Throughout the last week, the media has jubilantly praised the U.S. Navy for beating the Somali pirates in conflict. However, should we really be pleased that the world’s biggest military just beat up a bunch of malnourished Somali teenagers?
You see, far from the picture the media has painted, the pirates are merely a force of impoverished youngsters — not a group of criminal masterminds.
The pirates also didn’t just appear out of a vacuum. The pirate movement grew in response to the over-fishing of Somali waters after the collapse of the Somali government in 1991.
Without consistent government authority protecting Somalia’s waters, European industrial fishing operations moved in and started hauling away hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Somali fish, according to Greenpeace International.
As the fish population declined, local Somali fishermen lost their livelihood. Somalia already had a dysfunctional economy; the seizure of Somalia’s fish destroyed what little was left of Somalia’s natural resources.
This industrial theft of the Somalia food supply would be bad enough, but the Europeans proceeded to cause even more environmental devastation.
According to British award-winning foreign correspondent Johann Hari, in addition to the over-fishing, “In another part of Somalia, industrial waste from Europe begun to be dumped just off the coast.”
In a column published on the UK Independent’s Web site, Hari said that while it is expensive to properly dispose of toxic waste in Europe, connections were found between European firms and the Italian mafia who cheaply disposed of the waste by dumping it in Somalia’s bays.
“The most incredible thing that was dumped was literally nuclear waste. So after the tsunami, barrels of all sorts of random s**t started to wash up on the coast of Somalia, including nuclear waste that we now know (as a result of) radiation sickness killed around 300 people,” Hari said.
In addition to Hari’s statements, the U.N. Environmental Program has discussed the environmental destruction.
“Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste. . There (are) uranium radioactive waste. There (are) leads. There (are) heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is industrial waste, and there (are) hospital wastes, chemical wastes,” Nick Nuttal, U.N. Environmental Program spokesman, told the Voice of America, a government media Web site.
So, Somalia had their food supply stolen by foreigners and then those same foreigners turn their ocean into a veritable toxic waste dump. Is it any wonder that the Somalis decided to fight back?
“Imagine if this happened in Florida, imagine if the government of Florida didn’t have any resources and suddenly Italians came, stole all the fish and everyone was going bust in Florida, and (Italians) started dumping nuclear waste. People of Florida would be calling for the nuking of Italy,” Hari told Allison Kilkenny of The Huffington Post.
Instead of calling themselves pirates, the Somalis labeled themselves the National Volunteer Coast Guard. They assert that they have a right to defend Somalia’s territorial waters from foreign tampering.
The right to defend a nation’s territorial water is well recognized. Within Somalia’s water, the Somali sailors certainly have the right to operate. However their seizure of boats in international waterways is illegal.
On that note, it is important to note that I am not dismissing the pirates’ actions. They have used some reprehensible means to accomplish their ends. In particular, their capture of humanitarian ships is entirely unwarranted.
However, one must ask, why are we making such a fuss about these pirates? The pirates aren’t even being inhumane. Far from treating their hostages badly, the pirates have treated their captives well.
Some have argued that the pirates should go through diplomatic channels to solve their plight. However, the Somali government collapsed again this year, and the U.N. has ignored Somalia’s crisis.
The best way to fight piracy would be to rebuild Somalia’s economy. The quickest way to start the healing is to demand that Europe stop using Somalia as a toxic waste dump. That’s a much better policy than maintaining a military crusade against the malnourished teenage “pirates” of Somalia.
Ian Bezek is a junior economics major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.