Osman Osman

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 Somali pirates took over a U.S.-flagged ship near the Horn of Africa capturing about 21 American crew members. 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.

Another major problem closely connected with the illegal fishing is industrial, toxic and nuclear waste dumping in both off-shore and on-shore areas of Somalia. Somali authorities, local fishermen, civil society organizations and international organizations have reported and warned of the dangerous consequences of these criminal actions.

Somali fishermen in various regions of the country also complained to the international community about the illegal foreign fishing, stealing the livelihoods of poor fishermen, waste dumping and other ecological disasters, including the indiscriminate use of all prohibited methods of fishing: drift nets, under water explosives, killing all “endangered species” like sea-turtles, orca, sharks, baby whales, etc. as well as destroying reef, biomass and vital fish habitats in the sea. Fishermen in Somalia have appealed to the United Nations and the international community to help them rid the country’s shores of foreign ships engaged in illegal fishing. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated 700 foreign-owned vessels were engaged in unlicensed fishing in Somali waters in 2005 – 2007. However, FAO said it was “impossible to monitor their fishery production in general, let alone the state of the fishery resources they are exploiting….there is also strong suspicion of illegal dumping of industrial and nuclear wastes along the Somali coast”, IRIN 09/03/06.

“They are not only taking and robbing us of our fish, but they are also trying to stop us from fishing,” said Jeylani Sheikh Abdi, a fisherman in Merca, 100km south of Mogadishu. “They have rammed our boats and cut our nets”, he added. Another Merca fisherman, Mohamed Hussein, said [Our] existence depends on the fish. He accused the international community of “talking only about the piracy problem in Somalia, but not about the destruction of our coast and our lives by these foreign ships.” Jeylani noted that the number of foreign ships had increased over time. “It is now normal to see them on a daily basis, a few miles off our shores” (IRIN 09/03/06).

Describing the activity as “economic terrorism”, Somali fishermen told many media organizations that the poachers were not only plundering the fish but were also dumping rubbish and oil into the sea. They complained the Somali government was not strong enough to stop it. “We want the international agencies to help us deal with this problem,” said Hussein. “If nothing is done about them, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.” Musse Gabobe Hassan and Mohamud Hassan Tako of the Mogadishu Maritime and Fisheries Institute accuse foreign ships of illegal fishing and dumping of hazardous waste in Somali waters. “Somalia’s coastal communities who eke their livelihood from the sea are appealing to the international community for help stop the illegal fishing fleets from both the developed and developing countries that are robbing our marine wealth and destroying its habitats”, they added.

Like the UN Security Council, Chatham House, an International Affairs Think-Tank, in a much publicized recent Paper on piracy in Somalia failed to present a balanced view of the issue and concentrated on the shipping piracy side of the coin. Roger Middleton, the author of the Paper, however, mentions in passing that European, Asian and African (Egypt and Kenya) illegally fish in the Somalia waters. In ignoring the principal IUU factor, the origin and the purpose of the shipping piracy, UN and Roger Middleton seem to be either misled or pressured to take this one-sided course by powerful interests who want to cover up and protect the profitable business of illegal fishing.

These crises of the illegal fishing, waste dumping, warlords/mafia deals and the loud complaints of the Somali fishermen and civil society have been known to UN agencies and international organizations all along. The UN Agencies and organizations, which have been fully aware of these crises, often expressed concern and lamentations but never took any positive action against these criminal activities. It appears as if they have also failed to inform the UN Security Council of this tragedy before it passed its resolutions 1816 and 1838 early 2008.

Mr. Ould Abdalla, UN Secretary General Special Envoy for Somalia, who should know better, continued to condemn Somali shipping piracy in a number of press statements and rightly so though biased. In his latest Press Statement of 11/11/08 on the subject matter, he warmly welcomed the agreement by European Union member states to send ships to combat piracy off Somalia. “I am extremely pleased by the EU’s decision,” said Mr. Ould-Abdallah. “Piracy off the Somali coast is posing a serious threat to the freedom of international navigation and regional security”. But he forgot to condemn fishing piracy, mention the Somali fishing communities’ livelihood security or to propose concrete actions to deal with the two inter-related piracies, which are like the two sides of the same coin.

An FAO study, Somalia’s Fishery Review by Frans Teutscher, Nov. 11, 2005, states, “In the absence of legal framework and/or for capacities for monitoring, control and surveillance, extensive illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) is taking place and considerable quantities of non-targeted by catch are discarded because they cannot presently be utilized”. The report said that the foreign IUUs maximize their catch by fishing throughout the year without regard to the wider marine ecosystem, not respecting fish and crustacean spawning periods or irreparable damage done by their massive drift nets and use of explosives or the loss of local fishermen’s livelihood.

In a letter to, UNDP Somalia Resident Representative, expressed his apprehension of the danger posed to the Somali marine resources and environment by foreign vessels. “The concern of the international community is that 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” he said. “Furthermore, Somalia currently has no provision to deal with potential oil spills or other marine disasters and has no capability to monitor and control it’s coastal waters and, if necessary, provide sea search or rescue operations”, he added.

Dr Mustafa Tolba, former Executive Director of UNEP, confirmed that Italian companies were dumping lethal toxic waste in Somalia which might “contribute to the loss of life in the already devastated country”. Dr Tolba added that the shipment of the toxic wastes from Italy that could also aggravate the destruction of the ecosystem in Somalia “earned a company, which ships the waste, between 2 to 3 million dollars in profits”, (Sunday Nation, 06/09/92).

In a proposal for action to the UNDP for Somalia in early 1990s, Mr. John Laurence, a fishery consultant with Pan Ocean Resources Ltd, reports the catastrophic and heartbreaking illegal foreign exploitation of the Somali seas. “With regards to the controlled exploitation of the Somali deep sea fishing grounds by the huge foreign factory ships and vessels it is our opinion

That the UN must get involved. This area is recognized as one of the 5 richest fishing zones of the world and previously unexploited. It is now being ravaged, unchecked by any authority, and if it continues to be fished at the level it is at present stocks are in danger of being depleted …. So, a world resource is under serious threat and the UN is sitting back doing nothing to prevent it”. “Secondly, the Somali people are being denied any income from this resource due to their inability to license and police the zone” and “ the UN is turning a blind eye to the activities of the fishing vessels whose operators are not paying their dues; which in any other circumstances would be enforced by any international court of law.

Surprisingly, the UN disregarded its own findings of the violations, ignored the Somali and international appeals to act on the continued ravaging of the Somali marine resources and dumping of hazardous wastes. Instead, the UN and the big powers, invoking Charter IIV of the UN Charter, decided to “enter the territorial waters of Somalia……and ..…use, within the territorial waters of Somalia ….all necessary means to identify, deter, prevent, and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery, including but not limited to boarding, searching, and seizing vessels engaged in or suspected of engaging in acts of piracy or armed robbery, and to apprehend persons engaged in such acts with a view to such persons being prosecuted” (Resolution 1816).

It should be noted that there is no mention of the illegal fishing piracy, hazardous waste dumping or the plight of the Somali fishermen in the UN Resolutions. Justice and fairness have been overlooked in these twin problems of FISHING PIRACY and SHIPPING PIRACY.

The Illegality and Impracticality of the actions of the UN, NATO and EU

This Global Armada is in the Somali waters illegally as it is not approved by the Somali Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP). It is also unlikely it will achieve its stated objectives to curb the shipping piracy as it is now conceived. The TFP and the members of the European Parliament rejected these UN and European decisions to police the Somali seas (both the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden) as both illegal and unworkable. At a Press Conference in Nairobi on October 18th 2008, the Deputy Speaker of the TFP, Mohamed Omar Dalha, termed the deployment of foreign warships to the country’s coast to fight piracy as invasion of its sovereignty and asked the foreign warships to “move out of the Somali waters”. The Speaker questioned the intent of the deployment and suggested that the powers involved had a hidden agenda. He said if these powers were genuine in curbing the piracy they would have supported and empowered the Somali authorities, who would be more effective in stopping the menace. “If the millions of dollars given to the pirates or wasted in the warship policing there were given to us, we would have eliminated this curse”, he said.

Several EU members of parliament (MEPs) called the EU naval mission to be deployed against pirates off the coasts of Somalia as a “military nonsense,” “morally wrong” and having “no international legal basis.” German green MEP Angelika Beer underlined the lack of international law to sustain the proposed European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) mission. “There is no clarity to the limitations of this mandate. Will the EU be able to sink ships and arrest pirates?” she asked. Portuguese socialist MEP Ana Maria Gomes gave a fiery speech on the “moral problem” of the EU mission, which, in her opinion, is only about “protecting oil tankers.” “Nobody gives a damn about the people in Somalia who die like flies,” she said (EU Observer of 15th October 2008).

Osman D. Osman

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Category : Maqaallo / Articles.
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