Somalia Suffers from Illegal Fishing and Toxic Waste Dumping

Published on 17th September 2019

Somalia’s coast has become home to illegal fishing and toxic wastes. It’s difficult to expose every illegal maritime activity in Somalia waters but I would like to shed some light on the lucid theft and toxic wastes which foreigners dump on Somalia’s seashore time and again.

Somalia is not the only nation-state in this planet that is a victim to the illegal fishing and the waste dumping, but for certain Somalia is more vulnerable to these threats and we inherit the vilest aftermath.

To put it in a nutshell, illegal fishing is inherently a global phenomenon as sea-food becomes one of the most traded food products around the globe. The countries most vulnerable to illegal fishing are those with weak governance systems and insufficient capacity to patrol their waters.

Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa (3,300 kilometers long) and is home to a fertile patch for tuna, sardines, mackerel, and other lucrative species of seafood, including lobsters and sharks. Somalia’s rule of law and enforcement became weaker after the disintegration of the country into clan-based fiefdoms, turning its coast into “free-for-all.’’

Taking advantage of the lack of a central government in Somalia, Illegal fishers from the world corners moved to Somalia`s water territories to exploit and steal the marine resources of Somalia. What’s is more, mercenaries from the industrial world dump toxic and nuclear waste in Somalia’s shore.

Foreign trawlers armed with latest munitions aggressively deny fishers to get access to the sea and this prevents resident fishers from fishing in areas where the foreign trawlers are operating. The locals are less likely to identify the nationalities of these thieves since they fly spurious flags to lead them astray. Moreover, the trawlers endanger the lives of the fishers and destroy their equipment. The small-scale fishers are physically and economically victims of these foreigner trawlers.

Undoubtedly, the main impelling force that inspired pirates to emerge was illegal fishing. The illegal trawlers use prohibited fishing methods like drifts, dynamiting, breaking coral reefs and this results in lots of dead fish to float near the shores.

Before the second emergence of Somali pirates, I spent a couple of months of summer vacation in a village which lies on the Indian Ocean. During the night-time, I used to see lots of ships arriving at the near-seashore and resemble a big-beautiful city on the sea with many lights. Shortly after the emergence of pirates, let-alone the cargo ships en route to the world, illegal trawlers have distanced. But now, as fishermen tell, trawlers licensed by Somalia state members operate in the near-shore deliberately destroying fishing nets and practicing massive trawling even in the day-time. 

Hassan Ali Hersi, a small-scale fisherman said in an interview with Aljazeera English: “fishing is not profitable as it used to be. If we want to make any good catch, we have to go long distances and illegal fishing boats often destroy our nets.’’

In December 2018, Somalia issued a large number of fishing licenses to Chinese operators. The agreement with the Somali government allows them to have armed guards on board, and this has raised concerns. These are threatening the lives and the livelihood of fishermen.

According to a UN report, the illegal vessels steal $300 million worth of seafood from Somalia’s coastline each year leading to a reduced catch, unemployment and environmental degradation. The illegal vessels are mainly from Italy, Pakistan, India, Korea, Yemen, Iran, Spain, Taiwan and Japan. The international navies in Somalia waters claim to guard the Somali coast but on the contrary, they are engaged in the exploitation of the sea sources.

Former UN special envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, has repeatedly mentioned that his organization has reliable information that European and Asian companies dump wastes -including nuclear waste in Somalia and the region at large.

In Somalia, nuclear waste dumping started in the early 1980s. Millions of tons of waste had been exported to Somalia but it rose steeply after the collapse of the central government of Somalia. The hazardous waste dumped along Somalia’s coast comprised uranium radioactive waste, lead, cadmium, mercury, industrial, hospital, chemical, leather treatment and other toxic waste in containers or leaking barrels. The dumpers were European countries predominantly Spain, Italy, Greece, United Kingdom and others. The Tsunami of 2004 brought much of the evidence on the shores and exposed hazardous waste deposits in villages along the Somalia coast. This had health and environmental problems.

Extremely bizarre diseases like cancer, skin disease, mouth ulcers, and respiratory infections have gone through the roof these years in Somalia particularly villages along the Somali coast, and this can likely relate to these toxics as many UN reports cited. Birth defects and congenital limb defects have also emerged. Alas, defenselessly and helplessly, Somalis are keeping eyes on this intergenerational peril in a deafening silence.

I watched a clip where Somali teenagers were playing on barrels which were leftovers of the nuclear toxics dumped along the Somalia coast. What is devastating is, that the juveniles had no understanding about the hazards of these barrels. 

Somalia still is struggling to regain its power to control its sovereignty, but when you look how Somalis are seeking the way-out, it seems that the dream of having a strong government to come up is in the middle of nowhere.

In fact, Somalia’s sea is too vast for surveillance, thus, efforts to clamp down on the illegal fishing and waste dumping rely on maritime forces with aircraft and patrol vessels to monitor, detect and respond illicit fishing and toxic dumping across the ocean. This is expensive even for the richest nations in the world, let-alone a failed nation like Somalia.

It would be better the Somali government to track every vessel which enters Somalia’s territorial water and even those with the legal licenses by making vessels and their locations identifiable. This can only be done when a strong and functioning government that enforces the rule of law is in place. To tackle problems as far-reaching and complex as illegal fishing and waste dumping, a comprehensive national and global system of enforcement is needed.

By Mohamed Aidarus M.

Email: [email protected]   

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