Beneath the surface of piracy portrayals

How the link between fisheries and piracy impacts shipping.
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By Kyle Fawkes
Crisis Response Manager, Navigate Response (London)

Piracy is among the most notorious security threats facing the shipping industry. Spurred by hijacking drama, these attacks are a natural headliner for media outlets. They are sensational, yet easy to portray.

Within these narratives, the spotlight clings to the crisis: commentaries happen in real time, and motives are rarely addressed.

Let’s face it, it is far more interesting to know how criminals stormed the bridge of a tanker than why someone made banditry a career. While this captivating spin scores entertainment points, it also leaves a slanted portrayal of the problem. After all, pirates are more than satanic villains and pillaging is more than civil unrest. People often forget, or ignore, that piracy is an economic quest born from the blue world.

In some cases, it might be pressure on local fishermen – whether from declining stocks or foreign fishing efforts – that prods coastal communities to embrace radical business ideas. If deprived communities have access to weaponry, then piracy may become a viable livelihood. The situations in Somalia and West Africa are a testament to the power of this economic squeeze.

In other cases, it is the skills of fishermen that reel them into the foray. Piracy requires a certain level of maritime know-how and local fishermen necessarily hold the expertise to navigate, manoeuvre, and survive at sea. Posing as an operational asset, fishermen can ensure that practical aspects are executed to perfection.

Viewed through the eyes of fishermen, piracy can also be a solution to another aggravation – loss of control over fishing turf. In this sense, the activity serves as a power-play to deter vessel traffic, and lower economic pressures by protecting access. The piracy outbreak in East Africa, for instance, might be seen as ‘successful’ in keeping foreign fleets at bay.

But what does this link between piracy and fisheries mean for the shipping industry?

For starters, the connection offers a powerful predictive tool: where stocks have been ransacked, trouble may brew. Not that fisheries are the only factor in determining piracy, but they could be an important part of the equation. Second, the fisheries relationship provides an opportunity to rethink counterpiracy strategies. For instance, efforts that crack down on illegal fishing, build coastal infrastructure and rehabilitate stocks may contribute to coastal security and peaceful navigation just as much as a military intervention.

The fisheries connection also highlights something more fundamental: mariners share more than a workspace. Whether fortuitous or unfavourable, operations and economics are intimately tied on the seas. What happens in one sector will impact those working in other industries.

Whether the media highlights these humanising elements during their coverage of piracy attacks will be of little concern to the public – a fascinating storyline will always trump a complicated backdrop. Yet, for those envisioning the future of the ‘blue economy,’ presentation will undoubtedly set the tone for progress. At the end of the day, piracy is not just a savage attack but a perilous opportunity in the blue world.

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