Somali Pirates


I am sure that many of you are far more knowledgeable of this situation than me however I find the case of the Somali pirates and how the notion of commons is played out in this area incredibly interesting .

What makes this case so interesting is that Somalia challenges the Western notion of state sovereignty as it has been a collapsed state since 1991. The fear and misunderstanding that surrounds the Somali pirates centres on the fact that they are non-state actors, thus there is a lack of control that can be exerted on them.  Due to them operating on the seas instead of on land they demonstrate the limits of state sovereignty. The waters in this area are a poignant example of the use of a global common that is used and governed in haphazard manner due to the fact it is a common.

Somali pirates began claiming that they were authorised coast guards of the Somali waters whose role was to protect the local fishing resources. Many of them  were former fisherman dislodged from their traditional source of income often by transnational fishing conglomerates. This ‘coast guard’ levied a tax on unauthorised fishing boats that were fishing illegally in Somali waters.

They were not recognised or supported by the international community despite this trespass taking place. During the Somali Piracy Conference (comments by Shinn), hosted by National Maritime Intelligence Center and Office of Naval Intelligence, Somalia’s minister of fisheries stated that within one month alone an “estimated 220 foreign-owned vessels were engaged in unlicensed and illegal fishing in Somali waters”. The fisherman themselves appealed to the UN for assistance but no action was taken.

In addition to the problem of over-fishing there have been allegations of toxic waste dumping, oil spills and nuclear waste dumping. It has been said that it is due to these factors combined with a lack of international intervention that local fisherman attacked foreign fishing vessels to demand compensation. What began as a response to environmental exploitation by Somali fisherman slowly expanded after 2000 to any vessel that sailed within or close to Somali territorial waters. The lack of enforcement of the arms embargo permitted ready access to the arms and ammunition used by the pirates and driven in part to the growth of piracy in the area. Piracy in the region is flourishing as it is low risk high gain.

To define an international course of punishment for piracy on an international scale has several challenges as to some these are conceived as pirates but to others they are conceived as patriots. This is particularly the case where the local perspective renders the start of piracy as in reaction to international trespass and exploitation of Somali waters. Pirates often have a strangely hybrid status in law as they are not criminals or even recognised state actors thus not covered by the legal system or even deserve the protection of the laws of war as they are categorised as people who commit international terrorism. There is a difficulty in agreeing the most appropriate way to apprehend, detain or destroy nationals of another country on the high seas as it is an area that no country has jurisdiction.

The global community did act to some level on the issue. US Naval Forces Central Command established a ‘combined task force’ that’s sole purpose was to conduct anti-piracy operations in the area. AFRICOM’s   purpose was “not only to fight terrorism, or to secure oil resources… it is about helping Africans build greater capacity to assure their own security”. NATO launched two anti-piracy missions. And the European Union launched EU NAVFOR operation ATALANTA which stated that they would take the necessary measures including the use of force to end piracy. This response however has largely ignored Somali plight and responded only when global trade and global security are deemed to be at risk. Somali’s statelessness and thus non-presence in the alliances central to the policing of the water, the Somali voice has become a minority one in international policy.

Pirates cannot be caught and reprimanded if authorities charged with apprehending them remain disinclined to do so. This presents a difficulty with international bodies directing other countries to reprimand the pirates meaningfully. Passing responsibility over to a host country is also difficult in the Somali case as it is very difficult to deal with a law and order problem in a country in a state of lawlessness. Countries who then arrest the individuals do not then necessarily want the financial burden of putting them through their legal system and imprisoning them. An agreement was reached between the U.K and the U.S with Kenya that permitted them to hand  over to Kenyan authorities captured pirates for prosecution however Kenya emphasised that this should not constitute an open door for dumping pirates onto Kenyan soil which is a low cost and hands off solution for other countries to deal with pirates

The notion of commons is an important framework to look at this case. Somali pirates occupy a symbolic space in the minds of the international communities that justifies the military interventions but do not account for the wider structural reasons that contribute to why Somalis are carrying out acts of piracy. Are the Somali waters a common resource for all to dump waste, illegally overfish and use as a global throughway for legal and illegal trade or do these waters have specific rights for individual groups? And should these specific rights be upheld by the people of Somalia, the pirates that occupy this area or the international community at large? A lot of oil is transported through this area, which makes it a significant area of concern for many but who is concerned for the pirates that it could be argued are affected the most?


One Response to “Somali Pirates”

  1. Berita Kapal Says:

    nice post about pirates, salam from pelaut Batam

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