Somalia’s Pirates = Robin Hood?

“Brutal” and “savage” is how The Guardian describes Somali pirates who have been seizing and ransoming ships at an increasing rate in recent months. On April 5 pirates from the Somali Marines group seized the French luxury yacht Le Ponant, leading to a daring French commando raid that nabbed several pirate suspects. In the wake of the raid, France sponsored a U.N. resolution to allow foreign navies to chase pirates into Somali waters.
Then, two weeks ago, Somali pirates captured a Jordanian ship … and reported to authorities that the vessel was smuggling illegal arms into the war-torn country. How do we reconcile pirates’ seizure of fishing and pleasure vessels with this apparent civic duty of intercepting illegal arms?
Bear in mind two points:
1) Somalia hasn’t had a navy or coast guard for decades.
2) For years, foreign fishing vessels have been illegally operating in Somali waters. This is one of everyday Somalis’ major gripes.
Is it possible that Somali pirate groups actually, at times, perform a public service by “patrolling” Somali waters? Their interception of the weapons-smuggling ship indicates so.
For sure, Somali pirates are not a monolithic group, and their relationships to Somalia’s complex field of aspiring rulers — the Baidoa-based transitional government, Ethiopia and the Al Shabab Islamic group — are complicated.
Indeed, some of the Somali Marines that France arrested are related by blood to Somali president Yusuf. Others backed the now-deposed Islamic Courts regime that forms the core of Al Shabab. Still others are sworn foes of the Islamists, which — by Washington’s “enemy of my enemy” rationale — would make them U.S. allies.
“In reality, today’s pirates don’t pose a DEFCON 1-level threat,” Slate reminded us a couple years back.
True. And at times they even perform the security functions that, in developed countries, fall to navies and coast guards.