Fantasy and Fact Still at War on Pirates


Time for some pirating darts and laurels.  TIME gets out in front of mainstream American media (and catches up with the Brits) by reporting the full context of the purportedly sudden pirating menace.

High-seas trawlers from countries as far flung as South Korea, Japan and Spain have operated down the Somali coast, often illegally and without licenses, for the better part of two decades, the U.N. says. They often fly flags of convenience from sea-faring friendly nations like Belize and Bahrain, which further helps the ships skirt international regulations and evade censure from their home countries. Tsuma Charo of the Nairobi-based East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, which monitors Somali pirate attacks and liaises with the hostage takers and the captured crews, says "illegal trawling has fed the piracy problem."


If the world had gotten as exorcized about that piracy, we wouldn’t now be defending food aide shipments from local opportunists. Of course, if we’d paid attention to Somalia’s chaos at all, we wouldn’t have had to deal with either problem. But anyway, back to the media analysis.

For a dart, there’s the WASHINGTON POST, which winds readers through a sultry story about fat-pocketed pirates big footing their way around the Horn of Africa. It’s a good example of the developing one-dimensional fantasy around the Somali pirates and, actually, is quite familiar. Just replace pirates with urban drug slingers who find otherwise elusive fame and fortune in a violent trade, and you know the storyline. But reality is more complex in Somali, just as it was in Compton. Way down at the story’s bottom, the Post offers this less-sexy context.

Piracy began as a violent reaction to rampant illegal fishing by commercial fishing companies, mostly from European and Asian countries, according to U.N. officials, who say the fishermen often operate with fake licenses.

A Somali man who gave his name only as Ali said he became a pirate in 2004 after several confrontations with commercial fishing vessels operating in Somali waters.

"We used to put our nets at night in the sea and go back in the morning to see our catch, but we'd just see a big ship taking our nets out of the water," said Ali, 25, now a shopkeeper in Nairobi.

When he and his colleagues steered their boat close to the vessel, he said, the crew sprayed them with hot water, and one of them fired bullets. Ali said his friend was injured, their boat was sunk and they had to swim to shore. The next time they went out to sea, he said, they were hauling AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Um, what’s that old journalism saw? Lead with the lede, please.