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 newint.org/books for more details.
Hazel Healy for the New Internationalist co-operative.
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’.
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 ...
Diaspora uncles and 'fathers against pirates' were as decisive as the frigates in ending the piracy scourge. Jamal Osman speaks to Hazel Healy.