From Socialist Voice, April 2009

Somali fishermen: “pirates” or defenders of their national resources?

In the latest display of gunboat diplomacy the US government sent its warships to rescue the captain of an American cargo ship who had been taken prisoner off the Horn of Africa by what the western press describe as Somali “pirates.” While the families of those taken prisoner are naturally concerned for their safety, little if any attempt is made to explain who these so-called pirates are or where they come from.
     Somalia is one of the poorest countries in Africa and has had no stable government since 1991, when its government collapsed. Since then the people have suffered under various clan and Islamic groups, with both the Saudis and western powers meddling to gain influence over the various factions while the people have been left to fend for themselves, with many starving.
     As is the usual practice, western governments and corporations see other people’s difficulties as their opportunity to rid themselves of a problem or to take advantage of resources that the local people are not capable of securing or defending.
     What did European governments and corporations do? For a start, they dumped toxic waste, including nuclear waste, in the ocean off the Somali coast. Somalia has an enormous coastline, stretching for more than two thousand miles. It has no navy or coastguard, and its fishing fleet was not geared to meet the challenge of European factory trawlers. Some estimates put the plunder of Somali fishing resources at more than $300 million worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other marine life every year by vast trawlers from EU countries, illegally fishing in Somalia’s unprotected seas.
     Soon after the collapse of any form of central government, European ships began dumping barrels of toxic waste. Those Somalis living along the coast who relied on fishing for making a living and feeding their families suddenly began to become ill and to experience strange rashes and nausea and to give birth to malformed babies. The United Nations envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, stated: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury—you name it.”
     After the tsunami in 2005 barrels full of toxic waste began to be washed up on the coast, dislodged from their watery grave. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, with estimates of the number killed at over three hundred. A lot of the material can be traced back to European hospitals and factories. This is the cheap way to dispose of deadly waste—and sure the locals are black anyway. The old European colonial outlook is always lurking in the background.
     European governments and the European Union know full well the extent of the problem but have turned a blind eye to the damage being done to the Somali people and to their environment. It is this sequence of events, with people seeing their resources being plundered by the returning colonialists in the form of giant trawlers sucking up all the fish, coupled with the dumping of toxic waste, that forced Somali fishermen to take to the sea not just to catch fish for feeding their families but to try to stop the dumping of poison that was killing their children and to prevent the total destruction of their fishing grounds.
       The independent Somali news site Wardher News conducted research into what ordinary Somalis think about the actions of their coastal fellow-citizens, and it found that 70 per cent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence of the country’s territorial waters.”
       What are these poor communities supposed to do: lie down and either see their families starve to death or see them die a slow death from poisoning, with no medical support worth talking about?
     This is why poor Somali fishermen have turned to raiding western ships and demanding a ransom for their return. It is one form of wealth redistribution—not a pleasant one for those who have to go through it, but life is not and never has been easy for the poor.

Home page  >  Publications  >  Socialist Voice  >  April 2009  >  Somali fishermen: “pirates” or defenders of their national resources?
Baile  >  Foilseacháin  >  Socialist Voice  >  Aibreán 2009  >  Somali fishermen: “pirates” or defenders of their national resources?