Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Are we being lied to about pirates?

I asked about issues raised in this article by Johann Hari in FCO questions today, i.e. whether we shared concerns that the seas off the shore of Somalia were being used for dumping toxic waste and whether other countries were taking advantage of the political situation in Somalia to over-fish in Somali waters. Apparently it's being taken seriously, and has been referred to the international body that has been established to look at the piracy issue.

On a lighter note, two mothers of six year old boys, both obsessed with pirates (the boys, not the mothers, although who knows what effect a childhood spent watching Capitain Pugwash might have on a woman) have told me recently that they're having rather a lot of trouble explaining all this to their sons. In one case the mother had gone to great lengths to reassure her little boy that pirates don't really exist and aren't coming to get him, and is now having her maternal authority cast into serious doubt.

P.S. It depresses me to have to say this, but neither of them live in Bristol, and any oh-so-clever comments about Somalis in Bristol will be deleted.


Dave H said...

(This goes on a bit. On re-reading it’s boring until the end)

Not my subject, but even superficially there are a lot of contradictions here.

If these pirates are so altruistic why have they never seized dumping ships to draw international attention? Instead, commercially valuable shipping has been targeted, and purely for ransom. If it is true they have been 'taxing' illegal fishers and dumpers of toxic waste then they are utterly complicit in the scandal.

In any case why would these 'European' dumping ships sail half way round the world to the dangerous waters off the coast of Somalia? Why not drop it mid-ocean somewhere? The vast majority of the sea is (are?) International Waters and there’s a less than bugger-all chance of being observed anyway. No doubt someone can enlighten me why safer, deeper, never-been policed waters would not be preferable.

And the same people who have created a toxic/nuclear waste dump off the coast of Somalia get their food from it? Silly them. They must tell friends to avoid the fish here.

Mercury in fish has been a problem for ages. The bigger the fish (e.g. tuna), the worse it is. Get your omega-3s from salmon or sardines.

Western Europe has signed various treaties prohibiting the dumping of toxic waste at sea (doesn’t mean we’re above it, of course, though it does show we at least acknowledge the problem) certain Eastern European states and a lot of the rest of the world haven’t, but, with yawning predictability, Hari’s sights are firmly set on a target closer to home:

“We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs.”

“Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our toxic waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome”

Horrid old us. Pay them compensation at once! Don’t wait for evidence.

In reality 'we' (in his words Britain, France, Italy) may naturally be proven guilty at some stage, but for the moment I’ll get personal. Mention of ‘mysterious ships’ that are somehow known to be ‘European‘ is enough for Hari’s clichée of liberal self-hatred to kick in and solve the mystery: the underlying story is that Somalis are the victims of Western European aggression and piracy is merely a desperate reaction to it. Of course, that’s precisely the kind of narrative Hari’s mind will readily jump to accept, the useless *.

(*Missing word. Four letters. Noun. Arguably, its’ high ranking on the expletive scale is derived from misogyny. More relevantly, on this blog it guarantees a comment not passing moderation)

Dave H said...

On second thoughts Italy-Somalia isn't 'half way round the world' and while the Mafia might not foul their own nests by dumping in the Med, mid-Atlantic might be too far.

The anti-Hari rant regarding how 'we' are to blame and the pirates are almost noble fighters for justice stands.

Kerry said...

Not necessarily the same people doing the fishing as doing the dumping, is it?

Dave H said...

Apparently so: Hari's words, my emphasis:

“Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our toxic waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome”

A heart bleeding that much counts as a medical condition. I found the tone of his article pretty unsufferable, which why I rather lost it.

However, since A) I don't have clue whether 100% of EU radioactive hospital waste ends up in secure landfill or gets diverted to a highly lucrative Mob racket, and B) the spleen is empty, I'm off.

Kerry said...

I think by 'us' he meant lots of different countries that aren't Somalia. So some could be dumping, and some could be fishing. Judging from the answer I got from the FCO yesterday, the Govt takes it seriously enough to refer it to the international body looking at piracy, so there must be some evidence.

Emerald said...

Well done for raising these issues, Kerry. However, the problems are much wider than just Somalia. This is global, and the root of the problem is that too many rich (I’m talking relatively here) people are consuming far more than their fair share of the Earth’s bounty. In Britain the average consumption is apparently 3x what the Earth can supply us with in the long term.

What goes around comes around, and we will pay very dearly for this in the coming years.

Fishery examples from West Africa:

“Thanks largely to Europe's policies, some of West Africa's fisheries are heading for collapse …

…The problem is European ships like the Atlantic Dawn, the pride of the Irish fleet, which weighs 14,000 tons, measures 145 meters from stem to stern and requires a crew of 100. Its nets are big enough to encircle at least half a dozen football fields and, on a good day, take in 400 tons of small fish ... A single trip can bring in a haul worth more than $US2 million ($3.7 million) on the wholesale market. Some 250 "factory" ships from Europe and elsewhere are now trawling the waters off Mauritania, and hundreds more fish in other areas off the West African coast. Ships like these have already depleted the North Sea and the northern Atlantic, and now they are doing the same in southern waters.”


In Senegal “now, the fisheries have collapsed. And instead of struggling and failing to make a living at sea, the fishermen say they are much better off by loading their boats with paying passengers, for a one-way trip for Europe.

And here is the irony.

Waving his hand over the horizon, Pape blamed Europeans for the crisis.

"The only thing that has changed in recent years," he said, "is the arrival of big foreign trawlers just off shore, that sweep up far more from the sea than the Senegalese fleet has ever done.

"If Europeans take our fish they can take our people too."…”