My favourite television shows are documentaries about Greenpeace and other anti-whaling activists as they invent ways to halt indiscriminate maiming of sharks, whales, and the environment. Believe it or not, many current perpetrators of piracy were once environmental activists also. In fact just five years ago Somali-based fishermen were ramming fishing boats in protest—those that fished illegally off the horn of Africa. When the perpetrators retaliated with lethal force, the fishermen fought back. That initial ramming of ships and retaliation of fishing vessels has now grown into full scale Indian Ocean pirating. REVENGE FOR THE FIRST HOT WATER ATTACK. In early 2004, confrontations in the Gulf of Eden between local Somali fishermen and commercial fishermen (mostly the illegal ones) were frequent. That remote no-man’s seaway is now a lawless frontier for the bad, brave and brazen.
Activism At Somalia Story
According to former fishermen–many now seasoned pirates–large commercial fishing boats kept stealing their catch and their fish nets. Today as I write, one of the survivors is still unable to use his hand because of a bullet wound he received during that 2004 incident. He operates a bartering depot and grocery store on the mainland, and is willing to share his ordeal with anyone who has never heard or read his story before. The pirates’ first forages were clumsy and initially many were unsuccessful. However today, piracy is the biggest business for young Somali men, whose highest educational achievement is that of operating of a semi-automatic weapon. Somalia has been without a functioning central authority since 1991 when warlords took power after ousting Mohamed Siad Barre. Without a legitimate government, the country functions in a political vacuum.
The transitional government tries to bolster its ranks by preparing young men for military duty. Funding is provided mainly by militant Islamic countries. Young men are encouraged to go away to foreign military camps for training. When they return as skilled fighters, most have to decide between being part of an Islamist insurgency that sees itself as a potential government in waiting, or to join the lucrative pirating business. On Saturday April 17th, 2009, at least 10 international news media including B.B.C. C.N.N. carried this headline: “Somali pirates seized the Belgian vessel Pompeii and its 10 man crew off the east African coast.” Then again there was the much publicized case of the attempted hijacking of the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit.
I roared with laughter when I first read how the crew repelled a Somali pirate attack launched with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades by using defensive maneuvers–loud banging of pipes. Can you imagine men trained in terrorist camps (men taught that to die in combat is rewarded by martyrdom) being scared away by a loud bang? The Price of Inaction: Friends and Foes of Ransom. Our inability to respond timely to potential trouble spots and troubling situations–unless the matters affect our nuclear-partners or our perceived allies, has, and will continue to cost us dearly. We took less than 60 days to secure billions of dollars to help the Soviet Union when they needed assistance to democratize their country. Most of that money vanished brazenly without even a whimper of protest. 1 Billion per year, and we approved that grudgingly. As a result, we are playing catch up.
The situation in Somalia mirrors our international arrogance and indifference to cultures we consider insignificant to such an extent that nations who feel slighted are open recruiting fields for insurgents. All one has to do is to follow the money trail of assistance funds to trouble spots we ignore, and the dots connect. Let us get back to Somalia to affirm how our indifference is creating a living “daymare” and nightmare simultaneously. Even the pirates have a clear view of nations considered friends or foes. Nations considered friendly (either by way of facilitating training funds, confidential services, or parallel religious philosophies) appear to be able to call tribal elders and get ships released with no ransom whatsoever. 2,000,000.00 for the release of a Yemeni cargo ship they had captured. A few phone calls later, tribal elders intervened and the ship was released without a dime in ransom.