I was happy after some futile hours of restless browsing the usual channels to having found a surprisingly good documentary on Netflix recently. “Pirate Hunting” is not the most up-to-date documentary on the topic of modern piracy – produced in 2010 and this astonishingly 12 years old by now – but one of the best made, detailed and balanced approaches to this topic. It all starts with a fact: A good chunk of the world´s commercial shipping and most of the world´s energy resources are funneled through the Gulf of Aden.

The world´s beating shipping artery

Thousands of ships, freighters, tankers, bulk- and general cargo vessels and special goods are transported through this needle eye on a daily basis. Pirate attacks are a threat and an ever increasing problem. Western nations send mighty warships, helicopters and sophisticated surveillance equipment, pirates upgrade their weapon´s arsenals, shipping companies hire mercenary armies. A war at sea. It was as newsworthy in 2010 as it is now.

The Western Perspective

We start with a Captain of a chemical Norwegian tanker about to embark on the nerve-eating 30-hour passage through the notorious strait. Preparing his crew, his ship and no less himself for the voyage, we get to see the “Western Werspective” pretty intense and on a personal level: Commercial seamen unboxing military equipment, wearing bulletproof vests and Army helmets on the bridge.

A civilian Captain with helmet …

A frightening perspective: We can identify both with the sympathetic crew of the tanker as well with their view on the topic. These are civilians carrying civilian cargo, they have done no harm to nobody, they have done everything right and just want to go about their business. Instead, the Captain finds himself in a situation of having to brief his fellow crew mates on military-grade stuff, we get to see a grumpy but lovely machinist and a 20 years old sweet woman as apprentice who have to face the brutal reality of piracy warfare, ransom and enemy boarding.

Preparing the vessel as good as you can

Something must be done, we conclude, and watch the brave crew of the tanker in their half funny half helpless appearing efforts to cover their ship in barbed wire, place hoses spewing out hot steam and keeping a sharp outlook onto every suspicious small craft. We feel with those guys, we can easily identify with them.

The Military Perspective

Navy to the rescue! The bold Norwegian high-tech frigate FRIDTJOF NANSEN is casting off to join the NATO forces at the Horn of Africa. The crew is part of the multi-national fleet comprising of up to 30 naval vessels which are sent to patrol the region and counter the piracy threat. Speaking of which: It won´t last long until we meet the first perpetrators. They fit our idea of what a Somali pirate should look like: Skinny, dark, fathomless brown eyes. Brutal.

Here they are

The documentary sticks with the Norwegian wahrship and we get to see proceedings: Ultra-fast ribs darting across the Gulf to inspect the suspects, helicopters humming by to search with UV-equipment for trails of the pirates. Again, we get to now the men and women doing their best to ensure safety at sea: A commander who feels the burden on his shoulders, a pretty young lady working a machine gun. And again, we can identify with these guys, “one of us”, out there to make things safer for commercial shipping, to counter the threat of the pirates.

Military power against small skiffs

It is until here that this documentary is not very different from so many others. The western perspective – our perspective – nicely painted and emotionally charged. And it is here where “Pirate Hunting”, a Netflix-piece that may appear like one of these martial propaganda shows, turns into a surprisingly deep and based, intelligent and balanced piece of TV. It does what so many others do not even attempt: It tries to tell the story of the opponent.

A Failed State´s Perspective

We switch to a pirate boss living in the Somali pirate “capital” of Eyl. I propose you, dear reader, check out Google Earth and zoom in on Eyl. You can clearly see the poverty, the desperation there from outer space. Fishing boats – rotting – scattered around on the beach. Futile. A story, often heard, but in this documentary briefly, but sobring brutally told: The pirate, a former fisherman, explains the nature of their business. How it came into existence. And why it flourishes.

Much appreciated: Background info

With international trawling fleets arriving from Asia and the European Union recklessly and illegally plundering their fishing grounds, a whole reef once bristling with Tuna and other fish, now empty and dead. Local fishermen run over by those big ships, their small nets – costing a fortune, basis of their income – cut and destroyed. A life livelihood destroyed.

Cui Bono?

Destroyed by who? Well. By our hunger for fish. Our endless strive for profit. For cheap resources. Taken from the weak. Somalia, a failed state. A neverending war, fueled by our weapons, a once proud nation abandoned by the international community. Fishermen turned into pirates. Who cashes in on the ransom profits? The pirates, of course, but who makes the real money?

Who cashes in on piracy?

“Pirate Hunting” shows the big dilemma: Civilian shipping companies who do not have any alternative but to arm their crews or hire mercenaries, the military that is caught in a cat-and-mouse game with a sheer endless queue of hopeless and desperate pirates willing to risk everything to make a living. And now the big surprise: Netflix dives even deeper. We are shown the lawyers and managers of big insurance companies based in London and elsewhere who cash in on the pirate threat. Turnover increase by 30 to 50 per cent. Big money to be made these days.

Is there a future worth living for?

Is anyone interested in ending the ordeal of both seamen passing the Gulf in anxiety and the poor Somalis who have nothing to aim for but to put themselves in the service of local pirate warlords to earn their living. I was surprised about the brutal openness and truth, about the totally unvarnished crude reality, honest as it is, shown by this documentary. Where “Captain Philips” is a good start and “Pirates of Somalia” is even better, this great Netflix documentary shouldn´t be missed if you are interested in this topic.

My overall assessment is 9 out of 10 points.

You may also be interested in these related articles:

Movie Review “Pirates of Somalia”

Pirates, passion and poetry: “Black Sails” is a masterpiece!

All movie and book reviews