Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Stolen Seas": important documentary explains the Somali piracy problem, with re-enactment of the 2008 taking of a Danish ship CEC Future

Stolen Seas: Tales of Somali Piracy”, directed by Thymaya Payne, is an important 2012 documentary that will supplement “Captain Phillips” (Oct. 11, 2013) in covering the problem of piracy of commercial vessels and sometimes private yachts in the high seas of the East African coast, particularly by ragtag crews from Somalia.  There are other areas of the world where this happens, such as near Nigeria.
The documentary covers the capture of the Danish ship the CEC Future on Nov. 8, 2008.  The pirates hire a local farmer (who owns a lot of camels) Ishmael Ali, himself a single father, as a translator to help negotiate by phone with the shipping executive in Denmark. 
The documentary explains why the piracy problem is so difficult for bureaucratic western nations to contain with the conventional processes of law.  Somalia has not had a functioning central government since 1991 (about the time that the Soviet Union collapsed) and is a failed state.  The people in fishing villages have no income because of illegal fishing (no “free fish”) by outsiders and because of water pollution dumped by criminal syndicates.  Piracy has become a “business”, maybe the only company in town.  And shipping companies, given practical realities, have to treat it that way.
After the release of the 13 hostages when the affair is settled in early 2009, Ali finally travels to the US, for a conference on piracy, and is arrested and prosecuted by the DOJ for his role in the affair.

The film notes that there is an issue with a ship's use of a "flag of convenience".  That allows a company to avoid heavy regulation by flying under a small country.  When I worked for USLICO, an life insurance company in Virginia in the 1990s, the holding company actually owned a Liberian ship registry as a subsidiary, and would promote management to positions in that subsidiary.

The film points out that many crew employees come from developing countries, especially The Phillippines.  They are paid somewhat more for the risk, but not much.  Their relative poverty leads to their necessary risk taking in running through pirate waters that really don't have effective military security from big western countries.  And it costs the richer countries less to pass the ransom than to provide security, or clean up the post-colonial problems in Africa.  
It’s interesting to note that the ABC series “Flashforward” imagined that clandestine experiments were conducted in Somalia in 1991. 
The official site is here.  The film is distributed by Brainstorm Media but is available on Netflix and iTunes.
The film played at some international festivals including Palm Springs, Mumbai, and Stockholm.
Wikipedia attribution link for map.

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