The recent activities of pirates in the Gulf of Aden has been well documented in all of the major newspapers worldwide. Many people take the view that the pirates are thieves who threaten death and rape in order to get easy money. Personally, I don't think the world works like that. People do things for a reason and, much as Hollywood would prefer us to believe differently, there are very few, if any, "bad guys". These pirates risk their lives everyday by taking part in these activities. Only the other day, pirates were shot by the US military resulting in the death of four American hostages. This is likely to result in an escalation of violence between the pirates and the various forces present in the Gulf of Aden. Up until now, the pirates have minimised any use of violence on hostages and, in incidences where hostages have died, the pirates have blamed it on friendly fire. Considerably more pirates have died than hostages. Whilst the fact is that these pirates have no right to kidnap people or threaten them with violence is not in any dispute, one does have to wonder why these young men would risk death or imprisonment in prisons far from their homeland? Obviously piracy is incredibly lucrative but in any country one can turn to crime and potentially end up wealthier than one would be by obeying the law. Yet most people tend to choose to follow the rule of law and take up gainful employment. That is where the problem lies, these men do not have the option to fish like their fathers used to.
From what I can see, the piracy stems from the civil war in Somalia which began in 1991. During the war there has been no coast guard to protect the coast of Somalia resulting in large scale fishing from foreign countries and the dumping of toxic waste along the coastline. The effects of the dumping of waste was not felt by the Somali people until December 2004 when the tsunami in the Indian Ocean resulted in huge waves which stirred up the time bomb lurking underneath their waters. Tonnes of nuclear and toxic waste had been illegally dumped in Somali waters by several European firms. The European Green Party investigated this and obtained contracts showing that a number of European companies had illegally dumped waste in that area and not just any waste, nuclear waste. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment mission, there are far higher than normal cases of respiratory infections, mouth ulcers and bleeding, abdominal haemorrhages and unusual skin infections among many inhabitants of the areas around the northeastern towns of Hobbio and Benadir on the Indian Ocean coast—diseases consistent with radiation sickness. UNEP continues that the current situation along the Somali coastline poses a very serious environmental hazard not only in Somalia but also in the eastern Africa sub-region. So essentially, to ensure a better dividend for their shareholders, European companies sentenced the people of Somalia to decades of radiation sickness and massive environmental damage. What a nice thing to have to deal with whilst you are also suffering though a civil war.
To add insult to an already huge injury, at the same time as various firms were greedily dumping their waste, foreign trawlers began illegally fishing Somalia's seas, with an estimated $300 million of tuna, shrimp and lobster being taken each year, depleting stocks previously available to local fishermen. Now what would you expect the Somali people to do when this started happening to them? Just sit there and take it? Through interception with speedboats, Somali fishermen tried to either dissuade the dumpers and trawlers or levy a "tax" on them as compensation. Peter Lehr, a Somalia piracy expert at the University of St. Andrews says "It's almost like a resource swap, Somalis collect up to $100 million a year from pirate ransoms off their coasts and the Europeans and Asians poach around $300 million a year in fish from Somali waters." The UK's Department for International Development (DFID) issued a report in 2005 stating that, between 2003 and 2004, Somalia lost about $100 million in revenue due to illegal fishing.
To really darken up this whole sordid episode in March 2010, the international environmental organization ECOTERRA also alleged that newly-leaked information revealed that the anti-piracy activities in the Gulf of Aden serve as a cover-up for the live testing of recently developed less-lethal and sub-lethal weapons systems. The latter allegedly include Human Electro-Muscular Incapacitation (HEMI) Bioeffects devices that emit electrical waveforms for which it is not yet scientifically understood what are the long-term effects on a human body.
It is also interesting to note (for anyone reading this who is so right wing that they go "Oh yes but it's their fault that they don't have a coast guard"), that the civil war in Somalia kicked off because dissidents wanted to get rid of the pro-US President Said Barre. In a situation which uncannily mirrors the current situation in Egypt, just before the President was overthrown in 1991, nearly two-thirds of the country's territory had been granted as oil concessions to Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Philips. Conoco even lent its Mogadishu corporate compound to the U.S. embassy a few days before the Marines landed.
So in summary, the Somalian people have had toxic waste dumped on their coast, suffer from radiation sickness, lost their livelihood and may be having weapons tested on them. This on top of struggling through a civil war which has resulted in Somalia being listed as an area of concern in the Genocide Intervention Network.
The average Somalian has had a mixed reaction to the pirates activities. Some people do not like having gangs of armed men hanging around drinking. Others feel that it has benefited their communities. The pirates spend their booty in local towns and even buy generators and other things for the local people. The independent Somalian news-site WardherNews found that 70% of Somalians strongly support the piracy as a form of national defence of the country's territorial waters. Even the people of Kenya have indirectly benefited with local fishermen reporting their largest catches in forty years. This has been attributed to the pirates scaring away foreign fishing trawlers. Marine biologists have also stated that the local fish environment is beginning to recover because ot the prevention of commercial fishing.
In short, it can all be summarised by this statement from the pirates' spokesman, Januna Ali Jama, "The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas."