NI 465 - How the war on pirates became big business - September, 2013

NI 465 - September, 2013

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How the war on pirates became big business

A note from the editor

Hazel Healy

‘The arrgther side of the story’

While I was working on this issue of the magazine, I lost count of the number of people who asked if I’d heard the story about the Women’s Institute’s (WI) piracy gaff. Some members of this august British institution had dressed up in eye patches and sashes for one of their organized events, a talk from a sea captain, only to discover that he had suffered a traumatic hostage ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates.

This throwaway tale had gone viral. Sure, it had a bit of dramatic irony and quaintness about it – showing up the British weakness for dressing up, for example – but its success was as much a reflection of the public’s voracious appetite for any story to do with pirates.

Pirates’ sinister glamour transfixes beyond the WI. The world will celebrate ‘Talk like a pirate day’ on 19 September; I once ‘hijacked’ New York’s free ferry to Staten Island, with a load of anarchists and bottles of rum, on an excuse so spurious that it now escapes me.

Yet piracy is really no more than robbery at sea. The enduring appeal lies in the asymmetry of this transgressive, violent enterprise and a human fondness for adventuring. The same opportunist spirit can be found in those profiting from piracy’s many spin-off industries. They range from ‘fake’ pirates catering for the Western media’s craving for Somali piracy stories to the sea-borne, private-security protection boom. In fact, the roots of piracy and the fight against it ended up being a more interesting story than that of the pirates themselves.

By way of respite from men-with-guns, we are also running an interview with a courageous woman – Fawzia Koofi, the Afghan MP bidding for presidency. Finally, we would like to flag up a conference exploring ‘co-operative alternatives to capitalism’, where we will be launching our latest book People over capital, in London on 27 September. Visit for more details.

Hazel Healy for the New Internationalist co-operative.

The big story

Pirate patrol: German troops in Djibouti prepare to join Europe’s anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia.  The fight against pirates has been a handy way for countries like Germany and Japan to shrug off postwar constitutional constraints.Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Pirate patrol: German troops in Djibouti prepare to join Europe’s anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia. The fight against pirates has been a handy way for countries like Germany and Japan to shrug off postwar constitutional constraints.

Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Empire strikes back - where counter-piracy is going wrong

Pirate hijackings off the coast of Africa have spawned a lucrative protection industry. With private security guards taking to the oceans in ever increasing numbers, Hazel Healy asks whether this is really the way to ‘safer seas’.

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On a blustery day last May, a sailor stands on the deck of HMS Illustrious, docked on the River Thames.

Almost a year has passed since the last major hijacking by Somali pirates. Their parting-shot prize, the crude-oil tanker MV Smyrni, fetched a record-breaking ransom of $13.5 million.

Recalling his own counter-piracy voyage to the Gulf of Aden, the sailor confides it was ‘a bit of a wild goose chase’. He never in fact saw any pirates.

Below deck, through ...


Ocean robber or saviour of the sea?Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

A pirate's life for me

Jatin Dua investigates the ever-blurry line between protector and pirate in coastal Somalia.

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Pirates’ victims are overwhelmingly seafarers from poor nations. Above, Vietnamese sailor Vu Van Ba is reunited with his parents after 18 months held hostage off the coast of Somalia.Ngyuen Huy Khan/Reuters

In the firing line

Piracy is just one in a long list of problems facing seafarers in a cut-throat shipping industry, reports Olivia Swift.

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Pirate primer

Pirate primer

A guide to buccaneers, corsairs & privateers throughout the ages.

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A formidable force. Militants patrolling the creeks of the Niger Delta region.  George Esiri / Reuters


Dayo Aiyetan and Theophilus Abbah offer a West African take on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

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The aftermath: In 2011 Gianluca Casseri, an extreme rightwinger, killed two Senegalese vendors in a Florence market.LaPresse/AP

Europe points the finger of blame

Migrants have become the scapegoats in financially straitened times, reports Amy Hall.

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A salt-worker for 56 years, Umar joined SABRAS six years ago and is finally reaping some reward for his hours of toil.Charlotte Anderson

Worth their salt

Matthew Newsome meets a social entrepreneur helping India's salt-workers out of the poverty trap.

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Girl-friendly: new toilet facilities at the Ga’an Libah school in Somaliland.NGO Africa Educational Trust

A toilet makes a difference

Girls in Somalia now have a better chance of completing their education. Katharina Wecker explains.

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How Somalia's coastal communities called time on the pirates

How Somalia's coastal communities called time on the pirates

Diaspora uncles and 'fathers against pirates' were as decisive as the frigates in ending the piracy scourge. Jamal Osman speaks to Hazel Healy.

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YES: CHANTÉ JOSEPH is the Member of the Youth Parliament for Brent in northwest London, as well as regional secretary. She sits on the Youth Select Committee for transport and is a member of the London Youth Involvement Project. She is 17 and is studying for the International Baccalaureate.

Argument: Should 16-year-olds get the vote?

Politics academic Andrew Mycock and UK Youth Parliament member Chanté Joseph go head-to-head.

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Village schoolchildren heading home for lunch in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.Mischa Kally

Country Profile: China

China is making a great leap forward, but there are winners and losers.

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Letter from Botswana: A thick blanket of dark Sarah John

Letter from Botswana: A thick blanket of dark

Dining by candlelight is not always a matter of choice, as Wame Molefhe discovers.

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Theodore Kaye/Majority World

Southern Exposure: Buzkashi in Tajikistan

Theodore Kaye photographs Tajikistan's national sport, Buzkashi.

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Chatham House, 2012

A word with Fawzia Koofi

Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi wants women to get out of their traditional closet.

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Film, Book & Music Reviews