Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pirates of the Aden

I just can't get those dead Somali pirates out of my head. It's a quote from the Washington Post that's been haunting me all week:
(Defense Secretary Robert) Gates said the four pirates involved in taking Phillips hostage were 17 to 19 years old -- "untrained teenagers with heavy weapons."
And here's what a couple of those untrained teenagers look like with their heavy weapons... I mean - look at them in their basketball shorts. Like they came right from a pick up game somewhere to hijack an enormous container ship determined to make the dangerous short cut from Asia to Europe through the Horn of Africa. It kills me. So I've been reading about Somalia and pondering the faces of these kids who have so little to lose that they'll stare down navy warships, and set themselves up to be picked off by highly trained military snipers. Don't get me wrong...I don't like hostage taking, ransom demanding pirates. But neither do I like illegal trawlers, aka natural resource stealers, aka fish thieves...who were the first to introduce the Pirates of the Aden to the financial reward of piracy. Somalia is a 246 square mile country - slightly smaller than the state of Texas. 10 million people live there, most of them on less than $2 a day. The per capita GDP of Somalia is $500, making it one of the three poorest countries in the world. There are at least five governments operating there, which means there is nothing but confusion and unrest and civil chaos. They grow sorghum and bananas and sugarcane in Somalia. They used to refine petroleum and sugar and manufacture textiles- but industry has mostly shut down because of the civil unrest in the country. It seems about all Somalia has going for it is 2,000 miles of great fishing coastline. Unfortunately, the country can't keep a Coast Guard together, so fishing fleets from around the world have been illegally fishing an estimated $300 million worth of seafood from Somali waters every year since the last functioning government in Somalia fell - 1991. $300 million dollars worth of natural resources - stolen from some of the poorest people in the world. Are you getting the picture? Seems the native fishers grew a little weary of being out-fished by better equipped and unlicensed foreign ships, so they began seizing the illegal vessels and demanding payment from the ships' governments, which did not want to have unlicensed trawling operations "outed." Easy money. But the pirates got greedy. Who can blame them? Take a look at the UN Human Development Index for Somalia: Only 29% of the population has access to improved water sources. Just 26% have access to improved sanitation. There is 1 doctor for every 25,000 people in Somalia (the US has 1 doctor for 390 people). Life expectancy in Somalia is 47 years old (77 years in the US). The adult literacy rate in Somalia is estimated at about 24% (86% in the US). We have no idea what it feels like to be a young Somali man, but some anger might begin to conjure up the truth of it. And some helplessness and hopelessness and, ultimately, recklessness. They were busy in the water again today, these young pirates. This time 500 miles from their home coastline - in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
"Somali pirates are getting wilder and out of control," pirate spokesman Ali Sugulle said on April 11. "They go too far away from the Somali [coast] and go to the Kenyan coast even."
Wilder and out of control... They're kids. Peace...it comes when people have a few basic needs met.

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