To hear the Somali pirates tell it, they are modern day Robin Hoods stealing from barges owned by rogue states and evil multinationals to support the poor and neglected region in which they live. To hear the rest of the world tell it, they're greedy criminals.
Hearing a pirate give interviews to the media has an air of ridiculousness to it. Somali pirates have been violently seizing boats off the Horn of African since at least 2003, but they are also waging a PR war.
My first question is: why bother? They must know that being a sea pirate is not the most respected of professions, mainly because of the criminal activity associated with it. Pirates also tend not to be sympathetic characters. So why do they bother transmitting their message to a world which they must know will treat them with hostility? (And already have: France has stormed into Somali turf to free hostages with guns blazing twice.)
My second question: how would I go about getting an interview?
Somalia is a country ravaged by poverty, this we all know. But there have been several hardships thrust upon the Eastern African nation by Western governments. Namely, the George W. Bush administration engaging a secret war on Somali since 2006.
The U.S., upset with what it determined to be a regressive Islamic government in Somali, encouraged neighbouring Ethiopia to invade, overthrow the Islamists and install a more Western-friendly government. Only the war-by-proxy backfired and an anarchic territory was formed. That area, including the notorious town of Eyl, has no security, social services or even the most primitive form government.
Enter a daring band of pirates, who form a de facto government and collecting the tariffs (and then some) a legitimate state would from other nations' boats passing through its waters. Here's a breakdown of where the money goes, according to a captured pirate:
But that alone is not reason to feel any empathy toward the pirates. There is no right imaginable that allows for raids of ships, ransoming of hostages and committing other vile crimes.
Then what right do ships passing by have, as some say, illegally dumping hazardous material in the Somali seas?
On that, here's James Carroll of the International Tribune:
There is more than one kind of piracy. Drug companies, marketing cures from the flora of the tropical world, including Africa, engage in what the Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz calls "bio-piracy." While the developed world exploits African resources, including oil; while government subsidies for U.S. farmers destroy the ability of African farmers to compete; while high-tech and green revolutions pass by; while their continent is looted, the extreme poverty of Africans only grows.
Due east of Somalia, in the far Indian Ocean, are the Maldives, an island nation of more than 300,000 people. As I learned reading Stiglitz, the Maldives will be underwater in 50 years because of rising sea levels due to global warming. Who speaks for those people? Or the billions of others in vulnerable coastal regions - the soon-to-be victims of all those oil tankers, which might as well be warships. Pirates may not consciously be mounting protests to the coming catastrophe, but their actions are not unconnected to it.
The worldwide distress of financial meltdown is one sign of corporate disregard for the common good. CEOs, regulators, investors and governments chose short-term self-interest over long-term fairness. It did not work. A reform of the globalized economy is urgently needed. But piracy off the coast of Somalia is equally a sign of needed global reform. The gross inequity that simply writes off a majority of the world's population flows back on the affluent minority, like an offshore tide carrying the raider flotilla, with grappling hooks and grenades.
Supporting the Somali pirates might be morally choppy, but understanding what might drive them to commit such acts is, I believe, a duty of the international citizen.