One Man’s Pirate is Another Man’s Coastguard: Piracy and Toxic Dumping

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by Bahati Jacques

While there has been an international coalition against Somali pirates, nothing has been done to stop the industrialized world from dumping toxic waste in the water off the coast of Somalia. Along with industrial overfishing, toxic dumping on the shores of Somalia is a major and important part of the piracy story that is rarely told. Further evidence came from an unlikely source: the 2004 tsunami stirred up drums of toxic materials onto the shore from the sea bed.

On July 16, 2012, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that piracy has dropped sharply in the first quarter of this year. The report states that this decrease in piracy attacks is due to preventative and disruptive counter-piracy measures carried out by international navies.

Pirates hijacked 46 ships in 2009, 47 in 2010 and in 2011 carried out 176 attacks on ships, but were only able to hijack 25. “Pirates still hold seven ships and 177 crew members, according to the EU Naval Force. At the height of Somali piracy, pirates held more than 30 ships and 600 hostages at a time” (Associated Press, September 25, 2012).

Keinan Abdi Warsame (also known as K’naan), a Somali-Canadian singer and activist, explains why Somalis find themselves slightly shy of condemning “our pirates” by taking issue with Swiss firm Achair Parterns and Italian waste company Achair Parterns; two companies involved in toxic dumping in Somalia. “These European companies were said to be paying (Somali) Warlords about $3 a ton, whereas to properly dispose of waste in Europe costs about $1000 a ton” (Huff Post, April 12, 2009).

There is solid ground to argue that some pirates are frustrated and abused people who took justice in their hands. They patrolled their shores not only to primarily prevent ships carrying toxic waste from dumping them near their shores and stop industrial overfishing which affected their primary source of income, food and all economic activities dependent on fishing.

Furthermore, it is also well documented that toxic wastes have been buried inland with the facilitation of greedy Somalis. “It is time that the world gave the Somali people some assurance that these Western illegal activities will end, if our pirates are to seize their operations. We do not want the EU and NATO serving as a shield for these nuclear waste-dumping hoodlums. It seems to me that this new modern crisis is truly a question of justice, but also a question of whose justice. As is apparent these days, one man’s pirate is another man’s coast guard.” (K’naan , Huff Post, April 12, 2009).

Somalia has been for years and remains one of the preferred destinations to dump toxic wastes because many years of war that has weakened its social, economic and political instability.

While we condemn in the strongest terms all acts of kidnapping and killing of sailors by Somali coastguards turned into pirates or just Somali bandits who became pirates, we equally condemn those who purposefully poison their water and land with toxic chemicals. In that water and land is Somali people’s livelihood. Somali people need help to hold these criminals accountable.

Read also: The Toxic Truth. About a Company Called Trafigura, a Ship Called the Probo Koala, and the Dumping of Toxic Waste in Cote d’Ivoire

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