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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Somalia, piracy and "illegal" fishing - another side of the story

Interesting piece here on some other forms of unlawful activity taking place off Somalia. But this time, it's foreigners who are the bad actors:
Questions are being asked as to why a sealane only a decade ago was relatively untroubled has suddenly become one of the most risky in the world for shipping lines.

For many Somalis, especially marine experts and costal dwellers, it all began when foreign fishing boats started invading the country's fishing grounds after the fall of the Somali government in the early 1990s. When the various rebel groups that had toppled the government failed to fill the vacuum and instead turned on each other, an opportunity arose for foreign vessels to invade the country's territorial waters and marine economic zone to fish for diverse species.

The unscrupulous foreigners were simply taking advantage of the confusion created by the civil war to catch whatever they wanted. Their vessels were widely reportedly to be using universally prohibited fishing equipment, including nets with very small mesh sizes and sophisticated underwater lighting systems to lure fish to their traps.

Somali coastal dwellers have been crying for help to stop this fishing for nearly a decade, but nothing has been done.

"The trawlers began to come closer to the coast - looking for lucrative fish species - triggering direct confrontation between the foreign vessels and Somali inshore fishermen," Omar Abdulle Hayle, a Mogadishu based fishery expert says....
...The local fishing community's resentment led to a quest for revenge. Eventually, some youth tried to chase away the foreign trawlers using speedboats and guns. The intruders promptly changed their tactics in the face of this challenge. They reportedly sought licenses to fish along the coast from local warlords who readily supplied them with "permits."

This gave the trawlers a new lease of life as they could continue operating without fear of the local youth. Lately, the youth's attempt to scare the trawlers away, whether "permitted" or not, have met stiff resistance with the intruders responding with firearms and even pressurised hoses to capsize the smaller boats.

"Our boys lost hope when they realised that the trawlers' licensees supplied them with armed militias to overpower opponents," said Mr Bakari.

It is widely believed that the local youths' frustration was eventually turned from the foreign fishing vessels to commercial boats. Armed with speedboats and an array of weapons, the youth realised cargo ships were soft targets. Until eight months ago, the occasional capture of a ship was their only success story. Even then, they simply released it after securing some small payments as ransom. Lately, however, the youth's random requests have grown from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands...
..."It is a pure act of hypocrisy by the IMB, IMO and others to issue a warning on piracy along the Somali coast and suggest strong action while they remained silent when foreign vessels were exploiting Somali fish resources illegally and even dumping toxic waste in the country."

East and Southern African countries, including Somalia's new Transitional Federal Government have called for a stop to the piracy. Their concern is justified because piracy along the Somali coast can directly affect their imports, exports and even tourism.
How many wrongs make a right again?

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