Monday, April 13, 2009

War on Pirates

"The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a pirate." - Bern Williams
Three remarkable sniper shots ended the Somali pirate standoff in the Indian Ocean yesterday. The Navy Seals rescued the sole prisoner, Capt. Richard Phillips, who, four days earlier, heroically offered himself as a hostage in order to spare his crew.

Prior to the rescue, Fox News was describing the situation as a "foreign policy emergency with no easy solution." So it seems the wingnut's gloating and bloviating was a bit premature. Did they really see political opportunity in the midst of a crisis? I believe the American public firmly rejected this type of divisive politics in the 2008 election.

Of course, dissent is healthy, and I'm sure we'll see plenty of it as we now figure out where the 16-year-old surviving pirate will face trial. It's a unique situation, and until last week, no US ship, sailor, or citizen had been targeted by Somali pirates who seem to be in it mostly for the ransom money.

Or are they in it for something else? When I wrote about Somali pirates last September, I was curious and a little skeptical about the pirated Iranian ship carrying suspicious cargo that was described as "chemicals, dangerous chemicals." But then I came across this article by Johann Hari. He describes the side of piracy that we're not being told about:
In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.


No, this doesn't make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But in a telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali: "We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas." William Scott would understand.

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our toxic waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We won't act on those crimes – the only sane solution to this problem – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 per cent of the world's oil supply, we swiftly send in the gunboats.

I agree that we need to use force against pirates, but the real bravery will come when we realize that protecting the environment and enforcing international treaties will, in the long term, be more effective than all the high-tech guided bullets we can imagine.

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