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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Somali piracy? "U.S. and international navies failing to protect seafarers from being kidnapped"


Of course the U.S. and other navies are to blame for "failing to protect seafarers from being kidnapped." Or so it is reported here:
Global shipping officials warned Wednesday that pirate attacks off Somalia's coast have spiraled to terrifying levels, with U.S. and international navies failing to protect seafarers from being kidnapped.

Somali pirates have abducted more than 100 crew members of various nationalities, often seizing them in international waters and spiriting them away to Somalian territory, said Capt. Pottengal Mukundan, director of the British-based International Maritime Bureau, a shipping security watchdog.

The attacks have increased despite the permanent presence of an international task force in the northern Indian Ocean that patrols the Somali coast in hopes of intercepting terrorists. U.S. destroyers are normally assigned to the task force and patrol in pairs.

"The figures are frightening and unacceptable because the pirates operate with impunity," Mukundan said at a maritime security conference. "If the navies fail to intervene, we fear the situation will get a lot worse before it ever gets better."
If the putative government of Somalia grants permission to go after pirates in its internal waters, or if international bodies recognize the right of hot pursuit into Somali waters or if shippers set up convoys and use escorts, piracy might diminish, too. But, as long as there is money to be made and reasonably low risk -- pirates will be out there.

The problem is exaggerated by the frequent captures of fishing boats and trawlers by "pirates" when those fishing vessels are illegally intruding in what should be recognized as Somali waters. Of the 9 ships captured or approached in recent days, 3 were fishing vessels. See here.

Much more on the Somali "fish war" issue here (fish war with Yemen), here (U.S. Navy asked to act as fishery patrol), and here (piracy and illegal fishing). Money quote from a link in that final post:
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....
Perhaps to some of the foreign fishing fleets, the ransom paid is akin to a licensing fee. But the point is that the pirates are not the only lawbreakers off Somalia and the situation is not as simple as it appears at first blush- at least with respect to offshore fishing boats.

Merchant shipping and UN WFP shipments - different story and one of greed and power for the clans controlling the pirates. This really is piracy without an excuse and it will lead to the deaths of thousands of Somalis if food cannot get through.

As for the U.S. --southern Somalia really is not on any of its vital sea lanes*- perhaps some of the African countries and their trading partners most impacted by the pirate activity would offer up some anti-pirate assistance, instead of trying to get others to do their work for them. I note that the countries lining the Strait of Malacca have taken this path - protecting their own interests and sovereignty by using their own forces to patrol their waters (albeit with some financial and other assistance from countries with interests in a safe passage through the Strait).

In my view, the merchant ship owners also need to do a little better job of working together to protect themselves with convoys and other safety measures. The fishing boat owners who have intentionally violated international law are the ones who have placed their crews in danger and do not deserve to benefit from international intervention- they should be paying fines and penalties for robbing the Somalis of fish stocks.

If "international" forces are going to act against the pirates of Somalia, they also need to act against the "fish poachers" and restore integrity to the Somali EEZ and territorial waters.

The seafarers manning the illegal fishing vessels are really at the bottom of the food chain in this, some of them put at risk by greedy owners. Innocent seafarers, like the Danes on Danica White seem to me to be innocent victims of a "protecton" racket gone crazy.


*Anyone see "the waters off southern Somalia" in the list of vital sea lanes provided here?

UPDATE: Just a reminder of fishery patrol work being mislabled off Somalia's Puntland area:
4. SOMALIA: Three fishing vessels originally reported as being hijacked by pirates off the Puntland region of NE Somalia on 02 May were actually arrested by Puntland authorities for illegal fishing. The official website of Puntland explains 12 fishing vessels were captured between Ras-asyr and Aluula during a 48 hour mission designed to stop illegal fishing, human smuggling, and piracy. Three large trawlers were reportedly Egyptian, while nine smaller vessels were Yemeni. The Ministry of Fisheries issued fines totaling $1,055,500 in accordance to the Puntland Fisheries code. The Minister of Fisheries, Ports, Marine Transport and Marine Resources, Saed Mohamed Rage, stated he was happy with the success of this mission. He said
this will send a strong message to those that want to illegally fish in their waters will be facing the full force of the Puntland justice system. The operation was a joint initiative of the Puntland Coast Guard, Ministry of Fishereis, and the Al Hababi Company. This was reportedly the first mission of the Puntland Coast Guard, which is a partnership between the Puntland Government and the Al Hababi Company and includes the recent addition of 250 members who have completed their training in Gardo, Puntland. Their main mission is to secure the waters of Puntland against any form of illegal criminal activity. The 130 Yemeni fishermen and their vessels were released on 10 May after Yemeni and Puntland officials held discussions.
Additional reporting on 10 May suggests there was a disagreement between the Minister of Trade and Minister of Fisheries over whether or not the vessels were fishing illegally. The issue took a difficult turn when one of the fined foreign ships docked at the port escaped overnight on 09 May. The Trade Minister was reportedly relieved of duty on 10 May for reasons not stated ONI Comment: It is not uncommon for acts of living marine resource protection to be misreported as acts of piracy, particularly when new protection resources are put in place (LM,
ONI).

UPDATE2: More here:
Pirates have made Somali waters, through which thousands of merchant ships pass each year, some of the most dangerous in the world.

The heavily armed assailants generally use speedboats and often justify their actions by saying they are protecting Somali waters against illegal fishing or toxic dumping. "It's a business that's expanding, of hostage-taking of seafarers to sell them back," said John Bainbridge, an official of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF).

"It's bad enough to try and get people to sail in those areas, there's no way we're going to get seafarers to even want to go near those areas if this increases. And we believe that the forces could do a lot more to protect the seafarer."

Waters off the Somali coast, Africa's longest, are trade routes for key commodities like oil, grains and iron ore from the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea down to the Mozambique Channel.

The United Nations has called for international action to combat Somalia's "plague of piracy", saying it threatened vital aid deliveries to about a million people.
Convoys and escorts... or see here for some thinking on "Mobile Offshore Bases."

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