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Pirates of the Somali coast

If you just hear the news that pirates hijacked an American ship and took the captain hostage, maybe it's natural to shout, "Off with their heads!" Or if you just read that the Somali pirates are fisherman fighting for their food supply, it's easy to have some sympathy. But of course, it's more complicated than that.

Many of the Somali ship raiders are fisherman, and Western ships have been looting seafood off the Somali coast. In the past, European ships also reportedly dumped toxic waste into the seas there. London Independent columnist Johann Hari wrote this for the Huffington Post recently:

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn't act on those crimes - but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world's oil supply, we begin to shriek about "evil."

On the other hand, it's clear these pirates have become much more sophisticated. Nikolas Gvosdev, a professor of security studies at the US Naval War College makes this point in a New York Times blog debating the issue:

We need to stop thinking about Somali pirates as simple fishermen with AK-47s... With reports that 20 percent of all ransom money received is reinvested by the pirate groups into better boats, G.P.S. systems, satellite phones and payments to informants working in the Middle East, Somali pirates are able to both evade the multinational naval task forces operating in the area and find new targets.

Gvosdev says governments and companies have to do something other than just pay the ransoms. Otherwise, the piracy will never end. Freakonomics says "even a $2 million ransom can be cheaper for shipowners than worrying about delayed or spoiled cargo. It's also cheaper than paying to outfit an entire shipping line with private security guards or sending the ships along longer, pirate-free routes."

The recession is complicating things even more:

...with shippers cutting costs, they may be less willing to pay the million-dollar ransoms that pirates have become accustomed to. That could discourage some pirates, Lehr says -- or, conversely, drive up attacks, as the marauders hit more ships to make up for slumping revenue.

Gvosdev suggests foreign naval forces might work together to help protect Somali fisherman from seafood raiding and piracy. And that the international community deal directly with the "self-proclaimed" governments in Somaliland and Puntland, rather than simply hoping that a central government will be rebuilt.

The health of global trade is at stake here, and Marketplace PM has more on that.

What's your solution?

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Allen is correct in suggesting we allow the Somalis to break into "natural" countries. You can expect a vocal minority of Somalis to object, mostly because the relatively peaceful areas of Somaliland and Puntland have the only proven petroleum. The ones fighting the hardest are the least educated clans, the ones who did not control farm land until they took it by force in 1991, who have no oil, and who now have no skills other than to bully their countrymen and women. Recognize Somaliland first. Offer conditional recognition to Puntland if they can control their cousins and brothers who are the pirates. Shut down the arms trade in Bosaso, Eyl, Hobyo and Mogadishu by force. Then enjoy a happy Somali culture once again.

There's an entire generation in Somali that has grown up without a government. At what point do we allow Somalia to break up into "natural" countries instead of continuing to impose our idea of them being a "country" on them? After all, their are areas of Somalia that are doing alright and essentially have a functioning government. Let's at least allow for things to get better where the can.

Thanks for posting this context, Scott - the nuances (any nuance, really) around this story tends to get lost in the sheer excitement of reporting on piracy (High Seas! Ransom! Speedboats and RPGs!) and the brevity of the 90 second spot.

Wired's defense blog is great on this, too:

<a href="http://blog.wired.com/defense/arrrrr/index.html" target="_blank">Arrrrr Posts</a>
<a href="http://blog.wired.com/defense/africa/index.html" target="_blank">Africa Posts</a>

Slit their throats and dump them for shark food...

right
the outside world has been fucking with the somali people for well over a century now
so why wouldnt the somali people start fucking with the outside world a little too

you cant expect them not to learn

it is all pretty straightforward business

I find it difficult to believe that the so-called Somali pirates would actually return to "small time" fishing once they have experienced the "big time" rewards of piracy. Even though this problem has maybe been tolerable on an international basis up to the present, it seems that it is about time for something to be done before it gets out of hand. These guys have gotten too good at what they do. I wonder if Mr. Gvosdev would think the same way about this situation if he or somebody he knew were to become one of the 'ransomees?' By the way, I had to google 'Somaliland' and 'Puntland' to find out what they were. I learned something new today.

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