Monday, March 2, 2009

Pirate economies

Being preoccupied with various affairs has left me unable to post recently, but this does not mean that piracy has in any way ebbed of late. Those of you who follow this site, and others, are no doubt aware that the predation upon mariners continues. Google "piracy" and you'll get a lot of hits. Most hits are about recent incidents, for they're easy to report. More difficult is trying to deal with the "why factor" - why piracy flourishes in parts of the globe.

But there's a piece written by The Financial Times' Robert Wright that offers another glimpse into how piracy has evolved off Somalia, including a look at how the ransom monies are delivered and dispersed and how they debilitate the people who partake of piracy there, whether they be actively engaged in criminal operations or merely the recipients of its trickle-down effects.

Somalis don't partake of piracy because they have a lengthy history of engaging in this criminal activity. They do it because they have no other option. I am in no way condoning their actions - which I find abhorrent - but offering the opinion that in the absence of any other means of making a living, desperate people will turn to desperate measures.

Wright's piece is not without some small errors - for instance, he says that contemporary piracy in that part of the world began "earlier this decade" as the Hawiye clan based in Haradere "tried to deter illegal dumping and fishing". Yet dumping and overfishing was going on in the 1990s, and there are documented reports from agencies such as the UN's Monitoring Group on Somalia which show that pirate gangs were trying to make money from these same activities in recent years.

Yet Wright has reminded us that the economic impact of piracy carried out by Somalis is at the root of the problem. As my investigations have shown, a vast network of organizations have developed within Somalia that profit directly from piracy. We are talking about tens of millions of dollars, possibly the most lucrative industry in that country. For that is what it is, a business venture that offers direct income for participants, and indirect income for ancillary individuals.

In a lawless land like Somalia, there will never be a problem attracting guys to head out in boats and attack mariners. We can harass them, sink their boats, even arrest them, but they'll still keep coming. Why? Because, for them the real question is, "Why not"? What have you got to lose when you've nothing to begin with?

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