The Backgrounf of Piracy in Somalia


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Coast Guard Narrative

With the goal of protecting the Somali coastline and adjacent waters from illegal exploitation, fishermen initially formed groups using titles containing nouns such as ‘coast guard’ or ‘marine’ (Tharoor, 2009, pp. 1). As Bueger presents, this evolved into a “grand”, “Coast Guard narrative” developed by the pirates (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1811-1812, 1817). Seeking to project higher moral goals (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1820), these pirates began to create a distinct identity in order to connect their operations to a sense of collective organization and to create a distinct identity (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1812, 1818 and 1820). As Bueger writes, “Piracy is cast as a normal practice of protection against environmental crime, resource robbery or the violation of borders, and as contributing to the economic development of Somali regions” (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1812). Bueger further notes that pirates have used the idea of conducting this ‘coast guard duty’ in court in order to lessen a sentence or to claim innocence (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1822). Pirates assert that, under their self-proclaimed status of ‘coast guard’, they are protecting Somali waters from illegal fishing and illegal dumping as a threat to their livelihood (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1818, 1819). Interestingly, pirate justification for seizing any vessel is that any vessel can dump waste and therefore is a target (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1819). Furthermore, pirates claim that the presence of foreign warships is simply to protect these various illegal activities (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1820). Bueger reviews that structure of the pirate operations, that these are not simple bands of pirates but are various, well-organized groups who often coordinate between each other (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1820-1821). Lastly, this ‘Coast Guard narrative’ is used in order to recruit pirates and to create and promote a certain image (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1822-1823).

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Practice of Piracy

According to Bueger, there are two primary aspects from which to view the actions conducted by the pirates. is an economic lens that focuses on a cost-benefit analysis employed by the pirate who evaluates the relationship between treasure and punishment. The second involves the structural understanding of piracy, seen as a result of structural conditions such as a weak/failed state, lack of economic opportunity, and a dearth of coastal management capability. However, Bueger states this structural approach tends to ignore individual analysis which each pirate conducts (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1814). As Bueger finds deficiencies in both positions, he combines both into what he terms as the “practice of piracy” (Bueger 2013, pp. 1815). A “practice” is a “type of behavior which consists of several elements, interconnected to other: forms of bodily activities, forms of mental activities, ‘things’ and their use, a background knowledge in the form of understanding, know-how, states of emotion and motivational knowledge” (Bueger 2013, pp. 1815). “Activities” include the operations conducted by the pirates (hijackings, hostage tacking, theft, negotiation, navigation etc.); “Objects” are the physical tools of the pirate (weapons, navigational systems, vessels etc.); “Know-how” concerns the skills garnered through experience of fishing (navigation, operation etc.) as well as through the experience of civil war (weapons skills, negotiation etc.) (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1815). Bueger states that pirates had this latter ‘know-how’ due to their occupation as fishermen, coupled with the experience of decades of civil war (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1815). Combined in tandem with the “Coast Guard narrative” regarding ‘community’, piracy can thus be seen as a “community of practice”, thus sharing all of the common characterizes of communities (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1816).

A Permissible Environment for Piracy

Daxecker and Prins posit that it is a combination of economic and environmental conditions within Somalia that create a permissive setting for pirates by providing “safe-havens” (Daxecker and Prins, 2013, pp. 942, 960). Their study found that state weakness and its failures provide ripe environments for piracy to flourish (Daxecker and Prins, 2013, pp. 949) in addition to finding that “increased in fisheries production values reduce opportunities for piracy as expected (Daxecker and Prins, 2013, pp. 950). Therefore, as fishery production decreases, the opportunity for piracy increases (Daxecker and Prins, 2013, pp. 942. 960). Furthermore, their results find that material power, that is hard kinetic military power, is able to resist piracy via enforcement mechanisms (Daxecker and Prins, 2013, pp. 952). Thus, following the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, no monitoring or policing mechanism is operational in Somalia therefor inadvertently provided for a permissible environment for piracy.

Piracy as an Industry

These moral and sociopolitical justifications aside, piracy can be seen as economically viable and thus a type of industry that provides goods and services to people (Anderson, 2010, pp. 324). According to Roger Middleton, piracy in Somalia “is now likely to be the second largest generator of my in Somalia, bringing in over $200 million annually” (Alessi and Hanson, 2012, pp. 2). The average yearly income for a typical Somali is $200 and the average acquired ransom of $4 million USD, rather tempting for those in economic disparity (Nelson and Fitch, 2012, pp. 1). Alessi and Hanson note that there is typically a lack of violent tactics as part of the pirate attacks because it is in their economic interest to keep hostages alive – does not get paid for a dead body (Alessi and Hanson, 2012, pp. 2).

The local economies from which the pirates operate typically have a love-hate relationship with the pirates. According to Bueger, some locals view the pirates as heroes, further enhanced by the ‘Coast Guard narrative’ presented above (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1823). The World Bank states that pirates need secure ports from which to operate and thus are reliant upon “onshore support that provides shelter for returning pirates and access to markets for stolen goods and for the goods, services, and manpower needed for pirate attacks” (The World Bank, 2013, pp. xiv). As Daxecker and Prins assert, “Piracy, while implemented at sea, begins and ends on land” (Daxecker and Prins, 2013, pp. 943). However, not all locals are fond of the pirates (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1823).

Often either on the pirate’s bankroll or taking bribes (The World Bank, 2013, pp. xv), local authorities and officials also possess a love-hate relationship with the pirates. For other local authorities, “if not directly involved, [they] are willing to look the other way and refrain from prosecuting pirates (Alessi and Hanson, 2012, pp. 4). Bueger states that the “Coast Guard narrative” is used to “[rally] support not only among the local populations, but also among Somali elites and officials” (Bueger, 2013, pp. 1824). I surmise that for those politicians who are willing to look the other way that it may be political suicide (and thus they could be out of a job – a big deal in Somalia) for local politicians to go after pirates so long as the pirates provide income to the domestic economy. The people of those towns, even while maintaining this mixed relationships, have (physically) seen economic growth. Indeed, as Chalk from The Rand Corporation is quoted as saying, “Pirates have reinvested their profits in coastal communities, so ‘the communities’ have a vested interest in supporting piracy” (Alessi and Hanson, 2012, pp. 4). It is not simply or two attacks or successful hijackings by pirates which leads them to support themselves, local communities, and pay off politicians but rather over -thousand attacks over a period of half a decade.

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