By Pieter Tesch
Last year London based international maritime organisations such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and International Maritime Bureau (IMB) began to sound the alarm about the increasing threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, suggesting that the region could, if no action was taken, become a ‘second Somalia.’ More recently there were reports of attacks and attempted attacks on large merchant vessels in the Blight of Benin, where there is already a tradition of low intensity piracy linked to the unrest in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. This has lead the governments of Nigeria and Benin to initiate joint naval patrols to combat piracy, and further northwest off Guinea Conakry, where there has been no real tradition of organised maritime robbery.
The narrative put forward by many Somali representatives, including in the Diaspora and supported by advocacy and marine environmentalist campaigners against so called ‘illegal, unreported and unregulated’ fishing (IUU,) is that the origins of Somali piracy lie in Somali coastal communities defending themselves against pirate fishing or poaching by ‘unscrupulous’ international trawler firms and equally unscrupulous ‘flag of convenience’ nations, or against illegal dumping of toxic waste following the collapse of the Barre regime in 1991.
This narrative is challenged by a number of analysts, for instance Dr Martin Murphy of the Washington DC based Atlantic Council who has made a study of piracy and counter piracy, not only off Somalia, but also in South East Asia, off Bangladesh and in the Gulf of Guinea.
While most pirates could be described as (ex) fishermen in the above mentioned regions, this was not true for Somalia, where piracy should be seen as an extension of land based warlord predation – attacking non fishing vessel from the onset with focus on ransoms for crews and vessels. More....