4.19.2009

"we're union members. we stuck together and we did our jobs"

Check out this interview with crew members of the Maersk Alabama, who survived an attack by Somali pirates. Leaving aside for now how these so-called "pirates" are desperate people, abandoned by the rest of the world, trying to protect fishing waters for their own survival, here's the salient quote:
Q: How did you retain control of the ship?

CRONAN: We're American seamen. We're union members. We stuck together, and we did our jobs. And that’s how we did it.

Watch the interview here, via ThinkProgress. Many thanks to James for sending this!

* * * *

If you don't already know who the so-called pirates are, Johann Hari, a columnist for The Independent, explains.
The words of one pirate from that lost age - a young British man called William Scott - should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: "What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirating to live." In 1991, the government of Somalia - in the Horn of Africa - collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since - and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation - and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia's unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."

This is the context in which the men we are calling "pirates" have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a 'tax' on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia - and it's not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was "to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters... We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas." William Scott would understand those words.

Read it here on Huffington Post.

13 comments:

M@ said...

Hari is another of those journalists whose stories I read, regardless of their topic. This one on the Somali pirates was especially good -- glad you posted it.

Kim_in_TO said...

Thanks for posting this. I've been wondering about these so-called "pirates". It figures: mass media covers up yet another story...

L-girl said...

I've actually seen "the real story of the pirates" story in a few mainstream places, including on CBC. But they're more like essay/op-ed pieces, and never stops the news outlets from reporting on it ass-backwards.

RevDave said...

This isn't really an isolated coverup, just a symptom of how our media looks at the world. I think the pirate's comment to Alexander the Great at the end of the Independent piece says it best, though I have no way of knowing if the statement is really just a myth:

"Because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor."

L-girl said...

I don't think anyone was suggesting it's an isolated cover up. As Kim in TO said, "...yet another story".

RevDave said...

Absolutely. Was just trying to make the point, not to criticize anyone. Maybe I didn't word what I said properly.

L-girl said...

That's cool. I, in turn, wasn't criticizing you. Just pointing out that we're all in agreement when it comes to the crappy mainstream media. Thanks for stopping by - please feel free to stick around.

Jere said...

I just read that the captain of that ship met his wife at Fenway decades ago, and the Red Sox have invited him to come and throw out a first pitch.

JakeNCC said...

Laura you know you're my hero and I learn alot from you website but I'm missing something here. The Somali men/pirates/coastguard are holding hostage several hundred sailors from several dozen ships. Most of these workers and sailors are from the third world and working incredibly hard sailing the world on these ships. Regardless of what has or has not been done to Somali waters how can you guys condone these hostage takers. And another thought is that I'm sure the young men doing the seizing are not the ones profiting from the millions of dollars of ransoms being paid. The elders/warlords probably have legitimate complaints but do you think the millions they are making are making their way down to the people. I don't know the answer but I do feel for the hostages.

L-girl said...

Jere, very cool, thanks for that.

JakeNCC, I'm not condoning hostage taking. But, as usual, the MSM is presenting a very one-sided, distorted view of what's happening off the coast of Somalia.

The word "pirates" conjures up an image that is completely inappropriate to the situation. And in 99% of the MSM stories, there is no perspective on why this is happening, what has driven people to these desperate measures.

It's like writing about (eg) a factory strike by portraying the striking workers as greedy and lazy, without mentioning the conditions they are protesting.

Or - perhaps a better example - writing about only the victims of a certain kind of terrorism (bombs in public places), but not about the victims of state terrorism - and always without any perspective on what drives people to blow themselves up and kill others with them.

I don't condone suicide bombing! But I do think we should try to understand what drives people to such desperation, and that might be a first step in alleviating such conditions.

Rather than just say "pirates are bad" and think only about the hostages, we could think about who the "pirates" are, why they do this - and then think about the first world's complicity in those causes.

JakeNCC said...

Of course and that's one of the things I've learned from you, that there are ALWAYS two sides to any story. And you know I saw a piece on The National the other night that told of how this got started and what had been done to Somali waters and I thank goodness for the CBC because they tend to try to be fair most of the time. I think though that we should have empathy for the hostages and also remember that the Somalis have now begun to target ships far from their waters. Not sure how they can justify seizing ships that aren't in their waters. But Laura I always appreciate how you make ( kicking and screaming sometimes ) us or at least me see all sides of a story and to never forget the people without a voice.

L-girl said...

Thank you very much, Jake.

I happened to catch that piece on the National, too. I haven't been watching it much lately, but I did see that, and thought it was a good story.

impudent strumpet said...

To add to your collection of unionized heroes: the CanJet crew