Somalian Pirates: The Flip Side — Part I
In the African map, you could see a peninsula protruding out to the Arabian Sea, in the Northeastern part. This easternmost part of Africa has a population of nearly 100 million and this region contains four countries: Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia. This region is collectively called as ‘Horn of Africa’ – world’s most complex and conflicted domain. For the last 200 years, this area has witnessed lot of strategic power struggles: Egypt attempted to control the Nile; British Empire demanded control of Red Sea; In the Cold war era, each country in this region switched sides; and recently faced America’s “Global War on Terror.”
The ‘Horn of Africa’ also has a long history of pirates. The European trading vessels (from Mediterranean Sea), traveled south through Red Sea, into the Indian Ocean and beyond. An ancient travel guide published around 150 AD identifies of the ‘Horn’ region as ‘the Gulf of Barbaria’ – notifying the inhabitance of pirates. Attacks on ships in this gulf part were common and many British explorers and travelers were brutally murdered. So, the pirate disturbances in ‘Horn of Africa’ are part of a long tradition. However, the wave of Somali pirates, who struck the region around 2008 onwards, should be understood only in the contexts of modern history. You should also understand the notions of ‘state sovereignty’ and ‘territorial waters.’
The United Republic of Somalia was formed in 1960, which was earlier, a colony of British Empire and Italy. The country fell under the corrupt tyrant, Mohammad Said Barre. His corrupt rule was run with the help of cold-war fuelled foreign aid. He employed divide and rule tactics, which generated hostility among different clans. After the end of Cold war, the Western aid drastically reduced, which resulted in a state failure and a full-scale civil war in 1991.
Since 91, there has been number of autonomous political entities, but even the UN-supported ‘Transitional Federal Government’ doesn’t have the full control of Mogadishu – capital of Somalia. A lack of Central government (for two decades) can be matched with the rise of piracy. Abdirahman Farole, president of the Somali state of Puntland, in an interview to BBC said: “From the international point of view, piracy may be considered the number one issue, but from our point of view, it is a tiny part of the whole Somali problem.” So, pirates are just a tip of the iceberg. However, pirates are not just the product of domestic instability. Contrary to the viewpoint of Western media, the pirates call themselves as their ‘nation’s unofficial coast guard.’ Why?
Somalia has a coastline stretching around 3,300 Km – the longest in African continent. After the collapse of a functional government, foreign vessels have pillaged this area. Territorial waters extend up to 22kms (12 nautical miles). This part is regarded as the territory of a sovereign state. If a country or state’s territorial waters overlap one another, then a median point is taken. Still, there are lots of conflicts of going on around the world regarding these restrictive definitions. In the case of failed state like Somalia, it is assumed that no one is there to police its territorial sea or waters. So, foreign companies or interests seize this opportunity to loot food supply and dump hazardous wastes.
‘Sirius Star’, an oil tanker operated by Vela International Marine was built by a South Korean company and was launched in the year 2008. On November 2008, the ship was hijacked by Somali pirates. The ship’s cargo was estimated to be $100 million and the ship’s worth as $150 million. It was released after two months of negotiations, on January, only after the payment of $3 million. The case of ‘Sirius Star’ was often taken to explain the global repercussions of a country’s disability to police its territory. The Egyptians feared that this incident would discourage traffic through Suez. Fear of oil spill was also presented (around 2 million barrels of oil) and finally there was the hostage issue. The UN, the Arab League and the European Union discussed various options and demanded a strong consensus to stop the pirates. But, what about the worthy sea foods plundered by the international fishing fleets. Well, those illegal thefts which blocked out Somalia’s fishermen were not much talked about. An U.N. report says that an estimated $300 million worth of seafood was stolen from the country’s coastline each year.
How did the foreign interlopers sailed from as far as Japan and Spain by evaded international regulations to pillage the fertile sea-bed of Somalia?