Friday, October 10, 2008

Piracy and the West's Ravaging of Somali Seas Must End

By Farid Omar

Since the collapse of central government in Somalia in 1991, following the ouster of Siad Barre, the former military dictator, pirates have reigned supreme over the Somali high seas, hijacking commercial vessels and ships carrying humanitarian supplies. This year alone, there have been over 25 cases of pirates seizing ships for ransom.

Piracy as western media claims, is fast becoming a lucrative business in war-torn Somalia. But is was the Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian freighter, the MV Faina, loaded with 33 tanks, artillery, grenade launchers and ammunition who captured global attention. The pirates had no idea that their booty was an estimated $30 million worth of deadly weaponry, heading for South Sudan via Kenya. They have demanded a $20 million ransom as condition of releasing the MV Faina and its 21 crew members.

According to Al-Jazeera, the pirates have issued an ultimatum threatening to destroy the arms-laden cargo ship if no ransom is paid. The ship is surrounded by US warships, and a Russian frigate is heading toward the scene, raising the stakes for a possible commando-style raid on the ship.

While the western media has often focused its attention on Somali pirates, the international community has paid a blind eye to the ravaging of Somali seas by foreign vessels that either fish illegally or dump toxic material, including nuclear waste in Somali territorial waters in flagrant violation of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia.

Worse still, US, French, German and other western warships continue to “patrol” Somalia’s territorial waters under the pretext of fighting so-called “war on terror” in the Horn of African front. The build up of western warships off the Somali coastline constitutes a direct act of aggression against Somalia.

The ongoing pirates saga on the Ukrainian ship has uncovered the other side of the story following revelations in the New York Times that carried a recent piece on the stand off between the pirates and US ships that have surrounded the MV Faina.

In a telephone interview with the New York Times, Sugunle Ali, the pirates’ spokesman said that so far, in the eyes of the world, the pirates had been misunderstood.

“We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.” In Somalia, pirates claim that they only impose heavy "fines" as opposed to claiming "ransom" when seizing ships that illegally enter Somali seas.

In quoting Somali officials, even the New York Times notes that after the collapse of the Somali state, there were no patrols along the shoreline adding that “Somalia’s tuna-rich waters were soon plundered by commercial fishing fleets from around the world. Somali fishermen armed themselves and turned into vigilantes by confronting illegal fishing boats and demanding that they pay a tax”.

However, things later got out of hand as the vigilantes in the high seas quickly transformed themselves into pirates hijacking as the New York Times mentions, “any vessel they could catch: sailboat, oil tankers, United Nations chartered ships etc”.

No doubt, piracy of commercial ships in the high seas is a serious crime and co-ordinated international efforts are required to stamp it out. At the same time, the international community must put to an end the illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters.

Progressive forces must also demand the immediate withdrawal of western warships circling Somalia to difusse the growing tension in the region.

More importantly, piracy in Somalia can only be rooted out if the international community supports the creation of a peaceful and stable state in Somalia. This would entail the unconditional withdrawal of Ethiopian forces and promotion of an inter-Somali dialogue that would bring together all parties in the Somali conflict in direct negotiations on the way to finding a lasting solution to the political crisis in Somalia.

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