19 July 2013

Harbour Cruise: Pirates? Sunday, 21 July 2013, 5pm

Looking at the political background of piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Organised by No One Is Illegal Hamburg and Hamburg Harbour Group. All proceeds go to support the Somali ‘pirate’ prisoners in Hamburg.

Sunday, 21 July 2013, 5pm at 'Vorsetzen' wharf (access from Landungsbrücken due to construction work). Tickets are €10 waged, €8 unwaged. The cruise takes 90 minutes.

01 July 2013

EU navy mission Atalanta going into its 6th year

Hamburg airport proud on hamburgs Piracy background

The German parliament recently voted to extend the mandate for the EU navy mission Atalanta for another year until May 2014. Up to 1400 soldiers can be deployed under this operation. This includes the mandate for air strikes up to 2km inland, which was introduced last year.

During the debate, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described the “real reason” for Atalanta as “We want to help the people.” A year earlier, he was a little more blunt, when he said in an interview: “Pursuing our economic interests, including pursuing our interests in resources, must be part of our strategic planning. I am surprised that the deployment of soldiers to combat piracy, which I support, has been portrayed as morally not justifiable by some members of parliament.”

Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière pointed out another aspect of Atalanta as the EU’s first combined military involvement, when he linked it to an upcoming EU security conference in December. He also suggested that Atalanta and the NATO mission Ocean Shield should be joined.

No one is illegal and the "Pirates"

No one is illegal and the "Pirates"

When the German container ship Taipan was captured by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean on Easter, 2010, we hardly registered it. After all, piracy is the oldest, or maybe the second oldest profession. We read about it in the papers, just like we had read about the capture of the Hansa Stavanger a year earlier.

But when in June 2010 the Dutch navy, which had stormed the Taipan shortly after the attack, brought the ten captured Somali to Hamburg, where they were locked up in the remand prisons, we started asking questions.

Firstly, we were startled by the fact that a European navy would simply capture Somali people and take them to Europe – a distance of over 6,000 km.

We also thought it was bizarre to try to apply German legal standards when trialling or judging people who were trying to survive in war-torn Somalia.

And we wondered why people in small dinghies would try to attack huge container ships.

We asked ourselves: who are these men and boys? Where do they come from, what motivates them, what is happening at the Horn of Africa. Where does the phenomenon of piracy in Somalia come from? Why are Somali people locked up behind barbed wire on an island in the Elbe river or in a one hundred year old brick building?
What sort of a trial is this, and what is it supposed to achieve? Deterrence? Rehabilitation – into which society?
Are "our" trade interests now being defended in the Indian Ocean? And by whom – the military mission Atalanta? The frigate "Rheinland Pfalz"?

We soon realised that the reasons are complex and that it would take an entire series of public talks to shed a light on the background; that there is a lot of ignorance and that the political situation is confusing.

We invited a range of "experts" on the various subjects: a professor from Berlin who specialises in the geo-strategic aspects of the piracy hunt; a journalist from Bremen who is investigating the illegal arms trade in the region; a piracy researcher; a former maritime law professor, who is now employed by a large insurance company and who brought with him an original tape of a ransom negotiation; the head of the seaman's mission, a Somali political scientist, who now lives in Switzerland; and refugees from Somalia, who talked about their lives in Somalia, their perilous journey to Europe and within Europe as well as their current lives.

We became "experts" in illegal waste dumping and the plunder of fish. There is now a special harbour cruise on the subject.

We met with the defence lawyers of the piracy trial and we visited the prisoners in prison and outside. A trial observer group was started which minuted every one of the 105 trial dates.

Now, more than two and a half years later, the verdicts have been passed. The three under-age accused are "free", after having served two years in remand. The other seven have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms in Hamburg's prisons.

And we met and became friends. We "understand" the reasons: forced reasons, desperate, hungry, impoverished, tempting reasons. Or, as Angela Merkel would put it: often without alternatives.
Of course we don't believe that kidnapping the crews of fishing vessels, container ships or yachts and keeping them imprisoned for months on end is a good thing. But we also don't subscribe to the idea that more guns will lead to more peace and that the navy ships, military aid or the – now "legal" – bombing of Somali coastal villages will provide a new and better perspective for the people of Somalia.

Instead, we are getting more and more the impression that escape is the only unarmed alternative in Somalia. The number of refugees within and from Somalia speak for themselves, and the number of Somali refugees who have lost their lives in the Gulf of Aden or the Mediterranean Sea paint a gruesome picture.

Judge Steinmetz said towards the end of the trial: "Even when living in anarchy, one has to distinguish between right and wrong."

A German academic with a life-long job in the Hamburg justice system can talk like that.

Now you know how No one is illegal came to the "pirates", or rather how the "pirates" came to No one is illegal.