I was always under the impression that part of the current pop culture fascination with maritime piracy sprang from commonness of internet piracy. People, I think, like to indulge in the 18th century fantasy of rum and plunder because it serves as a kitschy extended metaphor for their bittorrent habit. ‘Yarrr, it be the Morrisey discography ripe for the takin’, yoho yoho’. Often we forget that there are, you know, actual pirates still lurking the waters–and stealing Ukrainian tanks!
The story of Somali piracy as an institution is interesting. It began as a vigilante force to protect the tuna-rich waters off the coast from international commercial fishing operations when the central government collapsed over a decade ago. They eventually evolved from armed tax collectors to straight up pirates because it was more lucrative — quiet million dollar pay outs from counties who want their men and property back, no harm done. In an interview with the New York Times, the Somali pirates’ spokesmen Sugule Ali claims that they didn’t know there was and estimated $30 million in weapons on the ship they hijacked, but that they simply boarded because it’s standard procedure to attack large, vulnerable vessels.
“We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”
Yet another timely example of how one man’s criminal is another’s folk hero. I do not condone the pirate’s actions but admit to being struck by their romantic sort of BAMFness. Theres something inspiring about people of a developing nation demanding ransom on the high seas from their neocolonial detractors. If nothing else, it forces us to remember that even those we dismiss as powerless can forcefully insert themselves into international economic and military discourse. Pushed too far, some people will arm themselves, organize, and board your frigate.