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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: Somalia, the New
Somalia, the New Barbary?
Piracy and Islam in the Horn of Africa
By Martin N. Murphy
Columbia University, 2011, ISBN 978-0-231-70154-9, $26.50


Internationally recognized as an expert on maritime piracy, Murphy analyzes Somalia and how its waters came to be the most prolific region of pirates today. He also compares this evolution with the Barbary corsairs in Northern Africa, who threatened Mediterranean ships and seamen from the Middle Ages into the nineteenth century.
Many volumes on Somali piracy focus only on that and fail to examine how historical events impacted the people and culture. Murphy provides a comprehensive examination through twenty-eight chapters. Also included are a list of abbreviations, map, notes, and an index.
In the early 1990s, the International Maritime Bureau designated the waters off Somalia as one of the most pirate infested in the world. Many scholars blame this on the country being a “failed state,” yet that alone cannot be the cause of piracy as Murphy shows in his comparison to piracy in Indonesia. He then lists what common bonds piracy-prone areas share before returning to how piracy evolved into its current situation in Somalia. His overall rationale is “to examine whether or not state failure is a useful and accurate explanation” for this piracy, and he does so through a review of “the history, motivation, organization, criminal methods, and operational tactics of the Somali pirates”. (3) He also explores terrorism as it relates to the maritime world here. While highlighting various attacks, he puts this type of crime into perspective globally. The narrative clearly shows that just because the state has failed doesn’t mean that governing is nonexistent. To round out this assessment, Murphy discusses why legal prosecution of these criminals is such a problem.
After providing a well-rounded investigation into Somalia, Murphy compares this region to that of the Barbary States. This interesting chapter shows the similarities and differences, as well as the lessons that can be learned in studying these two regions and periods. Perhaps the strongest and most succinct paragraph, however, is the closing one in the final chapter. This summary epitomizes what was and is true, not only as regards Somalia, but other regions to come where we must and need to fight piracy.

Review Copyrighted ©2011 Cindy Vallar

Table of Contents
            1. Introduction
            2. Somalia: A Failed State?
            3. Somali Piracy: 1989-2006
            4. Piracy and Fishing
            5. The Principal Piracy Groups: 1996-2006
            6. The Attack on the Seabourn Spirit and its Consequences
            7. A Clan-based Society
            8. The Barre Dictatorship and its Aftermath
            9. The Rise and Fall of the TNG and the Rise of the TFG
            10. Economic Motivation for Turmoil
            11. Puntland: The Pirate Sanctuary?
            12. Somalia: Without a Government but not Ungoverned
            13. The Growth of Political Islam
            14. The Link to Terrorism
            15. The Rise of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU)
            16. The ICU Come to Power
            17. The ICU’s Fall
            18. The Return of the Pirate Gangs
            19. The Consequences of Reward
            20. Why Piracy Became so Virulent: the Political Dimension
            21. Why Piracy Became so Profitable: the Organizational Dimension
            22. Legal Measures
            23. The Naval Response
            24. Somali Piracy and Terrorism
            25. The Further Fall of a Fallen State
            26. Al-Shabaab and the Growth of Islamism in Southern Somalia
            27. Somalia and Barbary
            28. Conclusions

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