Somalia piracy - a consequence of western powers' intervention
THE HIJACKING of the supertanker Sirius Star, carrying 2 million barrels of oil, has dramatically highlighted the problem of piracy along the Somali coast. This was the biggest in over 100 attacks on shipping in the region this year.
The practice of hijacking shipping vessels has proven very lucrative for the pirates with up to $30 million paid over in ransoms so far.
For capitalism this poses a serious threat to the world economy as the cost of transporting goods through one of the world's main supply routes has rocketed up to $400 million a year. This is at time when the global economy is acutely vulnerable to outside shocks.
While the official press and commentators have swung between fulminating against threats to their system's profits and conjuring up nostalgic images of buccaneering pirates, the real significance of what is happening off the coast of Somalia is often missed.
The growth of Somalia piracy is a consequence of years of intervention and exploitation by western powers and also the signal for new big power rivalry in one of the world's hot spots.
The source of these attacks are Somali ex-fishermen who organised themselves to prevent poaching by fishing companies from the countries of the big capitalist powers. The Guardian has reported that $300 million is poached annually from Somalia waters by trawlers from around the world.
However the problem of poaching is bound up with the fact that Somalia has splintered into a myriad of warring factions and clans. This has laid the basis for fishermen being forced to organise themselves in defence of their livelihoods but also providing them with the means to do so in the form of weapons and ex-militiamen.
David Cockcroft, general secretary of the International Transport Federation comments: "There appears to be steady growth in the numbers of pirates coming from Somalia as local warlords see their neighbours' power and influence growing after expanding into this area of criminal activity. So you now have not just criminals working close to the coast in fast inflatables, but fishing boats getting into piracy as freelances, and now organised gangs working far out in international waters using bigger fishing vessels and mother ships."
The breakdown in Somali society can be directly traced back to imperialist interference. The overthrow of the Said Barre dictatorship in 1991 meant that Somalia had no effective government until 2006 when the forces of the Islamic Courts Union, backed by Somalian businessmen, succeeded in ousting warlords from Mogadishu and the outlines of a stable government began to appear.
They even began to tackle the problem of piracy at the time but were interrupted in this when western governments, aghast at the idea of an Islamic government controlling the coastline so close to major supply routes, lined up behind a US-sponsored invasion from Ethiopia.
Like much of US foreign policy in recent years they have now managed to bring about exactly the situation they have sought to prevent, namely a threat to supply lines. And the problem is getting worse.
In response to the hijacking of the Sirius Star an unseemly scramble among the world's big powers has broken out to decide who will control this vital shipping lane. Russia has talked about reopening the Soviet-era base of Aden and even putting ground forces into Somalia. The EU has sent a joint naval command into waters outside the EU for the first time ever.
Japan, with the world's second largest navy, is debating a bill in the Diet that would authorise the use of force in the region. India has sent a warship, the INS Tabar, into the area which clashed with pirates last week. The US has just recently set up a separate Africa Command as part of its reorganisation of its military. Fighting piracy is seen as one of its main priorities.
However these measures alone will not effectively combat piracy. At the moment there are 14 Nato warships off the coast of Somalia trying to cover an area 2.5 million square kilometres in size with over 20,000 ships passing through it annually. This illustrates the extent of the problem.
In reality a long lasting solution can only be reached where the poverty of the local people is addressed through real development of their economies and the waters policed by the countries of the area that have stable, legitimate government. Capitalism has completely failed to provide either of these things in the region.
Only when foreign interference in these countries ends and the enormous potential wealth and resources are controlled by the working peoples of the region in a socialist confederation can the problems of poverty, war and piracy truly be overcome.