Apr 262009

Could the maritime industry help to resolve piracy without turning its seafarers into armed guards? Bob Couttie looks outside the box.

(Note: As this post was being written US legislators are insisting that shipping companies who have paid ransoms to secure the safety of their seafarers should be banned from US ports.)

Current piracy issues have led to the prevalence of comments in the media and on the free-for-all-loonies internet that begins something like “All we have to do is…” followed by notions that demonstrate the writer’s utter ignorance of shipping, piracy and Somalia. Not all are be-zitted youths with too much time on their hands, some are politicians, financial market analysts and serving and retired military officers without a war to fight or medals to win, also with too much time on their hands.

Having too much time on their hands is an issue for Somali pirates, too. A number are former would-be coastguards, now unemployed, others are fisherman, also now unemployed thanks to fishing vessels from overseas vacuuming their livelihood away and toxic waste dumpers poisoning the rest. Then there are the young men wanting to prove themselves worthy of a wife or two and wanting to get their share of what passes for the good life in that benighted non-nation. Add a dash of ‘doing something’ something to protect their country again foreigners who are ravaging its fishing grounds, dumping toxic waste that poisons coastal communities while largely ignoring the country’s problems and you have the average Somali pirate mindset.

The monkeys on their backs, apart from foreign fishing vessels and toxic waste dumpers, are the warlords creating the Somalia disaster, corrupt politicians in the US-preferred government structure and a variety of carpet baggers handling everything from provision of fibreglass glass skiffs to international money laundering. The ground truth is that Al Quaida terrorism isn’t a player in the situation the terrorism of hunger is.

Of course, one could simply hand Somalia over to the only people who, so far, have shown any ability to rein in piracy, the Islamists, but it’s unlikely that anyone would want to go that far out of the box.

First let’s deal with a root cause of piracy: The destruction of Somali fishing grounds by illicit fishing and toxic waste dumpers.

Let’s use those millions of dollars worth of military assets that have yet to be cost effective against piracy and use them to protect Somali waters. There are fewer illegal fishing vessels and toxic waste dumpers than pirates and their ship are easier to find and catch. Merchant vessels can act as informal surveillance units, reporting the presence of suspect vessels as they currently should do for suspect pirate vessels.

When caught, hand the fishing vessels and dump ships over to the Somali authorities, or coastal communities.

At the same time, international maritime organisations pile on the same sort of pressure to stop illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping in Somali waters as part of an anti-piracy strategy.

Second: Unemployment in Somali yet a problematic global shortfall in seafarers and recruitment. Let the maritime industry establish training centres and funding for seafarer training in Somalia. Seafarers have become an important economic factor in India, the Philippines and other less developed countries. These countries benefit as a whole and the individual seafarers’ families benefit from an income that helps build micro-businesses and fund education for their children.

Protect the people who today become pirates out of economic an social necessity and you could be protecting the pirates out of existence.

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