Pirates never went away. From the troubling news stories about pirates attacking ships in Somalia, to dangerous digital hacktivists wreaking havoc online, there is plenty to discover – and even more to question. So, what can we learn from modern piracy? One thing is for sure: nothing in this story is black and white.
- S1: It’s late and. you can’t sleep. You feel like exploring, taking this idea to the next level. Leaping forward. You wake up and log onto your computer. Go, explore. Make something happen while the world is asleep.
- S2: While doing some cleanup in your storage room, you found this old computer from the early nineties that you didn’t remember you had. You’re thinking back to was like to work on a computer in the old days, feeling nostalgic and wondering how far the next few decades will take us.
- S3: You are travelling at night. It’s late, and your thinking about the big things in life, what really matters to you. You decide to never give up on your dreams, and never give up on what you stand for, like a real pirate.
Donate for Famine Relief in Somalia [GoFundMe].
Produced by Camille Duran & Eleen Murphy
Published by Eleen Murphy
Music Credits: License by Ins. Green White Space.
TRANSCRIPT FROM THE EPISODE
Camille Duran [CD]: This mixtape is the second chapter of our deep dive into the world of piracy. If you haven’t listened to Chapter One, you may want to start there because there are some important concepts that we will build on moving forward. Today, the focus is a little bit different because – in this mixtape – we will be looking at modern piracy. Piracy on water and on land, or online I should say.
What can we, change makers learn from modern piracy?
Like with all our mixtapes, music will be the central element of this episode. Perfect for moments of the day were you don’t want to think too much. Here we are in a different mood than with Chapter One.
This mixtape is designed for 3 specific situations:
It’s late. Very late. you can’t sleep. You’re thinking too much, you’re trying to understand what’s going on, ideas are flowing through your head. You feel strangely motivated about making something happen. A project you’ve had for a while, something you’ve always wanted to work on, in your personal life, or your professional one. You feel like exploring, taking this idea to the next level. Leaping forward. You wake up, get to the computer. Log in. The light of the screen is blinding at first. Better now. Go, explore. Make something happen while the world is asleep.
While doing some clean-up in your storage room, you found this old computer from the early nineties that you didn’t remember you had. You now remember it was working when you put it there. So it should still work? no? You decide to get it out of here and turn it on, just like the old days. Just to feel how far we’ve come. You use this time to remember what it was like to work on a computer back then. What did we do with it? Get your smartphone, count the years, realise the pace of innovation. Yes, it’s crazy. Take a minute to think about how YOU approach new technologies and change in general. Are you an early adopter? do you resist? in the average? Use this old computer story to project yourself into the future. Think.
You are driving at night. It also works in the train or any kind of public transportation. Maybe you are back from a late meeting, or a dinner with friends you haven’t seen in a while. You’re thinking: “Shit, time passes”. Am I making the most out of it? Maybe, maybe not? How do I feel? What are 3 things I wish I had done last year? How can I make it happen this coming year instead? You look around, catch your own look in the rear-view mirror – or your reflected image on the train window. You decide to never give up on your dreams, and never give up on what you stand for, like a real pirate.
CD: I have to say this mixtape may be most effective by night, but hey, use it the way you want, and challenge everything.
I think we’re ready to dive in. Last time we found a pirate nerd in our own team, “Shiver me Timbers” it’s Eleen Murphy, Producer and co-host at Green Exchange, Yo ho ho!
Eleen Murphy [EM]: Ahoy Matey!
CD: Ok, we should probably stop talking like old time pirates because we are back in the 2000’s now.
EM: Yeah true.
CD: So what’s on the menu today?
EM: What do you think about when we talk about modern piracy?
CD: I directly come to think of Somalia and those fishing boats taking over big tankers and merchant ships.
EM: Yes that’s what we are going to talk about. But not only, because piracy doesn’t always happen on water. The word relates to many kinds of activities. Like, did you know that piracy was a word used to describe stealing copyrighted works and information since the 1600’s?
CD: Oh really? I always thought digital piracy was called that because the internet was considered like a giant ocean.
EM: Yes me too, like the whole “surfing the net…”. Anyway, we’ll be talking about those pirates as well – the ones online who are shaking up the world, making waves I can say. And who we can actually learn a lot from.
CD: So today if I understand correctly we will spend some time on Somalia and some time on digital hackers.
EM: Yes, about 50/50
CD: Ok, let’s go!
Narrator: It’s a voyage made by thousands of ships a year, passing through the Gulf of Aden. It’s also home to every captain’s nightmare…
EM: So pirates never really went away.
CD: They changed their look though thank God.
EM: …And the Somali pirates are just one example of sea-pirates that operate today – there are others as well. In Somalia – As often with piracy – it was necessity that drove people to raise the black flag. In 1991, the government collapsed and so its territorial waters couldn’t be enforced anymore.
CD: I see it coming…
EM: This lead to foreign fleets swooping in and trawling Somali waters, stealing their fishing stock and dumping pollutants.
CD: Because there was nobody to stop them.
EM: Exactly. And this destroyed the livelihoods of the local fishermen. At the same time, China started massively exporting to Europe from the Suez canal, meaning there was thousands and thousands of dollars worth of cargo floating past the Somali shores all the time.
CD: So…here was their opportunity to survive, and stand up…
EM: Right, and they took it. These people were fishermen first and foremost, but when the situation changed, they pivoted. To be fair, they sort of had to get into this. But they’ve been quick in making the leap towards a very different kind of life. At the beginning, they saw themselves as enforcers of the waters – scaring away the foreign fleets and demanding money from them, which they said was a form of tax for taking their fish and polluting their waters.
CD: And then, snow-ball effect,
EM: Yes, they went from a small band of raiders who started attacking ships, to the well-run criminal organisation we know today.
EM: “They don’t care if we starve to death – that is what they prefer. They will never arrest anyone for fishing illegally in Somali waters but will arrest anyone for taking a gun to fight the trawlers”.
Those are the words of a local Somalian, Hawa Mohamed Saeed, about the international community at the time.
CD: I didn’t know all this, we have been drinking what the media told us, and as usual when we start digging…
EM: Yeah. As they say, there are at least two sides to every story. Nothing is black and white.
CD: One thing is for sure, some people out there should feel ashamed.
CD: Anyone in particular we should talk about?
EM: One person who really sticks out, who’s a bit of a celebrity actually, is Abdullahi Abshir – often called Boyah. Boyah was one of the first to turn to piracy, and was a a bit of a pioneer – he showed others the true potential of piracy and became the chairman of the 500 pirates operating in the region. He says he’s hijacked more than 25 ships.
CD: Do people call him Boyah because everytime he was coming back from battle with cargo and hostages everyone would say “Booyaa”?
EM: Yeah probably, thank you for this very relevant comment…
EM: Booya was a lobster diver, who watched the lobster population disappear because of the foreign ships. So, with a few others, he captured three fishing vessels, kept their catch and ransomed the crew. When other fishermen saw his success, they began to follow.
CD: Where does your lobster come from? Have you checked? So he was a brave man…
EM: Also a quick adapter – he learned to go with the flow. At some point – around 1997, the foreign fishing fleets started getting protection from local warlords.
CD: Oh God, so now there are mercenaries involved in protecting the big boys?
EM: Yes, and those ships became really too dangerous to target. So Boyah and his men started going after commercial shipping vessels instead.
CD: Pivoting again.
CD: Okay so they put their hands on cash, goods, cargo? What do they do with it?
EM: The money they took was shared with everyone. Half went to the attackers, a third to investors. The rest went to anyone involved – interpreters who dealt with the hostages, the guards. And 15% always went to the poor and disabled of the community.
CD: Robin Hood style.
EM: He’s been called that, yeah. The local communities did prosper thanks to the pirates. They were often given support, sanctuary, even government help. But if you can imagine, all these young men who come from poor backgrounds, suddenly have access to loads of cash and support…things of course went a bit wrong.
EM: When all this started to turn into a big criminal organisation, Boyah started to realise their support was dwindling. Around 2008, the communities began to turn on them and demand that they stop. Boyah called for a cease-fire. They were a few of them ready to quit –
EM: With conditions. If the local leaders found jobs for their young underlings and help the pirates form a coast guard to protect Somalia from illegal fishing and dumping…
EM: Boyah often says that he knows what they’re doing is wrong. It looks like they wanted to find a way out if possible…
CD: So…did they ever find that way out? What’s happening there right now?
EM: Well, after their peak in 2012, they almost stopped completely because commercial ships started carrying armed guards. There was also an international anti-piracy fleet, which included a NATO-led component, and an European Union one as well.
CD: There you go, thank you all for addressing the root cause.
EM: Right. But those new resources have been busy the last few years because of the migrant crisis – and the pirate attacks have started up again this year.
CD: Oh really?
EM: Yeah, see, one of the main issues with the response is that they conflate piracy with terrorism, and that this counter-piracy action doesn’t really address the origins, motives, and realities of Somali pirates.
Interviewer: So, this must cost hundreds of millions of dollars to have these navel ships going up and down the African coast – what’s the alternative to this?
Interviewee: Well, it’d be a much better use of the money if they would actually try to prop up Somalia’s government or help the country create a government that could police it’s own coastline. I mean, they’re not catching very many pirates. As we mentioned, there was a shootout in which some hostages were actually killed. They’d be a lot better off putting that money –
Interviewer: Or make a deal with the pirates! Just say, “why don’t we just pay the pirates an annual fee to stay home?”
Interviewee: That would be a lot more efficient.
Interviewer: There must be more imaginative solutions that would actually do something to develop Somalia?
Interviewee: People aren’t that interested in the fundamental problems of Somalia. Piracy gets a lot of headlines, and Al Qaeda activity in Somalia gets a lot of headlines, but no one really talks about spending money on trying to create a system of government that can solve all these problems, or let Somalia solve their own problems.
EM: Somalia has been struggling with civil war, poverty and violence for decades at this stage. And the problem hasn’t gone away – locals are blaming their government in the Puntland region for granting foreigners permits to fish in Somali waters. So we’re back to square one.
CD: Sh*t they got it rough in Somalia, also with no rain in two years and the famine, they are one of those regions that really need help. We put a link on the episode page if you feel like sending a few euros to help a family, they are some very direct channels to those people now, without all the typical intermediaries that we don’t really like to go through.
EM: Yes it’s very complex in this region.
CD: Eleen, you’ve changed my whole perspective on the Somalian piracy case. Thank you.
EM: You’re welcome.
CD: Should we now move on to the world of digital piracy. That’s an interesting space as well…
EM: Yes and here there is a lot going on so we are just going to look at a few big picture learning lessons. I thought we would take the hacker group Anonymous as an example – which is probably the most famous out there. But there are many others.
CD: Good idea, they are the ones whose symbol is the iconic Guy Fawkes mask right? Oversized smile, moustache, red cheeks.
EM: They’re one of the most powerful and decentralized movements in the digital world. A lot of people see them as heroes in the face of things like government oppression for instance.
CD: Yes, their story is fascinating and in the episode notes you’ll find a couple of documentaries and resources for you to get the whole picture if you want to hear more about them, I think it’s worth it.
EM: It’s actually amazing how big and powerful they’ve become considering they have no leader or directives though.
CD: No leader or directive you’re saying?
EM: Yes, and that’s our first learning lesson from digital pirates – be a starfish.
CD: Be a starfish?
EM: So, in a formal organisation, you could see there’s a head at the top and if you kill that, the organisation is dead. But if it’s like a starfish…you can kill one arm and it just keeps going and the arm will eventually grow back. So the point is that decentralizing power can make you more effective and resilient.
CD: It’s very inspiring to see that a growing number of organisations manage to operate like this now. The trick is really how to create that movement in the first place. Getting the momentum going.
EM: Yes and there is another dimension to this. Which is the second tip I would like to bring to the table. We seem to operate better in small flexible groups. This way you’re more agile, fast and flexible. Like, on the outside, Anonymous looks like one huge, chaotic organisation. But members can peel off into smaller channels and work together on a specific target. Not everyone has to know everything, which saves time and keeps things flowing.
CD: Yes and this way to operate has made its way into many organisations in the private sector, especially large start-ups with critical mass of employees or NGO movements as well. Some public sector organisations are also experimenting with this management structure. How about you? Did you think about all this for your own project?
EM: I think one of the biggest keys to their success is how they outsource not just talent but ideas as well. Anonymous is basically a large pool of people with different skills. Those people will come along and see how they can help and jump in. People also jump in and share their ideas for a campaign and if others are interested, it happens. So that gives Anonymous a huge amount of resources to draw from, and keeps their fingers in all sorts of pies.
CD: Ah, I didn’t know this expression. Do you make pies in Ireland?
EM: We sometimes do.
CD: We also see this trend growing in a number of organisations.
EM: …Making pies?
CD: No, I mean open innovation schemes. You bring in your innovation pipeline players from the outside world, partners, customers even, it should be quite inclusive.
EM: Let’s be clear, it does not mean that everything done by anonymous will be good. That’s the price of being a starfish. You have to live with the idea that not everything will be perfect.
CD: What else can learn from Anonymous?
EM: Don’t get comfortable. When it comes to the online world, you really need to stay sharp and ahead of the curve, because there are always weak points and pitfalls that someone’s just waiting to exploit.
CD: That’s right, keep on your toes.
EM: Yeah, and you can expand that idea. We shouldn’t get comfortable with how our lives are right now either. We can fall into habits, learn to ignore or put up with things that just aren’t right…
CD: There’s always opportunities for us to challenge the status quo, find new ways to work, new ways to interact as a society.
EM: Exactly. There is one thing, that makes Anonymous, and sea pirates so dangerous and threatening – putting violence aside: They demonstrate different ways of doing things. Different ways to work, different ways to protect their communities, different ways to live – both online and offline.
CD: Right. Their existence says a lot about our societies and our failures (economic inequality & exploitation, imbalance of power & right of access to information).
EM: Our fascination with piracy also says a lot about us as well – our love of freedom, adventure, and the rebellious spirit of piracy. Probably because we need more of it in our daily lives.
CD: That’s a good way to conclude, thank you for all those insights Eleen, this was fascinating.
EM: My pleasure!
CD: And you? How do YOU feel about piracy? What can you incorporate into your day-to-day? Let us know what you’re up to. firstname.lastname@example.org twitter, Instagram facebook. You know where to find us. We’ll be back soon with more music, sounds, knowledge, inspiration, entertainment, keep up the good work in the meantime!