"I started to hijack these fishing boats in 1998. I did not have any special training but was not afraid. For our first captured ship we got $300,000. With the money we bought AK-47s and small speedboats. I don't know exactly how many ships I have captured since then but I think it is about 60. Sometimes when we are going to hijack a ship we face rough winds, and some of us get sick and some die.
We give priority to ships from Europe because we get bigger ransoms. To get their attention we shoot near the ship. If it does not stop we use a rope ladder to get on board. We count the crew and find out their nationalities. After checking the cargo we ask the captain to phone the owner and say that have seized the ship and will keep it until the ransom is paid.
Our community thinks we are pirates getting illegal money. But we consider ourselves heroes running away from poverty. We don't see the hijacking as a criminal act but as a road tax because we have no central government to control our sea.
With foreign warships now on patrol we have difficulties. But we are getting new boats and weapons. We will not stop until we have a central government that can control our sea."
Thursday, December 4, 2008
In late November, Medecins Sans Frontieres launched its "Condition: Critical" campaign to raise awareness of the horrors currently occurring in Eastern Congo. The project began with a documentary called "Voices from the War in East Congo."
Watch the trailer. Get inspired.
Somali pirates have been all over the news lately: they hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Kenya and steered it to the Somali port city, Eyl. The Saudi Arabian vessel - the Sirus Star - is the largest ever raided at sea. According to the FT, apart from the 25 sailors taken hostages, the vessel carried 2m barrels of oil worth about $100m, and accounting for one-quarter of Saudi daily output. Very impressive stuff, indeed.
Yet this recent hijacking is not an isolated incident. There have been 95 attacks by Somali pirates on vessels this year alone (!), with 39 ships captured and 800 crew held. Events such as this are beginning to raise heightened concern among already worried international governments - many of whom rely on the Gulf of Aden for transport of key exports. In an attempt to combat such piracy, NATO has begun considering significantly extending its anti-piracy mission - Allied Provider - off Somalia. Members of the international community from the left and right have likewise taken to weighing their options. The UK-based think tank, Chathahm House, has put out a paper examining several such options. You can find this paper here.
Having had a bit of time to think about much of this, though, I've come to side with those who argue that the culprit of the problem - and the solution - is governance. While international law may take us so far in regulating the problem, lawyers are discovering that it might not take us as far as we would like. And even if it did, how do you impose law upon a lawless people? Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, and remains divided between several warring factions. Given the circumstances, it should come as no surprise that the country's people often resort to desperate acts to sustain themselves. Indeed, the majority of these pirates are Somali fisherman living on less than $1 a day; when given the opportunity to acquire a potential $25million (or thereabouts) they take their chances. I'm not sure I wouldn't, too.
So what's the solution to Somali piracy? Well, governance. Opportunities. Alternatives. How do we go about actualizing it? The international community has been trying to figure this one out for over a decade. A valuable first step is to begin paying attention to a country that has been neglected - by its own people and the international community. Every cloud has a silver lining: maybe with this hijacking will come some serious attempts at reform.