Pirates, Hostages, and Somalia’s Carceral Coastline

Authors: Brittany Gilmer*, University of Alabama
Topics: Political Geography, Coastal and Marine, Africa
Keywords: Carceral, Somalia, piracy, oceans, hostages
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 41
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The hijacking and ransoming of ships and their crew is but one of the many understudied tragedies of the sea. Off the coast of Somalia, hijacked vessels remained anchored, in plain sight, for months and even years. These floating prisons become sites of violence and harm as the bodies of hostages become vital to securing ransom payments but also the recipients of abuse. This intervention aims to better understand the carceral experiences of piracy hostages held aboard moored vessels off the coast of Somalia. I examine former piracy hostage testimonials alongside interviews with piracy hostage support personnel to explore how the carceral conditions of these ships are produced and reproduced via relations within and beyond the confines of the vessel. In doing so, I argue that the hijacked vessels, although mostly sparing the hostages from the hardships and unknowns of onshore Somalia, function as precarious carceral spaces that blur the boundaries between victim and offender and reproduce racialized patterns of violence and unresponsiveness that undergird the broader geopolitics of piracy and counter piracy.

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