Grim Meathook Somalia

You are being lied to about pirates

In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since - and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply.

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation - and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."

This is the context in which the "pirates" have emerged. Somalian fishermen took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least levy a "tax" on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia - and ordinary Somalis agree. The independent Somalian news site WardheerNews found 70 per cent "strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence".

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43 Responses:

  1. skreidle says:

    Well.. there's "dissuade" and there's "commandeer and hold hostages for ransom."

    That, and Somalia borders a major shipping channel--the Gulf of Aden. Kind of impossible to tell folks "sorry, please don't use this channel."

    • jesus_x says:

      And also by "the Somali government collapsed" they mean "The Somali government was torn apart by corrupt warlords attempting to rape their own country for profit and power."

      • skreidle says:

        Details, details.

      • That's generally what I assume when I hear that a government collapsed. Anyway, I don't see how it bears on the truth or falsity of the claims about dumping, the motivations of the pirates, or the need of the Somali people for redress.

        • grlfridae says:

          I agree. It would be nice to actually be able to believe something that was reported in the media. It's too difficult to find the truth. Not that I have a solution, just complaining.

      • fnivramd says:

        And the Somali people, like so many others before them, couldn't figure out this big picture, and so allowed themselves to be divided into little groups and played off against each other.

        If a government falls in a country whose people are united, it is quickly replaced by a new government with popular support. Such a government, even when inept and corrupt, is better than chaos. The unique trick to ripping apart a country like Somalia is convincing each group that they hate the others so much they'd rather have nothing than share. Not a big step from there until you've got them slaughtering one another in the streets (thanks Rwanda, for your brilliant example).

    • lafinjack says:

      ...and there's "commandeer and hold hostages for ransom."

      Oh, like the CIA, then.

    • legolas says:

      And no fishing trawlers were pirated so far, I think, which is strange given this explanation of the pirating...

  2. ff_throwaway says:

    next the Somalis will be telling us they don't have a word for "gullible".

  3. heresiarch says:

    thanks for posting this.

  4. For anyone who would like at least basic support for these allegations, someone was kind enough to post this link in the Independent's comment thread:

    See pp 133-134, in which the UN reports the toxic waste dumping as fact. They say that at some point, the people doing the dumping may have had a contract with some faction of the Somali government. But even in the event that it was a legitimate government, the dumping was still in unambiguous violation of international treaties on waste disposal (and I dare any Libertarians in the audience to object to that kind of treaty -- it's hard to imagine anything that is more clearly a commons than the ocean).

    • halleyscomet says:

      Even if true, it has no bearing on the actions of pirates. Seizing and taking hostage cargo ships isn't justified by the claimed environmental or marine exploitation.

      • As with terrorists, I don't know if justification is always the right concept. The question may be more, do they have a legitimate grievance? And, do they have any way of dealing with the grievance, or are they just getting shit on? If they have a problem and no way to deal with it, then you shouldn't exactly be surprised when they start hurting people, and you shouldn't expect that you'll be able to force them to stop by any means short of killing every last person in the country. Possibly the right solution would be military action against people who are threatening the lives of others, but simultaneously to crack down on illegal dumping and fishing, the way we should have in the first place.

  5. saltdawg says:

    Oh that's rich...

  6. substitute says:

    ...and we get all the tasty nuclear-soaked shrimp!

  7. loic says:

    I hadn't heard about the dumping, but I've heard before that the price they're extracting from non-Somali boats is about what they'd be getting for leasing the fishing rights, so it's all about even.

    It's much more convenient to be outraged at the barbaric brown people though.

    • saltdawg says:

      The color of their skin has nothing to do with it. A pirate is a pirate, be they Somalian, Malay, or Honduran. You tend to get a little hateful and outraged after you've been chased by, or had to face down a boatload of 'em once or twice. No matter what their motivation.

    • halleyscomet says:

      Talking cargo ships hostage is a wee bit more extreme than a bunch of fishermen trying to get a few dollars from poachers. The article is trying to make a well organized, well armed piracy ring look like a bunch of poor fishermen trying to eke out a living. It's propaganda, pure and simple.

    • sheilagh says:

      are losing, 3x to 1x:

      "Somalis collect up to $100 million a year from pirate ransoms off their coasts. And the Europeans and Asians poach around $300 million a year in fish from Somali waters."

  8. otterley says:

    So, exactly how does holding cargo shipmen for ransom help clean the shore?

    • Maybe it's a way of asserting a right to their coastal waters, or maybe the people taking innocent hostages are different from the people going after the fishing boats and toxic waste dumpers. Or maybe they've just gotten to the point where something hits the "nothing left to lose" switch in your brain and you decide that your only hope is to convince everyone else you're totally crazy and incredibly dangerous. That's not a good excuse, but it does sometimes explain how someone can have a legitimate grievance even while they're acting insane.

    • grlfridae says:

      If it calls people's attention to illegal dumping of nuclear and medical waste in their coastal waters, it definitely serves a purpose.

  9. nathanrsfba says:

    Somebody is dumping nuclear material here.
    At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's
    seas of their greatest resource: seafood.

    I sure hope they're enjoying their new meals of radioactive fish...

  10. dagbrown says:

    I have to say that this is quite possibly one of my favorite applications of the "grim meathook future" tag.

  11. fantasygoat says:

    Whenever I hear the hippies or punks going on about taking down the government and living "free", I suggest they book a trip to Somalia to see what their perfect paradise looks like.

    • wilecoyote says:

      Actually, Reason magazine (the libertarian one) *did* publish a feature a couple of years ago claiming that hey, Somalia doesn't have a government, and they haven't done too bad.

    • Nowadays the way you end up without a government is to have your society degenerate so far into poverty or violence that no one even wants to be in charge anymore. It doesn't tell us much about what would happen if you got rid of the national government in a country that still had a lot of material wealth and social cohesion. It might not be good, but it would probably be different.

      • gryazi says:

        Russia pretty much tried that, if you consider connected folks like Yeltsin and Putin to have been "laid-off employees" still in the buildings when the original government was switched off.

        You don't usually see a "hey let's do anarchy now" because any state that's been functioning enough to provide services has a mass of people who only know how to support themselves by providing those services. Like, remember how we brought peace to Iraq by disbanding the Army so there'd be no more people with guns trying to defend the place from invasion?

    • alfs_boner says:

      Those strawmen wouldn't stand a chance.

  12. artkiver says:

    You think that's bad?

    Just wait until you hear the truth about ninjas.

  13. littlebbob says:

    I'm unaware of anyone lying about any of this, to be honest.

    Piracy is something that has to be squashed, regardless of how justifiable it is. The global community cannot abide it, we need our shipping lanes to operate.

    This in no way denies the fact that these poor jerks have had all their fucking fish stolen, and that they need to make some money SOMEHOW, or starve. It sucks to be them, and I certainly hope Obama and/or the powers that be made a successful stab at alleviating both the poverty which, at the root, causes the piracy, and at alleviating the causes of the poverty.

    Remember a few months ago when someone "sank" a pirate "mother ship" and it turned out to be some Thai dude's fishing boat? Wow, that was a bad show, was.. wait a second, what was a THAI FLAGGED fishing vessel doing in Somali waters? Oh, right. Stealing their fucking fish. I wish we'd sink more of these people.

    The whole situation is horrible.

    However, anyone who tells you that you must choose between

    "the pirates have been screwed over by the man, so whatever they do to strike back against the man is OK"


    "the pirates are bad just bad people who deserve to die"

    either has a tiny little brain, or has an axe to grind. It's possible to be screwed over by the man, and still be doing bad things which require that you be stopped. It sucks, but that is the reality here.

    • zoldang says:

      Sucks though to claim in the same message that the evil Europeans are dumping massive amounts of radioactive waste, lead, mercury, etc, and also they're stealing all the fish that they contaminated. One of these is probably exaggeration. Or maybe it's actually connected and the evil Europeans have some deep dark purpose for which they need contaminated fish. Or I guess the more likely scenario is that people are gullible.

      • lionsphil says:

        When it's smothered in batter, drowned in vinegar, caked in salt, and served with greasy chips, you can hardly taste the metallic flavour of radiation poisoning.

        British cuisine FTW!

  14. dasht says:

    Truth is a lot of piracy happens and, guess what, most ships carry piracy insurance and, guess what, the insurers make calculations about "what steps to take to prevent piracy" vs. "how much do we pay out per annum in ransom"?

    A lot of ransom, by Somali standards, is paid out each year. This case was exceptional because the ship was a defense contractor insured by Lloyd's, at least that's what John Robb suggests (and he's usually right on such matters).

    The imperialist exploitation of the tragedies of Somalia may be a given - let's stipulate. How does that accepting of ransom in such amounts advance the cause? If the pirates are environmentalists and liberals, willing to die for their cause, and we embrace their cause - stopping them cold would seem to be the right thing to do.

    We're lied to about a lot of things, including the international treatment of Somalia, but this "Somali Coast Guard" meme going around is no less of a self-serving imperialist lie, projecting western and globalist wishes on a complicated situation.