Are Wealthy Countries to Blame for Somalia Piracy?

Somali pirates commandeering Ukrainian cargo ship

            In part, yes. Somalia is a relatively small country but it has the longest coastline on the African continent. You know Somalia. It has almost no working governmental institutions. It is the locale of Blackhawk Down. And it’s the home of all those pirates who commandeer ships and take hostages for millions in ransom.

            Humans love fish, to the point of endangering many of the world’s food fish species along with the so-called by-catch that gets caught up in nets and drag lines. Much of Somalia’s economy once depended on local fishermen heading into the nearby Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden in search of catch. Then came the large fishing vessels from industrialized countries. And away went much of the local fishing industry as the big boats decimated local fisheries. So while wealthy nations are able to supply their own sushi bars and fish markets, the people of Somalia have lost access to their own seafood.

            According to Population Connection president John Seager, cod fishing off Newfoundland, Canada was banned after the total cod catch dropped 99 percent between 1990 and 1994. That’s when some European ships turned their sites to the other side of the Suez Canal and started reaping harvests in the Indian Ocean. “A UN report concluded that illegal fishing in Somali waters by foreign trawlers costs that impoverished African nation some $300 million annually. A modest sum perhaps by Western standards, but huge for Somalia, where the per capita GDP (gross domestic product) hovers around $600.”[1]

            Piracy in Somalia started when fishermen went after small foreign fishing boats. The pirates held the boats and crews for ransom. From there, the brigandage grew in size and scope. Now the pirates’ prey includes freighters and oil tankers. The buccaneers are now fishing in more treacherous waters.

            “Some experts project the global destruction of all ocean fishing within 40 years as human population continues to soar,” says Seager.

            You may have heard of the threats to shark populations worldwide as populations are decimated in quest of fins for shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy that is served in the United States as well as China and other locales with ethnic Chinese populations. In other words, where there are people there is environmental and wildlife degradation, and that includes the Earth’s oceans.

            “But wait,” you may say, “America’s population isn’t growing anywhere near as fast as it is in other parts of the world.” To which we say, “Even if you’re at the beach, get your head out of the sand.” We rich Americans are eating fish. Lots of fish. Even “filet o’ fish.”

We can afford it. We are pigs (although we’re not sure that swine eat seafood).     So what’s the answer? How about if American consumers, and their government, set an example? How about if we stop chomping on everything – literally and figuratively – in the marketplace, that we can get our hands, and choppers, on? Let’s try population stabilization. Then we can show the rest of the world our example. We can say, “Hey, look at us! We slowed down our reproductive rate. We eat less seafood . . . and lots of other stuff that hurts the environment. Follow us!”

            We need to regard the circumstances and needs not only of the less-fortunate among us; we need to regard our impact on our beautiful planetary mother and all her inhabitants. As political economist Thomas Malthus pointed out two centuries ago, “The histories of mankind are histories only of the higher classes.” We need to regard the circumstances of the world’s poor. And as middle classes grow in proportion in industrialized countries we need to keep an eye on the behavior of these “higher” classes before they hold the whole world hostage. In Short, there are Enough of Us.

[1] John Seager, “From the President,” The Reporter, January 2011, inside cover.


  1. No. Wealthy countries–that is to say, governments–sometimes make short sighted and unfriendly policies that cause poverty in other countries. This is definately wrong and I will not defend it.
    But to say these policies are to blame for the criminal acts of pirates is like excusing nearly any other criminal because of their disadvantages.
    Of course, there are desperate people in the world who beleive they will die if they don’t steal that loaf of bread. To those people I would show mercy while helping them find another way to get that bread. I just don’t put pirates in the same catagory.


    • Aaron – Thanks for your input. Sorry it took so long for us to reply. We agree that you can’t lay the whole blame for piracy on greedy, wealthy nations. We were trying to explain the genesis of the problem. In other words, if the bullies hadn’t behaved the way they did, the piracy ball would never have begun rolling. And if humans weren’t so numerous and greedy to begin with, this whole thing would never have started. Just another example of the consequences of an overpopulated planet.

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