If you’ve been following the news recently, you’ve probably heard a lot about pirates.
Not the swashbuckling, patch-over-the-eye, ruthless robber kind, but the disempowered, poverty-stricken, Somali kind. Although the piracy
situation off the coast of Somalia has been going on for years, the capture of U.S. captain Richard Phillips in early April raised the profile of the crisis. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and President Barack Obama have commented on
the situation, stating that the United States must do more to halt piracy.
It is important to know, however, that there is an untold story in all of the media hype.
There is no doubt that what the Somalis are doing constitutes piracy on some level – after all, they are holding ships and people for ransom.
But naming them “pirates” limits our interpretation of their story, and prohibits us from seeing the balanced history of Somalis living in coastal towns.
Today’s pirate story actually began over 15 years ago, with another form of theft. Having over-fished their own oceans, many European, Middle Eastern, and Asian fishing companies perceived the 1991 state collapse in Somalia as an opening to begin business in foreign waters. Large trawlers appeared off the coast, scraping up $300 million worth of seafood every year, depriving coastal Somalis of their livelihood and subsistence. Foreign corporations also saw it as a great location to discreetly dump barrels of toxic waste, thereby causing death and disease among the Somali population.
This is the reality that has been lost to the mainstream media hype around today’s new pirates. Of course, it cannot condone violence or
hostage-taking, but it should give pause to the military rallying cry around piracy. Click here to read more about the crisis and AFJN’s policy solutions.
There is no military solution to the Somali crisis – only a diplomatic and development-based one.

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