Thursday, November 27, 2008

Somali Eco Disaster Bred Pirates

Piracy is the earliest form of primitive captialist accumulation. It was a major force historically in the transition from fuedalism to capitalism, and in the expansion of the European colonization of Africa with the slave trade and then with the colonization of America. Today it thrives in Asia and now the Horn of Africa.

Those offering solutions to piracy advoacte armed force, perhaps hiring the privateers like has been done in the past but in this case one wag has suggested that Blackwater the mercenary corporation involved in scandals in Iraq should deal with the Somali pirates. He also suggested that the pirates of Somalia are connected to Iran.

This is as spurious an assertion as those being made that the pirates are connected to the Islamist movement currently savaging Somalia. They are not. Rather their seaside towns have been assualted by the Islamists seeking to gain control of the pirates booty. Especially the Ukrainian ship which contains tank and heavy weapons.

Battling the Somali Pirates: The Return of the Islamists

However, General William Ward noted on Wednesday that despite piracy being a growing issue of global concern, there was no actual proof that the group responsible for the Somali troubles was linked with Islamic terrorism.

A columnist for the Wall Street Journal has suggested we bring back hanging em from the yardarms. Which was a rare occurance in the 18th ceentury and rarely worked. It certainly did not end priacy in the Caribbean and the Carolina's. That was ended by a privateer being hired by the British mercantilists government to hunt them down.

As I wrote in the Opionion Forum at the WSJ in repy to his column; "Your assertion that pirates were hung because they posed a danger when captured is true but not for the reason given, it was because they were free men, while the saliors aboard most ships at the time were pressed men, indentured, and the priates were seen as subversive, capable of undermining the ships owners and captains authority, enough so that having pirates aborad would lead to mutiny. The hanging of pirates did not end piracy, au contraire to your article, rather it was a concerted effort of the British government to end priacy on the American coast and in the Caribean using ex pirates to break up their hold in the Bahamas and North Carolina. Few pirates were hung, most retired. "

It is because I have been reading about pirates , slavery and submarieslately, as you can see in my Shelfari bookshelf to the left. The Republic of Pirates discusses the history of the short lived pirate republic in the Bahama's how it disrupted British, Spanish and French slave trade in the region and the America and how it was defeated. Eric Willaims Salvery and Capitalism is an important ground breaking work explaining how the use of slaves and a slave economy was key to the growth of primitive accumulation of capital for English capitalists, moving them from a mercantilist economy to a full blown capitalist economy and an Imperial empire. Finally the book on submarines explains that at least one 18th Century American advocate for submarine warfare; Robert Fulton promoted it as a way of guarnteeing free trade and free markets using of the submarine to attack exiting navy blockades of ports. Shades of Hagbard Celine.

The irony is that the Horn of Africa was the original source of the historical 18th Century Pirates, in that case the pirates used Madagascar as their base. The pirates whom lived off raiding the slave ships of the European Imperialist nations. Like their Somali counterparts Muslim pirates led Thomas Jefferson to engage in America's first imperialist navel action against the Barbary Coast Pirates.

As Christopher Hitchens writes;

Some of this activity was hostage trading and ransom farming rather than the more labor-intensive horror of the Atlantic trade and the Middle Passage, but it exerted a huge effect on the imagination of the time—and probably on no one more than on Thomas Jefferson. Peering at the paragraph denouncing the American slave trade in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, later excised, I noticed for the first time that it sarcastically condemned “the Christian King of Great Britain” for engaging in “this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers.” The allusion to Barbary practice seemed inescapable. One immediate effect of the American Revolution, however, was to strengthen the hand of those very same North African potentates: roughly speaking, the Maghrebian provinces of the Ottoman Empire that conform to today’s Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. Deprived of Royal Navy protection, American shipping became even more subject than before to the depredations of those who controlled the Strait of Gibraltar. The infant United States had therefore to decide not just upon a question of national honor but upon whether it would stand or fall by free navigation of the seas.
One of the historians of the Barbary conflict, Frank Lambert, argues that the imperative of free trade drove America much more than did any quarrel with Islam or “tyranny,” let alone “terrorism.” He resists any comparison with today’s tormenting confrontations. “The Barbary Wars were primarily about trade, not theology,” he writes. “Rather than being holy wars, they were an extension of America’s War of Independence.”

Piracy arose because of the slave trade on one hand, and because Imperial navies around the world used pressed men, indentured servents. Piracy was the rebellion of the common man against his exploitation, they seized the ships, created a contract form of employment sharing the wealth between them, and ended up creating capitalist democracy on the high seas as Buckminister Fuller wrote in his book Operating Manul For Spaceship Earth

But back to the topic at hand Somali pirates. They are fishermen. Not terrorists. The piracy is the result of the anarchy and free market that is Somalia. But even more so it is the result of the poisioning of the coastal waters by giant shipping companies, poor environmental regulations, lack of UN policing, whereby dumping of toxic waste has devastated the fishing stocks. Fishing stocks that were overfished not by Somali's but by European trawlers. So overfishing and toxic dumping led to the Somali fishermen to take up piracy. In true pirate tradition they are more interested in the booty than harming the hostages. Whom they have exchanged for ransom. And they even have a Canadian connection.

With the world waiting and watching, one of the pirates calling himself Daybed spoke to the BBC via telephone from the Sirius Star. He says the pirates are not negotiating with the supertanker's owners, instead they're dealing with intermediaries and he insists they "cannot be trusted.

"DAYBED (translated): We're fully aware of the consequences, but the world has to realise the problems we're facing here at home. There's been no peace for 18 years, there's no life here. The last resource Somali's have is the sea, but foreign fishing trawlers have come here to plunder our fish. How can they allow the Somali people to die, it's not possible. This is what drove us to piracy, we have to do anything we can to survive. The lack of government causes problems, if we solve the problem with the government, everything would be solved.

Ex-Somali Army Colonel Mohamed Nureh Abdulle lives in Harardhere - the town closest to where the hijacked Saudi oil tanker, Sirius Star is moored. He tells the BBC, via phone from his home, that the town's residents are more concerned about the apparent dumping of toxic waste than piracy.
You know, our problem is not piracy. It is illegal dumping.
These problems have been going for sometime and the world knows about it. The Americans have been here in the region for a long time now - they know about the pollution.
Instead, no, the world is only talking about the pirates and the money involved.

Meanwhile, there has been something else going on and it has been going on for years. There are many dumpings made in our sea, so much rubbish.
It is dumped in our seas and it washes up on our coastline and spreads into our area.

Our community used to rely on fishing. But now no-one fishes. You see, a lot of foreign ships were coming and they were fishing heavily - their big nets would wipe out everything, even the fishermen's equipment. They could not compete.


IT was almost dusk and the sun was sinking on the horizon. A few hundred yards offshore, the freighter that had earlier dropped anchor was swarming with local Somali men. The ship's crew, however, were nowhere to be seen.
Some of the Somalis carried Kalashnikovs and stood guard, while others, like worker ants, busied themselves loading the ship's cargo on to barges that were then hauled to the beach by relays of sweating men pulling on ropes.
Noticing my curiosity, one of the staff at the tumbledown guesthouse in the port town of Merka where I was staying decided to offer an explanation as to what I was witnessing.
"Our coastguards," he said with a mischievous grin. "Some of them used to be fishermen, but today, with the war and no law or government, they have a more profitable catch," nodding towards the rusting hulk sitting offshore.
Until that moment, nothing I'd seen had struck me as being out of the ordinary. At Merka and other port towns along Somalia's coastline, ships often came close inshore to unload. As for the gunmen, Somalia was awash with weapons and arms smugglers. A few years ago, when I first went to the capital, Mogadishu, and visited its infamous "sky shooters" weapons market in the Bakara district, an AK-47 assault rifle cost a mere $150. Mortars, grenade launchers, heavy machine guns - all were readily available here.
As the ultimate "failed state", Somalia has been exposed to more than its fair share of man's evil ways. It has been neglected for years by the international community and let down by its fellow African nations. It is wracked with Islamic terrorism, suffering a largely ignored humanitarian crisis and is home to widespread organised crime, including the piracy that I witnessed in Merka that day that has now become a multi-million dollar business.
With their biggest hijacking yet last week, of an oil tanker, Somalia's pirates have suddenly drawn world attention to an ancient trade whose only recognisable modern-day practitioners until recently were Jack Sparrow and the crew of the Black Pearl in the Pirates of the Caribbean Hollywood movie series.
There are now serious concerns over the fate of crew members taken hostage by the Somali pirates. There is considerable disquiet, too, on behalf of shipping companies over the huge losses incurred. But pressing as these questions are, there are others regarding Somalia itself that need addressing.
For a start, why is it that piracy has flourished here? Who are these ocean-going bandits and how has their trade affected the local communities? More significantly perhaps, to what extent if any, is this vast money-making criminal activity bound up with Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Shabab that daily tighten their grip on Somalia?

In this impoverished country long devoid of solid institutions or individuals worth looking up to, the pirates and in some cases even the insurgents have even become heroes with virtually celebrity status.
In pirate communities, the trophies gleaned from their trade sit brashly juxtaposed against the poverty. In pirate boom towns such as Harardhere, Eyl and Bosaso on Somalia's northern coast, along the breakaway Somali statelet of Puntland, sprawling new-build stone houses nestle next to shacks made of sticks and discarded plastic bags.
Like western urban drug barons, pirates cruise in luxury cars through unimaginable squalor. However, in these humid coastal dens, where life expectancy is just 46 years and a quarter of children die before they reach five, not everyone sees the pirates in a negative light.
"The pirates depend on us, and we benefit from them," said Sahra Sheik Dahir, a shop owner in Harardhere, the nearest village to where the hijacked Saudi Arabian supertanker Sirius Star is now anchored.
In these pirate-controlled areas of northern Somalia, people's hopes of a better future are firmly pinned on the prevailing maritime gangsterism.
"There are more shops and business is booming because of the piracy," said Sugule Dahir, who runs a clothing shop in Eyl. "Internet cafes and telephone shops have opened, and people are just happier than before."
In Harardhere, residents are said to have celebrated as the Sirius Star dropped anchor last week.
Businessmen gathered cigarettes, food and soft drinks, setting up kiosks for the pirates who come to shore to resupply almost daily.
"They always take things without paying and we put them into the book of debts," said Dahir. "When they get the ransom money, they pay us a lot."
Among the big men who run the pirate syndicates are an army of negotiators, spokesmen and accountants. The pirates take no chances with the cash, giving "clerks" the task of making sure the banknotes are not counterfeit, using machines like those housed in foreign exchange bureaux worldwide.
Ask Somalia's pirates why they turned to this lucrative trade and they will give a one-word answer: "Survival." They will tell of how, following the collapse of the government in 1991, their fishing grounds were opened to illegal harvesting by foreign fishing vessels from all corners of the world, and how the dumping of toxic waste destroyed so much of their livelihood. To some extent this is true, but some analysts argue it merely serves as a moral cover for their criminal activities.
More worrying perhaps is that the piracy trade might help fund and arm Islamic terrorists in the region.
Recent United Nations reports on arms smuggling in the Horn of Africa, suggest that groups like al-Shabab may have begun to use piracy as a means of bringing in arms or generating cash for weapons. But so far the evidence is sparse, and the pirates' commercial largesse seems directed mainly at those within their clan, families and friends.
Iqbal Jhazbhay, a Somali expert at the University of South Africa in Tshwane, said: "There may be some loose elements among the Islamist groups that have tie-ups with the pirates, because the movement is fractured into six or seven different groups, and each may have its own problems getting funding."
Somalia's recent history is in great part the tale of grave miscalculations made by foreigners in a very foreign land. Here the margins between death and survival are the narrowest imaginable. Given such unforgiving odds, is it really surprising that piracy is considered a sure bet to a better life?
"Regardless of how the money is coming in, legally or illegally, I can say it has started a life in our town," said Shamso Moalim, 36, a mother of five from Harardhere. "Our children are not worrying about food now, and they go to Islamic schools in the morning and play soccer in the afternoon. They are happy


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