This one requires a two-part answer. First, why piracy exists around Somalia, and second, how it started.
The simplest answer to why there are pirates off the Somali coast is that a big chunk of the world’s shipping traffic passes through the Suez Canal, and in the process passes the coastline of an impoverished country awash in guns. It’s not rocket science that someone would get on a boat and start robbing ships and holding them for ransom. A similar situation exists around Indonesia, with similar results. (Banditry: the ultimate free-market solution.)
How it all started is a little more complex. It’s important to remember that since the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, the country has had no coast guard, and no authority to enforce laws in its territorial waters. This quickly led to an international free-for-all zone of the coast of Somalia during most of the 1990s. Everything that people couldn’t get away with elsewhere, they came to the Somali coast to do, the biggest activities being unregulated fishing (including Somali fishermen being rammed by larger commercial fishing vessels), and dumping anything from trash to nuclear waste.
The first “pirates” were fishermen who enlisted militia fighters from the city to put a stop to these abuses. Any ship they caught doing anything illegal was boarded and held for ransom. Some groups even referred to themselves (and still do) as Somali Marines.
Eventually the money being made doing this led them from boarding ships engaging in illegal activity, to boarding any ship they could, and the marines became pirates. Despite this, many people in coastal cities still consider them Robin Hood-like figures for the money they bring in and the ships they force away from their coast. So, although most western countries see the pirates as these evil, heartless bunches of bad guys, some of us who still love the old country and want to see it someday, kinda like the Somali pirates.
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