Wednesday, January 27, 2010


As a boy I loved pirates. They were a colorful bunch. Bold. Independent. Adventurous. Unconventional. Besides, my mom encouraged my love of pirates because she'd found a way to get me into shorts for the summer: She cut them saw-toothed at the legs and told me that's how the pirates wore them. I read countless books about pirates starting with, of course, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson with its fantastic depiction of Long John Silver and his crew. Then it was onto Black Beard (Edward Teach), Captain Kidd, Redbeard, Captain Henry Morgan, Captain Charles Vane, Anne Bonney, Jean Laffite, Black Bart (Bartholomew Roberts), and on and on. Avast, me hardies…'Twas wonderful reading. And what rapture, after all those intervening years, to view the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Swashbuckling excitement almost as good as my youthful imagination.

Much of the allure for me was the pirates' fight against the status quo, against the stodgy establishment, against the provincialism of power and its "lawful" abuses (always within the law because the law was written by the powerful few to use against the many). Pirates operated under their own flags. They had their own code, one that seemed most fair in that work was divvied up much as the loot procured; each man getting his rightful share. Certainly not like the monarchies ruling Europe and Asia where blood entitlement trumped common fairness.

Alas, today we read of Somali Pirates that seemingly have not an iota of the romanticism of the pirates of yore. They are petty little bandits. This writer became incensed just months ago when those rag-tag criminals took yet another foreign ship's crew hostage finally forcing nations to intercede by providing military protection for safe passage. It wasn't so much that such protection was required because of the pirates, but rather, that such protection was being paid for by taxpayer money to protect private interest profits. That has been the extent of this writer's Somali Pirate knowledge.

Then comes along the article, "Toxic Waste Behind Somali Pirates" in the book "Censored 2010" edited by Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff citing articles in Al Jazeera, Huffington Post and WardheerNews. Like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, everything is curiouser and curiouser! Seems the "pirates" call themselves the "Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia" and are on a righteous mission to protect their waters from abject abuse from international interests. When the Somali government collapsed in 1991, predators moved in. "According to the High Seas Task Force (HSTF), there were over 800 IUU (Illegal-Unreported-Unregulated) fishing vessels in Somali waters at one time in 2005, taking advantage of Somalia's inability to police and control its own waters and fishing grounds. The IUUs poach an estimated $450 million in seafood from Somali waters annually. In so doing, they steal an invaluable protein source from some of the world's poorest people and ruin the livelihoods of legitimate fishermen."

Reason enough, wouldn't you say? But wait. It gets much worse. While reports have been circulating about illegal dumping of toxic waste since early 1990s, little has been done to investigate such reports. According to Scientific American (February 2010; pg 15) "In 1994 Italian television journalist Ilaria Alpi and cameraman Miran Hrovatin were shot dead near Mogadishu, after they picked up the hazardous waste trail in Somalia." What sort of toxic waste, you might wonder? "There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes." The tsunami of 2004 brought barrels and barrels of toxic waste onto Somalia's shores, proving what the locals had been claiming for over a decade. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report "blamed fumes from these unidentified objects (unmarked barrels) for internal hemorrhages and deaths of local people."

The local Somali fishermen sought to stop such dumping and thieving and wage a "tax" on the offenders. Pirate leader Sugule Ali states their motive is "to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters. We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish, and dump waste, and carry weapons in our seas." Independent Somalia news site WardheerNews "conducted the best research we have on what ordinary Somalis are thinking. It found that 70 percent 'strongly support the piracy as a form of national defense of the country's territorial waters'."

How does the world respond? The UN Security Council passes resolutions against such self-defense. NATO and the EU issue orders to crush such "piracy" even as many of the member states are home to financial interests guilty of poaching and dumping. And, lest we forget President Obama's personal order issued on Easter Sunday evening, 2009, for Navy Seal snipers to murder three members of the "Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia" upon their "hijacking" of the freighter, Maersk Alabama.

Taxpayers pay for private gain. Common folk seek to defend their country against heinous violations. The powerful ignore abuses and work to eliminate the weak. The world's major media spin their doublespeak so that good and decent becomes filthy dementia and a world of pigified sheep feed at the trough of deception pausing only long enough to shout, "Hang the bastards."

Who among you still believe George Orwell's "nineteen eighty-four" remains a work of fiction that exemplifies failed prediction? Those responding "I do" shall be made to "walk the plank."