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Somalia: Pirates or protectors?

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The devastating Somali civil war since 1991 forced the Somali marine and fisheries sector to an abrupt collapse and almost all Somali fisheries activities shut down. The vessels of the Somali national fishing fleet were abducted and have never been returned. It is estimated that at least 200,000 people lost their jobs and the Somali fishing communities are still struggling to recover.

However, illegal fishing by foreign fleets and the more serious nuclear and toxic waste dumping from the industrialised world pose since then an environmental, socio-economic and ecological threat, which is unparalleled.

Very sophisticated factory-style fishing-vessels, which were designed for distant-water fishing and travel from faraway countries, whose harbours are thousands of miles away from Somalia and whose own fisheries resources are either under tight legal protection or already drastically overexploited, poured into the unprotected Somali waters.

They are in search of high-priced tuna, mackerel, swordfish, grouper, emperor, snapper, shark and of course the other valuable species in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. With impunity they rob rock-lobster and shrimps for the tables of the wealthiest in this world, and dolphins, sea turtles and sea-cucumbers for the deranged tastes of the Far East. They have diminished the extraordinary population of dugong to near extinction.

Their task is solely oriented toward short-term gains, knowing the ecological limits, since Somalia does not only experience political but also resource displacement. Besides civil strife and outright war, the massive foreign fishing piracy, bringing criminal poaching and wanton destruction of the Somali marine resources for the last 19 years, may be one of the most damaging factors for the country, economically, environmentally and security-wise.

While biased UN resolutions, big power orders and news reports continue to condemn the hijackings of merchant ships by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, pirate fishing was and is ignored. Why are the UN resolutions, NATO orders and EU decrees to invade the Somali seas persistently failing to include the protection of the Somali marine resources from IUU violations in the same waters?

If a response to both piracy menaces would be balanced and fair, these condemnations would have been justified. But though the European Union (EU), Russia, Japan, India, Egypt and Yemen and others are all in on the anti-piracy campaign, they are only concentrating on the safety of merchant ships; at the same time, they cover up and protect their own illegal fishing activities.

Not only is this outrageous fishing piracy disregarded, but the illegal foreign marine poachers are being encouraged to continue their loot, as none of the current resolutions, orders and decrees refer to the blatant IUU fishing, which now continues unabated along the Somali coasts.

THE IUU MENACE AND FISH LAUNDERING PRACTICE


IUU (Illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing is a serious global problem; it does not respect national boundaries or sovereignty, it puts unsustainable pressure on stocks, marine life and habitats; it undermines labour standards and distorts markets.

According to Mr Mohammed Waldo, a Somali specialist working with ECOTERRA International, IUU fishing is detrimental to the wider marine ecosystem because it flouts rules designed to protect the marine environment, which includes restrictions to harvest juveniles, closes spawning grounds and demands gear modification designed to minimise by-catch of non-target species. This negligence, he says, has impacted on the country in several ways – the given outright theft of an invaluable protein source from some of the world’s poorest people and the ruining of the livelihoods of almost all legitimate fishermen; incursions by trawlers into the inshore areas reserved for artisanal fishing; risk of collision with local fishing boats; destruction of fishing gear and deaths of fishermen.

It is estimated that the worldwide value of IUU catches stands at US$4 to $9 billion, with a large part of it from sub-Sahara Africa, particularly Somalia; IUU activities practice fish-catch laundering through mother-ship factories, uncontrolled transshipment and re-supply at sea. With these means allowing vessels to remain at sea for months, refuelling, re-supplying and rotating their crew, IUU fishing vessels never need to enter ports because they transfer their catches onto transport ships.

Illegally caught fish and other marine products are laundered by mixing the loot with legally caught fish on board of the transport vessels. Fish-catch laundering, which generates hundreds of millions dollars in the black market, is no less criminal than money laundering, but is not yet punished. Sea ports used for Somali fish laundering includes harbours in the Seychelles, Mauritius, Kenya (Kiunga, Mombasa) and the Maldives.

As the EU closed much of its fishing grounds for five to 15 years to allow for fish regeneration, as Asia overfished its seas, as the international demand for nutritious marine products increased and as the fears of a worldwide food shortage grew, the rich, uncontrolled and unprotected Somali seas became the target of the illegal fishing fleets of many nations.

Surveys by UN, Russian and Spanish assessors just before the collapse of the President Barre regime in 1991 estimated that at least 200,000 tons of fish per year could be harvested sustainably by both artisanal and industrial fisheries, but this has now become the looting target of the international fishing racket. Australian scientists put this figure to at least 300,000 tons.

THE ORIGIN OF SOMALI SEA PIRACY


Mr Waldo, who keeps a close watch of his country, traces the origin of sea piracy and pirate fishing in Somalia back to 1991 when the Siad Barre regime fell, resulting into the disintegration of the Somali navy and coastguard services.

‘Following severe draughts in 1973/74 and 1986, tens of thousands of nomads, whose livestock were wiped out by the draughts, were re-settled along the villages on the long, 3,300 km Somali coast,’ says the analyst. The resettled groups were developed into large fishing communities whose livelihoods depended mainly on inshore fishing, as well as the processing of the offshore catch.

From the early beginnings of the civil war in Somalia (as early as 1988) illegal fishing trawlers started to trespass and fish in Somali waters, including in the 12-nautical mile inshore artisanal fishing waters. The poaching vessels encroached on the local fishermen’s grounds, competing for the abundant rock-lobster and high value pelagic fish in the warm, up-swelling 60km deep shelf along the tip of the Horn of Africa.

ECOTERRA International and Waldo describe the deadly events that were to follow in the war torn country thus: ‘The piracy war between local fishermen and the IUU ventures started here. Local fishermen documented cases of trawlers pouring boiling water on the fishermen in canoes, their nets cut or destroyed, smaller boats crushed, killing all the occupants, and other abuses suffered as they tried to protect their national fishing turf.’ ECOTERRA International has many well documented cases that fishing nets provided by the emergency funds from the international community to ease the disaster of 1992/3 were wiped from the coast by foreign trawlers just days after they were provided to the impoverished fishing communities of Somalia.

Later, the fishermen armed themselves. In response, many of the foreign fishing vessels armed themselves too and with more sophisticated weapons and began to overpower the Somali fishermen again. It was only a matter of time before the local fishermen reviewed their tactics and modernised their hardware. This escalation and cycle of warfare has been going on from 1991 to the present. It is now developing into fully a fledged, two-pronged illegal fishing and sea piracy conflicts, which in addition soon will become politicised and radicalised if nothing stops the foreign impact.

According to the High Seas Task Force (HSTF), there were over 800 IUU fishing vessels in Somali waters at one time in 2005, taking advantage of Somalia’s inability to police and control its own waters and fishing grounds. The fish-poachers, which are estimated take out more than US$450 million in fish value from Somalia annually, neither compensate the local fishermen nor pay taxes and royalties and they do not respect any management, conservation and environmental regulations – norms associated with regulated fishing.

It is believed that the IUU fish-catch by vessels linked to the EU alone takes out of the country more than five times its aid to Somalia.

Illegal foreign fishing trawlers which have been fishing in Somalia since 1991 are mostly owned by EU and Asian fishing companies – Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Russia, Britain, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India – as well as Yemen, Egypt and Kenya among others.

Illegal vessels captured at the Somali coast by Somali vigilant groups during the years from 1991 to 2009 included Taiwanese trawlers Yue Fa No. 3 and Chian Yuein No. 232, FV Shuen Kuo No. 11; FV Airone, FV De Giosa Giuseppe and FV Antonietta Madre – three Italian vessels registered in Italy; FV Bahari Hindi –Kenyan-registered but owned and managed by Marship Co. of Mombasa., Russian-owned Gorizont-1 and Gorizont-2, Chinese-owned Tianyu No. 8 and Korean-owned Dong Wong 168, Korean-owned FV Beira 3, FV Beira 7 and FV Maputo 9, Greek owned GRECO 1 and GRECO 2, Spanish fishing boats Alakrana and Playa de Bakio, Taiwanese fishing boat Win Far 161, Egyptian fishing boats Ahmed Samar and Momtaz-1 among many others.

A number of Italian-registered SHIFCO vessels, Korean and Ukrainian trawlers, Indian, Egyptian and Yemeni boats were also captured by the said vigilant groups and fines of different levels paid for their release by their criminal owners.

Many Spanish seiners, frequent violators of the Somali fishing grounds, managed to evade capture at various times. The Basque fishing fleet is specifically cunning and now well armed. At least 19 Kenya trawlers have been illegally fishing along the Somali territorial waters, contrary to the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) instruments.

Waldo, the Somali analyst, says that following the collapse of Somali government in 1991, arrangements with Somali warlords and mafia-like companies were formed abroad for bogus fishing licensing purposes. He points out that jointly owned mafia-like Somali-European companies set up in Europe and Arabia worked closely with Somali warlords who issued fake fishing ‘licenses’ to virtually any foreign fishing pirate willing to plunder the Somali marine resources.

The UK and Italy-based African and Middle East Trading Co. (AFMET), PALMERA and UAE-based SAMICO companies are singled out as some of the most corrupt groups, issuing counterfeit licenses as well as fronting for the warlords who shared the loot.

Waldo avers that among technical advisors to the Mafia-like companies – AFMET, PALMIRA & SAMICO – were supposedly reputable firms like MacAllister Elliot & Partners of the UK, while warlords General Mohamed Farah Aidiid, General Mohamed Hersi Morgan, Osman Atto and ex-President Ali Mahdi Mohamed, who officially and in writing gave authority to AFMET to issue fishing ‘licenses’. Local fishermen and marine experts simply call this a ‘deal between thieves’. The analyst submits that AFMET alone ‘licensed’ 43 seiners (mostly Spanish) at US$30,000 per 4-month season. Spanish Pesca Nova was ‘licensed’ by AFMET while French Cobracaf group got theirs from SAMICO at a much discounted rate of US$15,000 per season per vessel.

In October 1999 the Puntland Administration gave carte blanche to yet another Mafia group known as PIDC, registered in Oman, to fish, issue licenses and to police the Puntland coast.

‘PIDC in turn contracted the UK based Hart Group International and together they pillaged the Somali fishing grounds with vengeance, making over US$20 million profit within two years,’ Waldo discloses.

The deal was to split the profits but PIDC failed to share the spoils with the people behind the Puntland administration, resulting in a revocation of their licenses.

Fisheries experts say that tuna catches in the South-Western Indian Ocean fell by as much as 30 per cent last year as pirates blocked access to some of the world's richest tuna waters off Somalia.

Reports indicate that, the Somali pirates threaten the tuna fishing industry, which is worth up to US$6 billion across the Indian Ocean region.

France and Spain, which both base fleets in the Seychelles, expected to haul nearly two-thirds of the year's catch off Somalia between August and November 2008. About 50 trawlers use Victoria port, through which up to 350,000 tonnes of tuna are handled each year. But catches have suffered for two consecutive years as stocks fall.

Seychellois fisheries experts say foreign currency earnings have fallen as a result of the dwindling tuna catch, hurting hopes for an economic recovery in the debt-laden archipelago. In the Seychelles, tuna and related industries – the re-export of fuel to vessels, port services, electricity and water for vessels – account for up to 40 per cent of the foreign exchange earned. The financial implications for the Seychelles are hard to assess, as the tuna fishing industry is shrouded in secrecy.

The Seychelles is paid per tonne of fish landed for port facilities – an important source of foreign exchange for the archipelago. Reduced catches mean fewer calls to port. From August to November, the waters of Somalia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nautical miles (nm) EEZ) and beyond hold some of the planet's richest stocks of yellowfin tuna. 5 In 2006 there were hundreds of illegal fishing boats in Somali waters at any one time, mainly chasing tuna. Somali pirates turned to hijacking to stop the foreign fishing vessels destroying their marine resources as well as their small boats and equipment. In 2008 Somali pirates attacked tuna boats at least three times, leading to one ransom of over US$1 million.

The fines and ransoms earned then simply increased the appetite of criminal Somali groups for hunting other ships.

The notorious sea piracy of merchant ships is unlikely to be resolved without simultaneously attending to the fraudulent IUU fishing.

PIRACY INCIDENTS 2008/2009 


As 2009 drew to close, it was clear that there is no end to Somali piracy and there is no end to the solutions being proposed. The total number of piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the East coast of Somalia in 2009 overtook the figure for all of 2008, according to statistics from the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre. In 2008 there were 111 incidents, compared with 114 attempted attacks in 2009; of these attacks, there have been 42 successful hijackings in 2009 compared with the 142 vessels hijacked 2008. 

However, 2009 saw a surge in activity off the east coast of Somalia, with 43 attacks by December 2009 compared to 19 in the whole of 2008.There was also an increase in the number of vessels fired at in these regions, from 39 instances in 2008, to 54 cases by December. In addition, the number of crew-members taken hostage is set to rise if the trend continues. In 2008 a total of 815 crew members were held captive, while the total number of hostages taken in these regions during 2009 already stands at 753. 

A total of 32 vessels were hijacked by Somali pirates in the first nine months of 2009, with 533 crew members taken hostage. A further 86 vessels were fired upon and as of 1 December 2009, 14 vessels with over 275 crew held hostage, were still under negotiation. Nigeria remains another area of high concern. While only 20 attacks were officially reported to IMB in 2009, information received from other sources indicates that at least 50 per cent of attacks on vessels, mostly related to the oil industry, have gone unreported. 

A list of recent piracy incidents and negotations appears at the foot of this article.

SEAFARERS’ WELFARE


When acts of piracy occur, the public attention is mainly focused on the heinous manner of the attackers and on the question of how the hijack will be resolved. The ship owners on their part are mostly concerned with the means of rescuing the crew, the vessel and the cargo. 

Therefore the concern and the anxiety of many abruptly ends the moment the vessel is successfully rescued or simply released. But we forget that the end of hijack ordeal is to crew members the start of traumatic nightmares that they may live with for the rest of their lives. 

The question is: Are the world, the shipping industry and the welfare lobbies giving enough attention to the plight of seafarers who happen to fall into the hands of pirates? Sadly NO! The following are some of the challenges facing such crew: 

(a) The after effects of attacks on the mariners
(b) The frequent abandonment of many of the hostages and the ships by the ship owners 
(c) The neglecting of the affected seafarers by some ship operators and flag states in terms of wages and benefits. 

All stakeholders should seriously reflect on these issues as well as the psychological needs of these unfortunate seafarers. 

For instance there is no logic at all for denying the seafarers their entire pay and benefits for period they remained captive. 

I would also expect that the seafarers’ families should be briefed and provided for whenever a pirate attack or hostage taking occurs. The seafarers and families members need constant assurance about ongoing efforts being made to have them released while in the meantime their families should be given financial support. 

The seafarers should have a long-term medical care long after surviving a pirate attack; traumatic events like being held hostage affect different people in different ways. Some conditions resulting from a pirate attack may manifest significantly later, hence provisions should exist to address these situations. 

It is worrying to see that there is very little data on what happens to seafarers after they have endured a pirate attack. Some of them definitely continue working; others might opt out of the profession following the ordeal, while others might take a break for some time to recover. 

The fact that there is no data on survivors of pirate attacks is a clear pointer to a lack of concern for them; this scenario should change. There have been several studies that have looked into effects of traumatic events on police, fire-fighters, military persons, and others, yet little literature exists on the psychological effects of the hostage-taking of the seafarers and specifically on the aspects of piracy. 

In the light of this, there is a great need for players in the industry and welfare groups with means to carry out a clinical study of the psychological impact of pirate attacks on seafarers. The study should take into account the unique nature of seafaring including its multicultural nature. 

The results of such a study will help determine how best to care for seafarers who have survived a pirate attack. 

Truly the International Maritime Organization and the industry’s guidelines exist for preventing and suppressing pirates. But the same lack guidelines for caring for seafarers who have survived a pirate attack, other than guidance for debriefing seafarers for military or prosecutorial purposes. 

Some shipping companies have provided an extensive array of studies and care for their crews following a piracy incident, which is very encouraging. Lessons from such shipping companies on the care of the crew can greatly assist in the process of preparing harmonised international guidelines.

HAZARDOUS WASTE DUMPING 


Another major problem closely connected with the IUU fishing is industrial, toxic and nuclear waste dumping in both offshore and onshore areas of Somalia. Somali fishermen in various regions of the country have for a very long time complained to the international community about waste dumping and other ecological disasters. 

These crises of waste dumping, warlords/mafia deals and the loud complaints of the Somali fishing community and civil society have been known to UN agencies and international organisations all along since the late 1980s, when Mustafa Tolba, then UNEP director general, helped ecologists not to be targeted by the dumping mafia, by not revealing the sources of thorough investigations of cases, where murder was implicit. 

The UN agencies and organisations, which have been fully aware of these crises, often expressed concern and lamentations, but – except for Mustafa Tolba – never took any positive action against these criminal activities. 

Waldo feels that the UN agencies apparently failed to inform the UN Security Council of this tragedy before it passed its resolutions 1816,1815,1814,1846 and 1838 and 1851 on sea piracy in the years up to 2008. It must be noted that there is no mention of the illegal fishing piracy, hazardous waste dumping or the plight of the Somali fishermen in any of these UN Security Council resolutions. 

The threat of toxic waste dumping, pirate fishing by foreign vessels and over-fishing of Somali stocks could adversely, and perhaps permanently, affect the ecosystem of the entire region. Due to non-policing of Somali waters, many foreign vessels indiscriminately pollute by dumping hazardous waste in the waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. European nations have been dumping toxic waste and radio-active medical waste into offshore Somali waters now for several years. 

Those identified as perpetrators include an Italian firm (Progresso) and a Swiss firm (Achair Partners) but there are many others and numerous unidentified cases.

These cases were ‘justified’ by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) recently, by saying that these firms had supposedly entered into contracts with Somali government officials to dump into the Somali waters, but it is obvious that no Somali can negotiate a hazardous waste disposal contract within the country’s sovereign borders in the midst of war and instability. 

Achair Partners and Progresso were set up specifically as fictitious companies by larger industrial firms to dispose of hazardous waste. These are violations of international treaties in the export of hazardous waste to another country, in particular like Somalia. 

Reports indicate that every month a number of local people die or suffer from the effects of such dumping within the coastal communities. For instance, at Eel-Dheer district of Galgadud region in central Somalia, dark blue long barrels were washed ashore in April 1992, which turned out to Be filled with an oily liquid.

When samples were taken from them and investigated, the analysis indicated that they contained deadly nuclear waste. Similar incidents happened at Adale district in 1996. 

In 1998, a massive fish die-off was recorded, affecting all fish species, which were washed ashore in large quantities along the coastline from Mogadishu to Warsheekh – a coastal stretch of 45km. Fish and humans dying are all consequences of the hazardous waste dumping in Somali waters. All over the world, countries have policies to deal with such events, but in Somalia – the country with the longest coastline of any African nation – it is unfortunate that there is no basic strategy to deal with these matters. Somalia currently has no provision to deal with potential oil spills or other marine disasters and has no capability to monitor and control her coastal waters and, if necessary, provide sea search or rescue operations. 

Somalia is recognised as one of the five richest fishing zones of the world and previously unexploited. It is now being ravaged and poisoned, unchecked by any authority, and if it continues to be fished at the level it is at present, fish stocks are in danger of being depleted. Secondly, the Somali people are being denied any income from this resource due to their inability to properly license and police the zone and the UN as well as the naval armada is turning a blind eye to the activities of illegal foreign fishing vessels whose operators are criminals from their home countries. In any other circumstance the persecution and punishment of the illegal dumpers and poachers would be enforced by the international courts of law – but Somalia is left to be a free for all and to die. 

Justice and fairness have been overlooked in these twin problems of pirate fishing and sea piracy. 

It is likewise disturbing to hear that President Issaia Afeworki of Eritrea and President Berlusconi of Italy secretly passed an agreement in 2005 so that Italy could dump 136 tonnes of nuclear waste in Eritrea in exchange for US$12 million. It is reported that the extremely dangerous material was dumped in Edage and Twalet in Massawa region. It is also disheartening to realise that even Iran has dumped 680 tonnes of wastes in Eritrea, in exchange for oil and money.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS


The EU, NATO, Chinese, Russian and US Navies can, of course, annihilate and obliterate the fishermen-turned-pirates and their supporting coastal communities – but that would be an illegal, criminal act.

Though it may temporarily reduce the intensity of the sea piracy, it would not result in a long-term solution for the problem. 

The risk of loss of life of foreign crews and the impact of a major oil spill would be a ecological catastrophe of gigantic proportions for the whole coastal regions of East Africa and the Gulf of Aden.

In their current operations, the Somali fishermen pirates genuinely believe that they are protecting their fishing grounds (both 200-mile territorial and EEZ waters). They also feel that they are exacting justice and compensation for the marine resources stolen and the destroyed ecosystem by the IUUs. And their thinking is shared and fully supported by the coastal communities, whose protectors and providers they became. 

The matter needs careful review and better understanding of the local environment. The piracy is based on local problems and it requires a number of comprehensive joint local and external partner’s approaches. 

Firstly, the practical and lasting solution lies in jointly addressing the twin problems of the sea piracy and the pirate fishing, the root cause of the crisis. 

Secondly, the national institutional crisis should be reviewed along with the piracy issues.

Thirdly, local institutions should be involved and supported, particularly by helping them to form coastguards, the provision of training and coastguard facilities. These may sound like asking too much of the UN agencies. But we should ask what it means to those who paid tens of millions dollars of ransom and to their loved ones held hostage for months. 

Fourthly, a joint Somali and UN oversight agency – like at present the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) does it for the Somali airspace – should be considered for the Somali waters. The problem of piracy will not be completely eradicated unless there is a restoration of stability on the ground and there are effective institutions and structures in Somalia that can address the piracy issue in its totality.

ACTIONS NEEDED


– Immediate action by the international armada of navies against illegal dumping and
   illegal fishing in and around the Somali waters
 
– Revision of Somali fisheries and environmental protection legislation and institutions
 
– Strengthening decentralized governance and legal structures in Somalia
 
– Enlisting the support of influential Somali political, business and civic groups
 
– Rehabilitation and development of infrastructure in Somali coastal communities 
 
– Development of coastal income generation possibilities and the fishing industry in
   Somalia 
 
– Development of a national legislation on piracy for all Somalia
 
– Establishment of Somali Law Enforcement Authorities (navy, coastguard) 
 
– Support of the pastoralists and proper range management in Somalia 
 
– Eliminating the illegal arms trade and human trafficking from, to and through
   Somalia
 
– Establishment of a regional action plan against IUU fishing and dumping of toxic or
   nuclear waste
 
– Establishment of RCICPs (Regional coordination and information centre on piracy).
 

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