SAN ANSELMO, California — News media was quick to come to conclusions about Somali piracy. These were absolute criminals in search of quick money with no regard for international regulations. The United States disparaged their actions and promptly used military means to recover pirated ships and hostages.
The financially and critically successful blockbuster movie, Captain Phillips, detailed the heroic actions of the captain clashing with his Somali pirate captors.
The root causes of Somali piracy were never truly explained beyond the bare minimum. Somalia was a bleak battleground that lacked of a dominant centralized government with the essential means to maintain a peaceful and prosperous society. The fall of former President Siad Barre’s government in 1990 and the ensuing ethnic and political bloodshed mangled the East African country.
Consequently, the rise in crime and Islamic terrorism flourished in within the rubble that was once Somalia. Beneath this, was there anything else that led to the resulting culture of piracy in Somalia?
Fishing remains integral the poorly structured and informal Somali economy. Small time fisherman on the coast fished for the survival of their families and for small wages. Sadly, being deficient of a recognized government administration to regulate their waters led to the eventual exploitation of their ocean resources.
Multinational European fishing conglomerates overfished Somali waters, culminating in disastrous results for local fisherman. These fishing companies, referred to as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated or the IUU damaged the ecosystem, perpetuating the ever lowering turnout of fish and other sea creatures. Without adequate means to support themselves, many fishermen attempted to adjust their business practices to maintain their income.
Illegal fishing in Somali waters is a lucrative business with almost no directive or oversight. Why would they stop? There is average yearly gain of an estimated 1 billion dollars for the fishing companies involved in the IUU. The Somali coast is home to lobsters, tuna and other considerably profitable marine life, and has attracted around 700 foreign based fishing vessels.
Allegations were also made that European ships were using Somali waters as a dumping ground for garbage, particularly nuclear waste. Claims of malformed children, and a sickening local population were met with disregard. The tsunami of 2005 was catastrophic for the nation, but informed many of the situations. It proved many of the fears people had.
Barrels of nuclear waste were found on beaches in the wake of the Tsunami. Radiation poisoning began affecting numerous members of the local population, with an estimated 300 people dying as a result.
In the wake of these events, The United Nationals Environmental Program published a report in 2005 stating foreign nations routinely dump their toxic waste in the shores. Why would they do this? The cost of dumping in Somali waters is considerably cheaper. It costs around 250 US dollars per tonne to dump toxic waste in Europe.
The lack of environmental regulations in Somali waters allows for nations to dump their waste in disregard of their own nation’s regulations, and for a considerably cheaper price of 2.50 US dollars per tonne.
European nations have been silent on these allegations. The Somalian UN envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah has been harsh in his criticism of his European colleagues. He argued poisonous materials such as mercury have been found off the coast, and condemned European nations for doing nothing. He stated there has been “no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”
Unemployment in Somalia is rampant due to the lack of a functioning industrial economy. Overfishing itself has turned sustenance fishing into a poor economic choice for most citizens.
The piracy for profit market was born out of local fisherman using their means to prevent toxic dumping and overfishing. The original basis behinds their action was to prevent foreign ships from intruding into their waters. The poorly managed centralized government had no discernable means of preventing foreign nations of impinging on their nation’s resources.
Those who choose to sell the fish they catch typically can only earn around 5 dollars a day, while Somali pirates could earn thousands of dollars if they mount a successful mission. Sadly, the choice has become simple and at times, the only necessary way to live.
– Joseph Abay
Sources: Africa Portal, Telegraph, Al Jazeera, New York Times