‘Pirates are just sleeping’

Mary Harper, Africa Editor for the BBC


Mary Harper, Africa Editor for the BBC
Mary Harper, Africa Editor for the BBC

Despite it now being a year since a new Government was installed in Somalia, little has changed to quell the problems both on land and at sea including the risk of piracy attacks.

That’s according to Mary Harper, Africa Editor for the BBC’s World Service, who gave her perspective on the country’s current situation at a maritime security briefing during London International Shipping Week on Wednesday.

She told the meeting, hosted by the Gulf of Aden Group Transits, how the government has little control: “Somalia is still dominated by the different clan militias and for all the talk of this new government, I would argue that the government has little more than the capital of Mogadishu and the government does not even control the port of Mogadishu.”

In her role at the BBC, Ms Harper has spent the past 20 years reporting from Somalia and knows what makes the country tick. She has just had a book published – Getting Somalia Wrong? Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State – and in it she gives the Somali perspective on piracy.

She said she is quite often called by the pirates when they have taken hostages and that the pirates are nothing like how they are often portrayed in the media: “They are just human beings like everybody else.”

She said they never describe themselves as pirates, claiming instead to be ‘coastguards’ with many pirates saying how they were once fishermen who had their livelihoods stolen by foreign trawlers.

In her book one pirate is quoted as saying how they had ‘done really well out of those foreigners who have disturbed our way of life.’

Despite a significant drop in the number of reported attacks she said many were waiting to take advantage of different factors including increased insecurity, the search for oil and failure to bring pirates to account.

She added: “The pirates are still there – they haven’t gone away, they are just sleeping. It might be contained now because of the international naval patrols and even more because of the existence of private security guards onboard ships but the networks or individuals involved in piracy could easily go back into piracy depending on the situation.

“I really don’t think the situation there is going to become safe or stable on land or sea any time soon.”