By Andrew Mwangura
Wednesday, Jun 2, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
– 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 decentralised 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).
- Factsheet on Somali Piracy [PDF]
- 2010 All hijackings in Gulf of Aden and in the West Indian Ocean [PDF]
- 2010 hijackings by vessel type and state [PDF]
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