12 April, 2009

Thank You U.S. Navy!

By and large, I'm a live and let live kinda guy. But piracy is something that, as a former Navy and Coast Guard sailor, is hard for me to put up with.

The ordeal off the coast of Somalia that has been going on for several days, has just ended with the successful rescue of Captain Phillips by U.S. Navy SEALs. Good on 'em. Captain Phillips, from what I've read, was uninjured in the incident. Three of four pirates bought the farm. The one surviving pirate jumped overboard before the action occurred and is in military custody.

I understand there are around 200 or so hostages presently held in Somalia from various ships and from various countries. With the number of countries now sending naval vessels there, perhaps more direct action will begin to stem the tide of the hi-jackings and kidnappings that are currently going on.

I know it's not all a one-sided argument. Just this morning, I read an article on Reddit ( from the San Francisco BayView - National Black Newspaper, titled "You Are Being Lied To About Pirates" ( the article borrows liberally from the book - “Villains of All Nations,” by Marcus Rediker. Some of what Rediker says is probably true, at least from different things I've read regarding the egalitarianism of some pirates, although it's doubtful that all pirates of the age of sail were so democratic.

Where I differ with the article purporting to quote him, is the implication that the Royal Navy routinely cheated the lower deck sailors of their wages, etc. There may have been the odd instance of such behavior, and yes, discipline was harsh, but it was generally equally spread about the decks, upper and lower.

The implication was that the harsh conditions spawned pirates. I doubt that that alone was the case. I'm sure normal living conditions in many areas of England drove many a man to seek employment in the Royal Navy, and no doubt, later drove some to seek a way out of the service and to a life of crime as a pirate.

Now, where the article does provide some provocative and interesting bits is when it talks about dumping of nuclear waste and other industrial wastes and by-products in Somalia's waters. That, I find very easy to believe.

Similarly, the charge of European fisheries looting Somalian waters, thereby depriving Somalian fishermen the opportunity of a fair catch, has the ring of truth to it as well.

The article quotes from a telephone interview with one of the pirate leaders, saying they are simply operating as a "coast guard" to try to prevent the dumping and looting of their waters. There's probably some truth to that charge as well, and likely will never be reported by major media outlets on the evening news.

In any case, it seems a stretch to me that piratical kidnappings and ransom demands equate to protection of a country's coast and waters.

But, the article does provide the beginnings of the other side of the coin - that all of the thousands of ships transiting the area annually, are all the good guys, and that the poor Somali's are the bad - just doesn't wash in my book.

We do need to see the other side of the coin, to begin to actively work as a unified body to provide Somalia with a functioning government, and other services, which they've done without since 1991.

Perhaps some sort of transit fee for these thousands of vessels, put to better use than local warlord's pockets would be one way of solving the problems of this strife-torn area.

In any case, going to sea a-pirating is not the answer. I'm glad to see the U.S. take some sort of concrete action that had, from an American point of view, a successful conclusion. I hope it doesn't end there. Something more, and something helpful and constructive, is long overdue and must follow on - not just from the U.S., but from all of the countries that transit Somalia's waters.

Ok, that's enough of a rant now, back to our regular programming.

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