War on Sea Piracy
Somali Pirates

War on Sea Piracy

How could the UN and governments worldwide do more to fight Somalia piracy?

My 3-year-old son has a fixation with pirates. The perpetual excitement running around the house waving a sword in the air dressed as a pirate makes him exhilarated by the fact he knows pirates don't really exist. Until he hears on the news that 'pirates' have kidnapped a couple of ships and are holding them at ransom. Even at the age of three, my son knows by the tone and seriousness of the news that, unlike Peter Pan, this program is real and pirates, unlike dragons and wizards, really do exist and his passion for pirates is temporarily lulled.

It is probably easier for children, with their unique ability to accept things without hesitation or question, to understand that there are modern-day pirates roaming waters, seeking 'revenge' on intruders. Whilst adults from the "civilized" world are less able to comprehend that in 2010, the world's governments are declaring a new war on pirates.

When the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler were captured and made hostage by Somali pirates as they sailed from Seychelles to Tanzania in October last year, shock and horror riveted around the world, whipped up by storm of frenzy by the media. But what was particularly shocking was the realization and infuriation that nothing was going to be done to rescue this destitute couple, as the British government were not prepared to pay the 100,000 pound ransom the pirates were demanding and due to no legislation enforced to indict pirates, these bare-faced criminals could not be prosecuted.  Six months later the Chandler's are still in captivity, the situation unchanged.

Are governments doing enough to combat what has been labeled as "one of the great menaces of our time?" Is the UN really steering the spokes of the wheel to prevent any more cases like the Chandler's who are living in unimaginable loneliness and terror? Or can both the UN and governments be placed into the category of possessing a so-called 'laissez-faire' attitude towards Somali pirates?

War on Sea PiracySomalia, which has been without a functioning government since 1991, is teetering on starvation, breeding chaos, conflict and crime. Since the demise of its government not only has nuclear waste been regularly dumped into Somalia's seas causing the coastal population to become sick and babies born malformed, but because of an over-exploitation of their own fish supplies, European ships have been trawling these waters looting its greatest asset – seafood. It is within this framework that modern day Somali pirates have surfaced. What are essentially fishermen who have had their livelihood and health snaffled from under their noses, like the formidable fictional pirates, which became synonymous with wooden legs, eye patches and parrots, contemporary Somali pirates are out to get revenge.

Although there is absolutely nothing formidable about these contemporary acts of piracy, one possible solution to curbing the calamity would be for a greater effort made to raise awareness of the damage toxic waste is causing to the people living on the coast of Somalia and prevent both the dumping of nuclear waste and the siphoning of fish and seafood, which is arguably the nucleus of what is sourcing these horrendous and terrifying exploits. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, recognizes this ugly force of the Western world as influencing piracy in Somali seas and believes governments should be doing more to prevent it.

"Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it. Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to 'dispose' of cheaply," said Ould-Abdallah. When asked about what European governments were doing about it, he said, "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."

Whilst prevention may be better than cure, meaning the cause of the piracy should be more carefully analyzed and a subsequent resolutions attempted, greater measures should also be taken to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of these crimes, a sentiment which is being urged to the UN. Last month the United Nations Security Council urged for stricter laws to be implemented regarding crimes committed by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The UN Security Council wants to adopt a Russian proposal to consider a court inaugurated solely for the tribunal of Somali pirates. The Security Council voted 15-0 to ask the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to report within three months on various opportunities regarding "a regional tribunal or an international tribunal and corresponding imprisonment arrangements."

War on Sea PiracyJust over two weeks later, the United Nations General Assembly held a meeting discussing how to challenge the growing crisis of piracy, particularly within Somali waters where more than half of all piracy related crimes in 2009 were committed. The United Nations General Assembly President Ali Treki called for, "greater measures in support of a wider political, peacekeeping and peace-building strategy in Somalia, to bring peace to the country", as being the solution to the crisis rather than focusing fundamentally on tougher legislation to prosecute suspects, an exploit Ali Treki describes as "legally binding".

Mr. Treki added that the "international community must step forward to help Somalia", a sentiment which was reiterated by Ban Ki-moon who stated that, "stability on land would, undoubtedly improve the situation at sea."

It is undoubtedly these deeper political issues that are urging people, who are fundamentally just fishermen, to carry out antiquated crimes associated with fantasy, pantomimes and children literature, as a previous 'laissez-faire' attitude does seem to be replaced by fresh surge to assist Somalia in achieving sovereignty, unity and peace. A major international conference is taking place in Istanbul on May 22 aiming to launch a drive for new solutions regarding the problems in Somalia. Such discussions are imperative on an international scale if the seemingly endless stream of Somali pirates are to be pilfered of the terror they bring the coast of this war-torn land.

Although there has been some moderate success of the apprehending of Somali pirates, albeit half a dozen pirates arrested and a series of attacks hampered by helicopters and boats, the root of the solution, like the UN admits, lies within assisting Somalia to find peace internally. Disallowing the greedy West to spill toxic waste and bleed their waters dry of seafood; would give these modern-day pirates less ammunition and justification for their attacks.

Perhaps then my son will be able to happily "play pirates" without being disturbed by the knowledge that real pirates exist today; and hopefully Paul and Rachel Chandler's ordeal may finally come to an end.

Gabrielle Pickard

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Poverty forces these people resort to piracy.


Much appreciation to Gabrielle for understanding the genesis of the Somalian piracy problem, its social-economic-political manifestations. Years of tribal conflicts and those playing international geo-politics have left the Somalis totally deprived of even the basics of civic life and human dignity, driving them to desperate means – sea piracy – for survival. This is indeed the case for a "united" UN intervention to help the Somalis with a better understanding to assume its place as a civilised member of world community of nations. There is also important responsibility for the various human rights activist groups in Europe and North America to stop their governments and corporates making Somalia and its coasts as a dumping grounds of all their sins, commissions and omissions.