Somali Pirates’ Story Still Simplified to Death

By Jorge Rivas May 06, 2010

Somali pirates are in the news again, but the bigger story — about where they fit into a globally exploitative economy — is still left out of the coverage. On Wednesday, Somali pirate-related headlines hit the front pages of, BBC and the Washington Post. The BBC reported on a ‘dramatic rescue’ by a Russian warship of an oil tanker seized by Somali pirates; a few hours before, NPR also ran a story about Somali pirates "retreating this week after Islamic groups in the war-torn country attacked them in their coastal strongholds." But the coverage, as it seeks to whip up easy black-and-white drama, fails to provide essential and damning historical context. In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Since then, Western and Asian nations have depleted Somali fisheries and dumped nuclear waste on their shores, with unimaginably tragic effects. On The Huffington Post, journalist Johann Hari reports:

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. … At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood.

The coverage never includes this historical context — or that Somali ‘pirates’ donated some of their holdings to groups in Haiti after the earthquake. Are the bad guys really so easy to spot?