Somalia Piracy: The Two Faces

Published on 27th January 2009

The shipping piracy & the invasion of the Somali seas

 

Much of the world’s attention is currently focused on the Somali sea lanes. The navies of big and small powers are converging on the Somali waters in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. The recent hijacking of the Saudi oil tanker and Ukrainian MV Faina, laden with arms for Kenya, off the coast of Somalia by Somali pirates captured world media attention. War has been rightly declared against this notorious new shipping piracy. But the older and mother of all piracies in Somalia - illegal foreign fishing piracy - in the Somali seas is ignored, underlining the international community’s misunderstanding and partiality of the underlying interdependent issues involved and the impracticality of the proposed actions to find ways to effectively resolve the piracy threat.

 

A chorus of calls for tougher international action resulted in multi-national and unilateral Naval stampede to invade and take control of the Somali territorial and EEZ waters. The UN Security Council, a number of whose members may have ulterior motives to indirectly protect their illegal fishing fleets in the Somali Seas, passed Resolutions 1816 and 1838, giving a license to any nation who wants a piece of the Somali marine cake. Both NATO and the EU issued Orders to the same effect and Russia, Japan, India, Malaysia, Egypt, Yemen and anyone else who could afford an armed boat and its crew on the sea for a few months joined the fray.

 

An Oil tanker Captured by Somali Pirates (inset)

For years, attempts made to address piracy in the world’s seas through UN resolutions have failed to pass largely because many of the member nations felt such resolutions would infringe greatly on their sovereignty and security and have been unwilling to give up control and patrol of their own waters. UN Resolutions 1816 and 1838, which were objected to by a number of West African, Caribbean and South American nations, were then tailored to apply to Somalia only, which had no strong representation at the United Nations to demand amendments to protect its sovereignty. Somali civil society objections to the Draft Resolutions were ignored.

 

This massive “Global Armada” invasion is carried out on the pretext to protect the busy shipping trade routes of the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean from Somali shipping piracy, which threatens to disrupt these international lifeline seaways. While there are two equally nasty, criminal, inhuman and exploiting gangs of pirates in Somalia, only one of them is publicized by the western media: the Somali shipping pirates attacking merchant shipping in these sea lanes, where the illegal poachers are also actively operating.

 

The illegal fishing piracy

 

The other more damaging economically, environmentally and security-wise is the massive illegal foreign fishing piracy that has been poaching and destroying Somali marine resources for the last 18 years following the collapse of the Somali regime in 1991. With its usual double standards when such matters concern Africa, the “international community” comes out in force to condemn and declare war against the Somali fishermen pirates while discreetly protecting the numerous Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing fleets from Europe, Arabia and the Far East.

 

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. If response to both piracy menaces was balanced and fair, these condemnations would have been justified. European Union (EU), Russia, Japan, India, Egypt and Yemen are all on this piracy campaign, mainly to cover up and protect their illegal fishing fleets in the Somali waters.

 

Why is the other key IUUs fishing piracy ignored? Why do the UN Resolutions, NATO Orders and EU Decrees to invade the Somali seas fail to include the protection of the Somali marine resources from IUU violations? 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 apply to the IUUs, which can now freely fish in and violate the Somali seas. Somali fishermen can no longer scare away the IUUs for fear of being labeled pirates and attacked by the foreign navies unlawfully controlling the Somali waters. Even the traditional Somali trading dhows are in panic of being mistaken for pirates.

 

The IUU Menace and Fish Laundering Practice

 

There is no doubt IUU is a serious global problem. According to the High Seas Task Force (HSTF), IUU does not respect national boundaries or sovereignty. It puts unsustainable pressure on stocks, marine life, habitats, undermines labor standards and distorts markets. “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, closed spawning grounds and gear modification designed to minimize by-catch on non-target species….In so doing they steal an invaluable protein source from some of the world’s poorest people and ruin the livelihoods of some legitimate fishermen. Incursions by trawlers into the inshore areas reserved for artisanal fishing can result in collision with local fishing boats, destruction of fishing gear and deaths of fishermen” says HSTF. In its report, Closing the Net: Stopping Illegal Fishing on the High Seas, HSTF puts worldwide value of IUU catches at $4 to $9 billion, large part of it from Sub-Sahara Africa, particularly Somalia.

 

IUUs practice fish catch laundering through mother ship factories, transshipment and re-supply at sea. “This means that vessels can remain at sea for months, refueling, 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 are laundered by mixing with legally caught fish on board transport vessels”, writes HSTF. Apparently, fish laundering, which generates hundreds of millions dollars in the black market is not as criminal as money laundering! Countries used for Somali fish laundering include Seychelles, Mauritius and Maldives.

 

As EU closed much of its fishing waters for 5 to 15 years for fish regeneration; Asia over-fished its seas, international demand increases for nutritious marine products and as the fear of worldwide food shortage grows, the rich, uncontrolled and unprotected Somali seas became the target of the fishing fleets of many nations. Surveys by UN, Russian and Spanish assessors just before the collapse of the Barre Regime in 1991 estimated that 200,000 tones of fish a year could be caught by both artisanal and industrial fisheries and this is the objective of the international fishing racket

 

There is no doubt that the actions of the shipping pirates are reprehensible. They must be stopped. But the notorious shipping piracy is unlikely to be resolved without simultaneously attending to the fraudulent IUU piracy, too.

 

The Origin of the Somali Piracy War

 

The origin of the two piracies goes back to 1992 after the fall of the Gen. Siyad Barre regime and the disintegration of the Somali Navy and Police Coastguard services. Following severe draughts in 1974 and 1986, tens of thousands of nomads, whose livestock were wiped out by the draughts, were re-settled all along the villages on the long, 3300kms Somali coast. They developed into large fishing communities whose livelihood depended on inshore fishing. From the beginnings of the civil war in Somalia (as early as 1991/1992) illegal fishing trawlers started to trespass and fish in Somali waters, including the 12-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 60kms deep shelf along the tip of the Horn of Africa.

 

The piracy war between local fishermen and IUUs 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. Later, the fishermen armed themselves. In response, many of the foreign fishing vessels armed themselves with more sophisticated weapons and began to overpower the fishermen. It was only a matter of time before the local fishermen reviewed their tactics and modernized their hardware. This cycle of warfare has been going on from 1991 to the present. It is now developing into fully fledged, two-pronged illegal fishing and shipping piracy conflicts.

 

According to the High Seas Task Force (HSTF), there were over 800 IUUs 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 IUUs, which are estimated take out more than $450 million in fish value out of Somalia annually, neither compensate the local fishermen, pay tax, royalties nor do they respect any conservation and environmental regulations – norms associated with regulated fishing. It is believed that IUUs from the EU alone take out of the country more than five times the value of its aid to Somalia every year.

 

Illegal foreign fishing trawlers which have being 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, Yemen, Egypt and many others. Illegal vessels captured on the Somali coast by Somali fishermen during 1991 and 1999 included Taiwanese trawlers Yue Fa No. 3 and Chian Yuein No.232, FV Shuen Kuo No.11; MV Airone, MV De Giosa Giuseppe and MV Antonietta, all 3 Italian vessels registered in Italy; MV Bahari Hindi, Kenyan registered but owned and managed by Marship Co. of Mombasa. A number of Italian registered SHIFCO vessels, Korean and Ukrainian trawlers, Indian, Egyptian and Yemeni boats were also captured by fishermen and ransoms of different sizes paid for their release. Many Spanish seiners, frequent violators of the Somali fishing grounds, managed to evade capture at various times.

 

According to a report in the Daily Nation of October 14, 2004, even Kenyan registered fishing vessels are known to have participated in the rape of the Somali fishing grounds. In October 2004, Mr Andrew Mwangura, Kenya Coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program (SAP) asked the Kenya Government to help stop illegal fishing in Somalia. “Since Somalia has been without government for more than 11 years, Kenya trawlers have been illegally fishing along the country’s territorial waters contrary to the UNCLOS and the FAO instruments, he said. SAP further reported that 19 Kenyan registered fishing vessels also operated illegally in the Somalia waters.

 

In arrangements with Somali warlords, new companies were formed abroad for bogus fishing licensing purposes. Jointly owned mafia Somali-European companies set up in Europe and Arabia worked closely with Somali warlords who issued them fake fishing “licenses” to any foreign fishing pirate willing to plunder the Somali marine resources. UK and Italy based African and Middle East Trading Co. (AFMET), PALMERA and UAE based SAMICO companies were some of the corrupt vehicles issuing such counterfeit licenses as well as fronting for the warlords who shared the loot.

 

Among technical advisors to the Mafia companies – AFMET, PALMIRA & SAMICO - were supposedly reputable firms like MacAllister Elliot & Partners of the UK. Warlords Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidiid, Gen. Mohamed Hersi Morgan, Osman Atto and Ex-President Ali Mahdi Mohamed officially and in writing gave authority to AFMET to issue fishing “licenses”, which local fishermen and marine experts call it simply a “deal between thieves”. According to Africa Analysis of November 13, 1998, AFMET alone “licensed” 43 seiners (mostly Spanish, at $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 $15,000 per season per vessel.

 

Not to be outdone, in October 1999 Puntland Administration, gave carte blanche to another Mafia group known as PIDC, registered in Oman to fish, issue licenses and to police the Puntland coast. PIDC in turn contracted Hart Group of the UK and together they pillaged the Somali fishing grounds with vengeance, making over $20 million profit within two years. The deal was to split the profits but PIDC failed to share the spoils with Puntland administration, resulting in revocation of their licenses. Having reneged on their part of the deal, PIDC/Hart quit the country with their handsomely won chips.

 

...to be continued

 

By Mohamed Abshir Waldo

Mohammed Abshir Waldo waldo@todays.co.ke is Journalist as well as Consultant with Sandi Consulting & Associates

 


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