Apparently it's very common for Somali pirates to shoot a lot of video of their endeavors, editing the footage together into short montages to serve a dual purpose--on the one hand, they use the videos, easily emailed / FTPd, as proof to authorities that a ship is in fact under pirate control and that the crew is all safe and accounted for, and on the other hand, the videos are great, easily-sharable marketing materials for pirate sympathizers around the globe.
Despite the fact that such videos are common, they usually remain in the hands of the authorities as classified evidence. Or at the very least, they've been buried way below the heap of mainstream news coverage that gained critical mass last year as the West started paying attention to the pirate problem in earnest. But watching the following video exclusive obtained by WIRED magazine, shot aboard the Turkish cargo ship Yasa Neslihan after pirates collected a ransom for the ship, its crew and its cargo of 77,000 tons of iron ore, I can't help but be struck by the fact that it's so.....boring!
Especially when you compare this to the astounding images being captured by the various militaries trying to curb the hijacks / negotiate with hijackers / deliver ransom money.
Even though the pirates are using film, a medium that has the potential to carry so much romance, emotion and weight, and that's capable of communicating nuanced, complex messages in just a few seconds, they've decided to only make videos that serve a purely functional service--showing proof of capture / status of goods.
Which makes me think back to how this whole Somali pirate thing began. It's a story that's not often included in most media's coverage of the situation, an unfortunate fact because keeping in mind the conflict's origins could go a long way towards helping us arrive at a possible solution for all parties involved. Like what's happened in many African countries over the past few decades, what began in Somalia as a justifiable rebellion against a legitimate injustice has quickly evolved into an empty, mercenary quest for money, divorced from its original political aim.
Since the early 1990's, Somalia has been a horrible place to live. Without a stable government or economy, its people have largely lived on the brink of starvation and death. Sensing a power vacuum, many Western nations saw great opportunity in Somalia's unregulated waters--both for industrial dumping and unregulated commercial fishing.
First, open-sea trawlers are governed by extremely strict regulations in terms of what kinds of nets they can use, the species of fish they can catch, the size of fish they can catch, where they can work, etc. But off of Somalia's unregulated coast, European fishing ships could do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and no one would ever know. Suddenly, Somali fishermen in 17 foot wooden skiffs found themselves competing with factory ships the size of a football field.
Second, in the mid- to late 1990's, Somalis who lived along the coast began to present a wide range of curious illnesses, ranging from unusual birth defects to chronic nausea, and while the local population suspected that it might have had something to do with the mysterious barrels European ships had been dumping off the coast, no one knew for sure until the 2005 tsunami, when some of the barrels washed ashore. It was nuclear waste, taken from European factories and hospitals, allegedly laundered by the mafia and then brought to be dumped cheaply and anonymously in a place where no one was paying attention. Except for the local fishermen.
The first acts of retaliatory piracy were made by such fishermen, who call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia, and in early interviews about their crimes, many participants cited as reasons for going renegade exclusively ecological concerns. With virtually no other options, about ten years ago the most frustrated fishermen bought cheap AK-47s and started boarding ships, demanding compensation for stolen fish and pollution. Cut to ten years later, look at a video like the one above, and there's no sign of the original grievances that drove Somalia's young men to take up a life of crime on the high seas.
So are the original instigators of this vigilante campaign to take back their local waters no longer interested in political results, satisfied instead with the surprisingly large sums of money being offered as ransoms? Or have they been outnumbered by younger Somalis who are just in it for the cash?
Either way, as evidenced by videos like the one above, for some reason camera-wielding pirates often no longer bother using their extremely well-publicized acts of disobedience as platforms to raise awareness of the local issues that started this whole mess. There's a long history of vigilante groups using exclusive and mass video to serve both practical and political purposes, and the internet makes it possible for everyone to tell their side of any story...so why don't these ransom videos include justifications for the acts of piracy they depict?
Even if they're not valid justifications, being aggressively wrong is what the internet is for. Are there any ransom videos out there with a more political bent?