Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pirates, Terrorists and War Lords

Although we are all relieved by the release of Captain Richard Phillips from his Somalia captors, there seems to be much more to the story than is being reported. First of all, Captain Phillips' ship, the Maersk Alabama, is part of the fleet owned by the Denmark-based Moller-Maersk company, which is one of the US Department of Defense’s primary shipping contractors. However, according to the DoD, it was not under contract at the time it was overtaken. But the Maersk Alabama, a ship used by the US DoD and carrying an all American crew, was supposedly delivering food aid to Kenya and going right through the so called pirate infested waters off Somalia. Why did they not simply avoid those waters? Some have suggested that it was a provocation, done as a prelude to a US military intervention on the horn of Africa. As former UN Ambassador John Bolton said on April 11, we need a “coalition of the willing” to invade Somalia.

Other important questions are, who are these pirates? Why do other countries not have such bands of pirates? Recently, a New York Times article quoted one of them, Sugule Ali, as saying, “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits...we consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump wastes in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” Every country claims 12 miles beyond its shores as its territorial waters and an additional 250 miles as its “exclusive economic zone.” Each country is allowed to control all economic activities in these waters.

After the Somali civil war in the late 1980's, the central government was no longer able to patrol and control activity in these waters. Fleets from other countries started fishing in this area, devastating the Somalia fishing industry; other countries started dumping industrial waste off the Somalia coast, including nuclear waste that sickened the coastal populations. Around that time, the Somalia fishing cooperatives banded together to patrol their waters and save their industry and people. Instead of the US and other advanced countries' condemning and stopping the illegal activities of other countries off the Somalia coast, they branded the Somalian protectors as "pirates," and they are now on a full scale campaign to stop them.

The word pirate is just one in a growing lexicon used by our government and the media to sway public opinion. If we don’t like a government, its leaders are "war lords." If a band of people don’t like what the US is doing in their country and try to stop it, they are "terrorists," and if fishing cooperatives band together to protect their territorial waters, they are "pirates."

Certainly, some of these so called pirates are out for their own economic gain. But there is illegal activity in all devastatingly poor areas around the world, including in inner cities of the US. Using strong-armed tactics against the Somalian people will never correct the situation, because it doesn’t deal with the underlying problem of the wealthy nations taking advantage of the poor.

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