This post was inspired by a conversation with a taxi driver from Somalia. I asked him where he was from and then asked what he felt about the pirates off the coast of Somalia. He replied that these people were not pirates, but fishermen who were doing all they could to make a living and feed their families. I thought I would do a little research on the pirates and find out who they really are.
It seems that at least some of these pirates are former fishermen. When a country is not providing for its citizens and they are unable to provide for their families or themselves, then people are going to resort to illegal means. Unfortunately, not having work or food and having a boat is a dangerous combination. These pirates are getting tens of thousands of dollars for hijacking ships and are spending it on drinking and prostitutes in towns that used to be sleepy fishing villages. The pirates are controlling the Gulf of Aden--the only way to gain entrance to the Suez canal and the rest of the Somali coastline. NATO ships are there to ensure that UN food aid will make it to the country without being hijacked by pirates. The EU, France, the Netherlands, and Canada have all provided ships at one time or another to help with piracy. The problem is that Somalia is essentially a failed state and is controlled by tribes and militias and they see piracy as the easiest way to make money in the country.
No matter how many boats NATO or the EU sends to ensure the delivery of food, the piracy will not stop as long as Somalis feel that it is the only way to provide for their families. It would be extremely costly and difficult to secure all of the international waters off the coast of Somalia and there would still be the "pirate towns" on the coast where ships that were hijacked are taken. To solve the piracy problem, the deeper issues need to be addressed: a failed state, starvation, and the lack of national power that could deter people from taking these actions.
It seems that my Somali taxi driver was right about one thing--some of these people are fisherman (or used to be) and are doing what they can do to make some money. I'm not quite so sure that its as cut and dry as he made it sound, but I don't think patrolling the waters is going to help the problem that the people are resorting to piracy to make some money--if they can't hijack ships anymore, maybe they will start shipping arms or drugs, or doing something else illegal to make their money.