As the old saying goes, there is always “two sides to every story.” Unfortunately, the media coverage of the capture and rescue of the US captain has been grossly one sided. The issue of piracy in Somalia has largely been blamed and oversimplified as one of the woes of a failed state. While I don’t disagree with the former, I think if the issue of piracy is now at the forefront of international debate, then all sides of this saga should be examined, including the pirates’ own side of the story.
While western countries decry Somalia as a fallen state, the truth is they have not missed a golden opportunity to exploit the situation in this poor country. Somalia’s seas have become the dumping ground for nuclear waste, while they also loot Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood.
A 2005 report released by the UN following the Tsunami, revealed that nuclear and hazardous wastes dumped on Somalia’s shores were infecting Somalis in the coastal areas. The report revealed the existence of uranium radioactive waste, leads, heavy metals like cadmium and mercury, industrial wastes, hospital wastes, chemical wastes, you name it. Nick Nuttal, a spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) remarked to voanews.com that “It’s not rocket science to know why they’re doing it because of the instability there.” He remarked that “on average, it cost European companies $2.50 per ton to dump the wastes on Somalia’s beaches rather than $250 a ton to dispose of the wastes in Europe. He also said the Asian tsunami dislodged and smashed open the drums, barrels, and other containers, spreading the contaminants as far away as 10 or more kilometers inland. Health problems currently faced by Somalians from the wastes include problems ranging from “acute respiratory infections to dry, heavy coughing, mouth bleedings, and abdominal hemorrhages, what they described as unusual skin chemical reactions.
According to voanews.com Somali officials said the country was vulnerable to illegal dumping, as Africa’s longest coastline is not patrolled and the country has no coast guards, or health officials and facilities to test whatever is inside the containers.
The truth is Somali pirates emerged out of growing frustration with the exploitation of their coastal waters. Local fishermen lost their livelihoods in a country which already sufferers from mass starvation. Reports indicate that, the so called “pirates” are ordinary fishermen who have decided to police Somali seas in attempts to keep the exploiters away. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters… We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” It is not enough for Obama to pledge to fight piracy at sea, but to also address the exploitation by foreign countries in Somalia.
As Johann Hari nicely put it “Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn’t act on those crimes – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about “evil.” If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause – our crimes – before we send in the gun-boats to root out Somalia’s criminals.”
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