When we think of the word pirate, we often paint an image of a long haired, kohl-eyed Captain Jacksparrow. We imagine pirates to be a group of filthy people with knives and daggers who live a life of crime at sea. Pirates almost seem like fictional characters to us who existed once upon a time. However, gone are the centuries of ships made of wood and cloth sails. Today, we’re equipped with modern technologies and nations guarding their waters. But the question remains, do pirates still exist in the 21st century?
If you’ve watched the Tom Hanks starrer ‘Captain Phillips’, you’d certainly have a clearer picture of what a modern day pirate looks like. The film highlights the hijacking of the ship by Somali pirates. Like most films, the pirates are the bad guys- holding innocent people hostage, asking for huge ransoms and destroying property- they’re despised by the world. However, little do we know about the lives of these pirates.
Piracy has been widely known and sourced from the regions enclosing the Gulf of Aden. The people who live in these regions come from backgrounds of poverty and impoverishment. Their main sources of livelihood are breeding livestock and fishing. But what does one do when their only sources of livelihood are snatched away? In a Huffington Post article, Somali-Canadian activist named K’naan illustrated how European companies are said to have paid warlords in Somalia for their approval of dumping toxic waste in the water, a $3-per-ton expense that would be unthinkably low in Europe.
When these ships, legal or illegal, fill Somali waters with their waste it destroys the livelihood of those fishermen who rely on the Indian Ocean to survive. These waters of Somalia are an attractive option for companies and mafias due to a variety of reasons. Firstly, the land has no real authority and has had an unstable government since 1991. Secondly, the land is disputed between militants and warlords. Hence, there is likely to be no intervention from either side when wastes are dumped into the water.
Therefore, when fishing is struck off the list, the poor fishermen resort to crime as an easier way to earn money. For the other people living in that region, these pirates are as good as naval marines to them. They are seen as saviours who save them from the clutches of poverty. Mafias target young men to become pirates. These pirates are equipped with machine guns, hand grenades and other lethal weapons. Then, they make teams, hop on small boats and set on a look out for large vessels and ships. Once these men stealthily hijack ships, the mafia negotiates with the authorities on a handsome amount to spare the lives of the people held hostage. The pirates also get a fair share of the ransom which encourages them to set out on more voyages as such.
However, with great rewards come greater risks. With naval warships from various nations patrolling international waters, the destination of pirates becomes uncertain. The mission isn’t always successful when the navy catches hold of these people. They are captured, tortured and forced to reveal their identities. Due to the nature of the crime, nations like Somalia do not even take responsibility for its men. Thus, these pirates become nationless and are left without any identity at all. In such circumstances, another question arises. Which nation’s law book decides the punishment for people who identify as nationless? Ultimately, when no solutions are found, these men are stripped off their resources and left in their boats to fend for themselves.
Life at sea isn’t easy either. With limited food and fuel, it becomes a gigantic task to consume the bare minimum and struggle for survival. To suppress their appetites, pirates consume a leaf called ‘kath’. It acts as a drug which leaves the body with a sense of general well being and excitement. Hence, despite the negative impact this has on their mental and physical health, they can survive without food for days on end.
To conclude, while we despise and shame such people of committing heinous crimes, it is us who have forced them to resort to such acts in the first place. It is indeed true that we create our own monsters.
Excellent Article. Great work.