fishers watch huge foreign ships taking away tons of fish while they barely manage to obtain some kilos with their skiffs.

Perhaps Somali fishers could be forgiven for dreaming of their sons and daughters enjoying the riches the foreigners take away for their children.

HOW THE WEST WINS

Spanish fishers fishing in the seas around Somalia and people who eat their produce back in Spain, could be forgiven for cherishing basic wishes: Working unmolested and ingesting fish proteins respectively. They could also be forgiven for electing politicians who guarantee the fulfillment of their wishes, no matter what price, other people’s life included.

These politicians could also be forgiven for setting up a Holy Alliance with their neighbours, in order to send war boats supported by war planes to compete for food with poor Somalis in the Indian Ocean, although they could negotiate fishing permits before fishing, or even pay fines if they are caught cheating, as it has happened many times in the past with Spanish vessels.

However, it cannot be forgiven that Spanish and other Westerners – who know how Somalis are mercilessly being crushed – put the blame on Somalis and hunt them when they confront the real pirates.

Pirates have traditionally been well considered by the people, in novels and in films. How revolting they became when they took over governments and corporations.

  1. Operation Atalanta is campaign of the European Union to stop the ‘piracy off the Somali coast’. The joint naval patrol includes vessels from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.
    A Spanish frigate captured two of the bunch of ‘pirates’ who seized the Spanish fishing boat Alacrana, and both are now in a Spanish prison awaiting to be taken to court. []
  2. Johann Hari, ‘You Are Being Lied to About Pirates,’ The Independent, January 9th, 2009. []

Agustín Velloso is Professor of Education Sciences at the National Univeristy of Education in Madrid. His English version of this article was revised by toni solo. Read other articles by Agustín.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on November 3rd, 2009 at 10:21am #

    One advantage of the Somali pirates is that they give Europe a good excuse not to send troops to places like Iraq, Afghanistan or the Middle Eastern hornet’s nest. In practice, pirates are practically never caught or killed, so, in fact, it’s a win-win situation for everybody! The screw-up in Somalia was, you may recall, Bush the Father’s parting shot.

  2. Rehmat said on November 3rd, 2009 at 5:49pm #

    Israeli agenda for the control of Red Sea was laid out by the first prime minister of the Zionist entity, David Ben Gurion, who said in 1949: “We are beseiged from land frontiers while Sea is the only passage to the outside world and the only mean for establishing communications with other continents.”

    Nyna Karpachyova, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights ombudsman, said that “the real owner of the weapon-ship, MV Faina, is an Israeli citizen with the name Vadim Alperin (alias Vadim Oltrena). It is extremely rare for ships to be registered to individual investors such as Mr Alperin. Vadim Alperin was further investigated to have acquired this ship from a Russian state auction during the era of Boris Yeltsin. The ship was refurbished and later conveniently registered to fly the Belize flag. Other ships by the same owner where found to be operating as casinos including one based in the Gulf to entertain rich Arab clients.” Vadim Alperin was once quoted to be a “Mossad brother” running a number of clandestine front companies including one Kenyan Meat export company enjoying “good trade” with Middle Eastern countries, but covertly used for gathering intelligence from countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

    Israel behind Red Sea piracy
    http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2009/04/15/israel-behind-red-sea-piracy/

  3. Mahamud said on November 4th, 2009 at 12:59pm #

    I wonder where Mr. Rehmat got the information that the Piracy business is an Israeli agenda. I read the article in his blog and found
    he can’t even convince a goat!!
    The piracy problem in Somali shores is a reaction to the illegal fishing, dumping of nuclear and industrial waste by western powers etc.. And pirates were forced to defend their shores.

  4. Annie said on November 4th, 2009 at 6:34pm #

    AMEN!!!

  5. Bystander said on November 5th, 2009 at 4:43am #

    Interesting how people fall over themselves to defend Israel when it is blamed for anything…
    Thinking out aloud..

  6. b99 said on November 5th, 2009 at 6:47am #

    I don’t think so Mahumud. Somali piracy is borne of the political power vacuum in Somalia, the fallout of which is the need by competing groups to obtain money for arms. Were there a central state authority, it would be unlikely that it would permit piracy off its shores. Secondarily, other state and private entities took advantage of the now unregulated waters to steal its fish and dump their wastes. So now we have the phenomenon of unemployed Somali fisherman turning to piracy for income in the absence of state power over coastal waters – and finding a whole new class of prey – the foreign usurpers of Somali resources.

  7. Cervantes said on November 24th, 2009 at 8:10am #

    Quizas los españoles puedan perdonar el analfabeto que escribe éste artículo, quizas…