Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Who Are The Real Pirates In Somalia? Not Academics

The first part of the title of this commentary is taken from a piece posted by Dr. Alexander Mezyaev yesterday in which he wades into the issue of piracy off the Horn of Africa (HoA). The entire piece can be seen on the Aduunyo website by clicking here. Aduunyo is a site which aims to promote a positive Somali image.

Mezyaev's piece was picked up by Ecoterra and included in their most recent update on the status of vessels and crews seized off Somalia, the Gulf of Aden (GoA) and in the Indian Ocean. It's likely to get picked up by other media groups, too, because it offers the perspective that those Somalis attacking vessels in the region are not really pirates. They are, in his opinion, victims of foreign aggression who are being persecuted (my word) by the international community.

As the "Head, Chair of the International Law, Governance Academy (Kazan')", I would hope Dr. Mezyaev would be well-versed in the details of maritime law, and has perhaps spent some time in the field talking to those who have been affected by maritime crime off the HoA and, just possibly, some of those who commit these acts. However, I seriously doubt he's ever left his office.

Like many others, Mezyaev seems to have fallen in love with the idea that those guys ranging around the seas off Somalia in small craft armed with Kalashnikovs are merely trying to protect their sovereign rights to the natural resources lying beneath the ocean. And these misguided perspectives need to be met head-on with facts.

Let's set this up: Are foreigners illegally fishing off Somalia and dumping waste in those waters? Yes. It's been going on for a decade and a half.

However, IUU activities (that's illegal, unreported and unregulated) are not confined to the waters off Somalia, not by a large margin. It happens in many places, but for some reason only with Somalia is it used as an excuse to justify attacking passing vessels.

Dr. Mezyaev opines that what's going on off Somalia does not constitute piracy and that "The Somali pirates are a myth floated by the global media to divert attention from the international criminal activity taking place in the territorial waters and on the marine shelf of Somalia".

But Mezyaev makes things worse when he writes, "Considering the specific navigational situation in the region, it would be a reasonable view that the ships attacked by pirates (his word) off Somalia's coast actually invaded the Somali territorial waters".

These analyses would be, of course, be news to those mariners attacked well beyond Somalia's nautical borders. Or those pleasure boaters sailing quietly off the coast who were hijacked and held for ransom.

The issue is only partially about the activities of foreigners in the seas off Somalia. In the larger sense it is fundamentally about the activities of criminals preying upon on mariners. And the growth of large-scale organized criminal activity that has found a way to package their business in a manner that is attractive to certain individuals.

To sit in an office an opine on the the situation from a theoretical level strikes someone like myself - who has been there and investigated this topic firsthand for years - as just plain callous. The real pirates are the guys attacking innocent mariners just going about their daily business. There is absolutely no justification for their actions. And I would gladly debate Dr. Mezyaev on this topic, should the opportunity arise.

No comments: