Attention anarchist revolutionaries! Salute a new role model: the energetic members of the Somali Coast Guard! These AK-47 and RPG wielding versions of Calico Jack patrol the seas, keeping illegal weapons from war torn regions and preventing millions of barrels of oil from being combusted into the atmosphere. They fight for the little man: the destitute Somali fisherman who watched large international fishing vessels illegally rape their tuna-rich coastal waters while Somalia’s central government is too weak to assert it’s sovereignty. “Our fish were all eradicated so… we’re going to fish whatever passes through our sea” says a ‘coast guard’ leader.
The coast guard (you might be more familiar with the mainstream media title of ‘pirates’) began as small groups of armed fishermen fending off illegal fishing in Somalia’s coastal waters after their central government collapsed in 1991. Soon after, the pirates (pirates are cooler anyway) began to capture these illegal fishing vessels and sell them back to their owners. Since then the pirates have grown in number and capacity. It is estimated there are now well over a thousand pirates operating off the coast of Somalia and they capture and ransom everything from foreign fishing boats to luxury yachts and super size oil tankers. 2008 has been a record year for the pirates: they’ve more than quadrupled the amount of ships captured from last years record of 23. Their ransoms range from about $100,000 to $2,000,000, and are paid in cash filled burlap sacks often dropped from helicopters. Since Somalia is still engulfed in a never ending civil war between Islamic radicals and the ‘transitional’ central government, the pirate industry is one of Somalia’s largest.
The Somali pirates, like the pirates of yesteryear, are entirely motivated by personal profit; but that doesn’t mean their actions haven’t produced some semblance of societal benefit. In October they captured a ship filled with heavy weapons, artillery and tanks that were supposedly purchased by the Kenyan military but a variety of reports (here, here, here) claim their ultimate destination was war torn southern Sudan. The pirates are asking for $20 million. When asked whether they planned to sell some of the weapons in the lucrative arms markets of Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu, the New York Times reports the pirate leader said: “Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons. We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money.”
Some readers of this blog may remember a situation last summer when an NGO was tracking a large shipment of weapons being sent to Robert Mugabe’s oppressive regime in Zimbabwe. At the time, Zimbabwe was going through a highly contested and violent election. The international community failed to stop or delay the shipment and the weapons arrived safely, allowing Mugabe to use his military strength to continue his autocratic rule over a crumbling Zimbabwe. Maybe the NGO should have hired some Somali pirates to take over the ship instead of asking governments for assistance.
This past month the pirates captured a Saudi oil tanker with two million barrels of oil worth an estimated $100+ million. This tanker is one size below the largest tankers in the world and is by far the largest boat the Somali’s have ever captured. This high profile capture will increase the price of oil as insurance rates for such ships is now certain to increase as the Telegraph reports: “The greatest knock on effect is likely to be in the cost of insurance, which had already soared earlier this year as the number of hijackings escalated. Higher oil prices means less carbon released into the atmosphere. Al Gore take note! They’re ransoming the ship for $25 million.
The prolific actions this year of the pirates will likely lead to their demise. Capturing cargo ships is one thing, but when people interrupt the supply of guns and oil the power that be have a tendency to take notice. The international community is already beginning to mobilize a larger force of military vessels to patrol the Somali coast. Predator drones that patrol the region under the auspices of the ‘war on terror’ might soon find some pirate captains in their cross hairs. This doesn’t frighten the pirate captain controlling took the Saudi ship who briskly stated that “you only die once.”
Of course, the pirates luck may change if they can successfully make the jump to privateers. While pirates are the equivalent of thieves, privateers are thieves with support from a foreign government expressed via a letter of marquis. Article 1 Section 8 of the US Constitution gives Congress the power to create such letters. I wonder what would happened if America provided Letters of Marquis to Somali pirates who intercept weapons en route to brutal African dictators…
You can further explore pirate culture by translating your Facebook interface into pirate English.