Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Main Victims Of The Pirates Are The Fish

The freeing of the Spanish fishing boat that was captured by Somali pirates has put an end to what was becoming a very uncomfortable situation for the Spanish government. A substantial ransom seems to have been paid to recover the Alakrana and its crew after over 40 days of captivity. What made the situation much harder to resolve, at least from the point of view of those who saw a solution in negotiation, was the capturing by the Spanish navy of two of those said to have been involved in the seizure of the boat. Well not so much the capture, but the subsequent decision to bring them to Spain rather than hand them over to Kenya as has happened in other similar cases.

This decision set in motion a confusing judicial process and in addition a thinly concealed confrontation between government and judiciary. First we had a game of pass the pirate as questions over the age of one of the captured men meant that no judge was willing to take on his case. Some said he was over 18, others that he could be younger. Then, as it became clear that the issue of the captured men could hold up freedom for the Alakrana, we got the desperate search for a means of getting the two men out of Spain without making it too obvious that politics was winning over judiciary….again. One possibility explored was going to be the handing over of the two men to the Somali government, an administration that has about as much control over that country as I do over wins the Christmas lottery in Spain. Not that this detail mattered too much.

In the end it wasn’t necessary, as enough money was paid to free the Alakrana and its crew. The government had tried very hard to blame the judges for creating this messy situation, but eventually it became clear that the decision leading to the alleged pirates being brought to Spain was set in motion by the government's own lawyers. Now the opposition Partido Popular is as eager to use this case to make opposition as it is with everything else. They like to pretend that Zapatero's government has given way where other governments would have stood firm - as if there are not plenty of other examples of the Somali pirates having been paid off in other countries. Armchair warriors are always easy to find. Peridis in El País saw it this way.

What Peridis maybe missed out from the end of his instructive English lesson is a frame showing the Spanish fisherman happily returning to the same waters where the Alakrana was seized. These fishermen can get back to their own brand of piracy, which consists of fishing everything they can from these waters with as little regulation being exercised as possible. The Alakrana was outside the zone protected by naval forces when it was taken, and it was outside because there they could fish without any sort of control. The assumption that these boats deserve protection needs to be challenged. The Spanish government has rightly turned down requests for the boats to carry Spanish soldiers, but they have contributed to the cost and training of the hired mercenaries already on the boats

We wait to see what happens when these providers of heavily armed private security use their weapons against someone who turns out not to be a pirate. It doesn’t sound like an operation where questions will be asked before firing. This determination to carry on fishing in such a high risk area is an indication of just how profitable the tuna piracy business is. Spain did its very best recently to destroy an initiative to protect tuna stocks in the Mediterranean, again because of the protests of those who will happily fish everything they can until nothing remains - at which point they will demand assistance. It was Roto, also in El País, who saw things from the point of view of the tuna.


Judith said...

I hadn't seen this kind of obnoxious full-blown falangism since my long-gone schooldays in the mid 70s. This filth reminds me of our so-called history textbooks that used to blame all the ailings and decadence of Spain on "English pirates robbing us(?)of our(of course ill-gotten)gold" and "perfidious Albion systematically thwarting our (?) imperial designs" etc. Perhaps Peridis could follow this up and humour us with another drawing depicting Francis Drake treacherously attacking a peaceful buoy with the Spanish colours in the waters off Gibraltar...

Graeme said...

Well I don't think Peridis is a falangist Judith, even if he does play with some old ideas. His cartoons are usually very good, but I felt there was definitely a part of the story missing from this one.

Judith said...

He might not be a Falangist in his own right, but here he's definitely pandering to the kind of age-old anti-British prejudice of the Spanish Right that too many self-proclaimed Spanish leftists are still too ready to take on board...and that was instilled into successive generations of Spanish schoolchildren by a Falangist-controlled educational system. This is the ideological glue that holds "transición" Spain together.

Graeme said...

There is an interesting article in today's El País which traces the idea of the London lawyers helping the pirates to a single incident back in 2000. Apart from that it seems that the Spanish boats carrying flags from the Seychelles are also carrying British mercenaries.

Erik Wirdheim said...


You are so right in your criticism of the Spanish fishing industry. Already five years ago, when we came here, was cod a taboo fish in Swedish recipies, so you will understand my surprise when I checked up which fish this ubiquitous "bacalao" was. Still today I cannot understand how people here can continue to eat this Nordic fish, while the price of if - for its scarcity - has become prohibitive, at least in Sweden.

To make things worse, I have a feeling that the press here always sides with the "poor" fishermen who risk to lose their jobs and cannot remember having seen any main stream article in Spanish or Catalan which stresses how serious a problem the overfishing is.

Having said all this, let us be happy that the fishermen are home again. They are not personally responsible for a sick industry. Vilanova, for example, has a big fishing harbour but being a fisherman certainly is not a glamorous job.

Graeme said...


I certainly agree that it's a good thing that the fishermen are free, the article I read in today's paper emphasised that the alternative for those unwilling to go to the Indian Ocean is usually the sack. However, I think we need to distinguish between the small fishing boat going out to brave the elements and the factory ships like the Alakrana, which cost something like €30 million and are equipped with all the technology they need to scoop up anything that moves in the sea. They are owned by very profitable companies who can afford to pay a significant ransom and then carry on as if nothing had happened.