THE NEW PIRATES – Modern Global Piracy from Somalia to the South China Sea

Volume 14, Issue 1  | 
Published 03/07/2017

Author: Andrew Palmer
: I B Tauris
Reviewer: Alexander Opicho

Andrew Palmer who is a respected maritime security consultant at Idarat holds an MBA and works in a non-academic institution. He brings a wealth of experience from his involvement in maritime security consulting to the academic world. His work spans from the liberal arts of Indian Ocean literatures as well as to the literature on economics and politics of maritime industry under the threat of piracy. Palmer defines ‘Piracy’ as the criminal act of hijacking, kidnapping and robbery on the high seas outside the jurisdiction of any state which inevitably affects maritime trade and travel. He states that piracy has existed since the times of Alexander the great and Julius Caesar, the two great leaders that were once hijacked while on the high seas. This is further also evinced in renaissance literatures as in the works of Cervantes who uses the words ‘buccaneer’ to mean ‘pirate’ and ‘buccaneering’ to mean ‘hijacking’ in Don Quixote. However, Palmer points out that the resurgence of global piracy in the 21st century is a new phenomenon that requires special contextual analysis - an intellectual service which Palmer offers in the book.

In this book Palmer does not fully associate the maritime crime of piracy in the high seas of the Indian ocean to the failed state of Somalia, terrorism and inter-clan wars; instead he points out that Piracy is a result of a global systems’ failure which calls for the world political and security systems to collaborate as a way of forging efforts to countermand piracy. Palmer lists the major causes as factors like the availability of weapons; lengths of the coast lines of the predatory states like Somalia and Nigeria; the nature of cargo carried by the ships passing by Somalia’s coastline; poor training in security among the high seas crews or workers; poverty; illiteracy; religion; and the misguided American involvement in Somalia by giving guns to those Somali citizens posing as friendly only to have those guns turned into weapons of piracy.  

On blaming the dishonesty among the international communities, Palmer, uses an example of Kenya, a country that is an immediate neighbour to Somalia, a country in which the money obtained by the Somali pirates as ransoms are invested in the up-market real estate properties in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret.  Palmer argues that, Kenya is supposed to be wary of foreign investors especially in censuring the morality of capital being invested by the investors from Somalia. This is a critical out-look that only boils down to the question of governance, corruption and political responsibility.

Palmer warns that it is not only the East African coast that will be a domain of piracy, but he also points out that apart from Somalia, Puntland, Eritrea, Somaliland and the Arabian coast; India, South China and the Caribbean seas are also destined to regular eventualities of maritime crimes especially the crime of piracy. However, Palmer is tad optimistic that the discovery of oil in the Horn of Africa will divert the attention of the tribal chiefs that have been focused on overseeing piracy as a source of cash to sharing proceeds from the sale of oil and hence lead to a reduction in the eventualities of piracy.

In the first half of the book Palmer explores the historical factors that led Somalia to become a failed state and its becoming a virgin soil for the breeding of piracy. He gives a clear picture of historical development, economic precedents and colonial heritage as the key factors that became a gravitas which rendered Somalia into the political degeneration of a failed state in 1990. Drought, rule by dictatorships, clan warfare, misinformed foreign interference, and a very attractive long coastline of over a thousand kilometres have been the interplay which Palmer identifies to be the foundation of political rot in Somalia, and maritime security lapse on the East African coast.

Among the most notorious hijacking by the Somalia pirates is that of the ransoming of the Greek flagged Marar Centaurus in January 2010, the owners were reported to have paid between five to seven point five million US dollars. Palmer points out that this was able to happen because of the transnational network of maritime criminals in India, Europe and Africa that launders the ransom payments and exchanges intelligence on the movements of ships and the value of the cargo on board. These networks also extend their engagement to drugs, illegal arms and human trafficking.

Palmer’s experience with maritime security consulting is a key resource for the book and forms the basis of his suggestions on overcoming maritime security challenges at the East African coast. He suggests that increasing vessel resilience, arming the private security guards, improving the naval services and encouraging discourse about maritime crimes can all help to reduce acts of piracy in the Horn of Africa.

Unfortunately, Palmer does not give any serious statistical evidence in his work; a limitation which he accepts but argues that most of the instances of piracy are never reported. Researching on piracy in Somalia, he warns, can often result in the researcher being kidnapped - as happened to Mr Moore, one of the earlier researchers. Not surprisingly, Palmer carried out most of the research for his book in London. In addition, lack of advanced training in investigative journalism or doctoral research training further hampers Palmer’s work in such extra-challenging literary efforts. However, simplicity, direct use of language, audacity of intellect, currency in facts and the wealth of information places the New Pirates among other writings capable of saving the earth.

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