Tag Archives: pirates

Pirates, fish and Somalia

It is a litle bit strange, but fish and pirate has become a pair of words that belong together. We now longer have pirate ships, we have pirate trawlers. The question is, what links the words pirate and fish with Somalia?

Pirate boats alongside the MV Faina. Picture: US Navy og Wikipedia
Pirate boats alongside the MV Faina. Picture: US Navy og Wikipedia

The media has been full of report of pairates off the coast of Somalia. But there has been precious little about fish. Especially heavy coverage was there after pirates seized the ship «Faina», filled with weapons of all kind. Now, we could always where those weapons really were headed, but that is not my theme today. However, in all those media reports, how many really tried to analyse why there are so many pirates in Somalia? Except that is, by calling Somalia a failed state.

According to FAO, the UNs food and agricultural organization around 700 foreign vessels are involved in illegal fishing in Somali waters. This makes it totally impossible to monitor and control the fisheries in any meaningful way. That means that the status of the stocks are unknown. However, I believe we can safely expect the stocks to be in bad shape. Experiences from other places do not give fish stocks that are exploited unchecked good odds. This means that there is litle left for the traditional artisan fisheries of Somalia. These fisheries traditionally employed 30 000 fishermen, and another 60 000 in related industries. These are good boatspeople that now find themselves with litle or no money. OK, what expertise do these people have that can be harnessed in war torn Somalia. Ah, yes, you are right. They can handle boats and the can handle guns. Any career counsellors would see it immediately and counsel you to bring your CV to the nearest pirate establishment.

Of course, lets be clear, loosing your fish does not give you the right to tout guns and kill people, but it goes a long way toward explaining why people would do so. In addition to stealing fish, foreigners, again according to FAO dumped illegal hazardous waste in Somali waters. I can understand that people get angry.

The Chinese paper «Peoples Daily» reported the 21st of February 2006 that:

“Somalia is grateful for recent initiatives taken by the United States Navy aimed at curtailing rampant sea piracy that has been taking place in the territorial waters of Somalia,” said Farah.

“But it will also be pleased if similar action could be taken against illegal fisheries in the Somali territorial waters. The illegal international fishing vessels cause serious damage to Somali marine resources and its environment,” said the minister.

The minister certainly has a good point? Tony Blair had a slogan during an election that I believe would serve us well in this case: «tough on crime, tough on causes of crime». Maybe that should be an international slogan. It would serve us well in more places than Somalia.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the waters off Somalia became an international dump of hazardous waste in the early nineties. They write:

Fishing boats from Italy were reported to have ferried barrels of toxic materials to Somalia’s shores and then returned home laden with illicit catches of fish. Rusting containers of hazardous waste washed up on Somali beaches as recently as 2005, after a powerful tsunami roared through.

But fish poaching has proved far more devastating to Somalis, environmental officials say.

“It’s been like a long gold rush for Thai, European, Yemeni and Korean boats,” said Abdulwali Abdulrahman Gayre, the vice minister of ports and fisheries for Puntland, a dusty, semiautonomous state in northern Somalia that is the bastion of the pirates.

“We have some of the richest fishing grounds in the world,” said Gayre. “Scientists say it is like a rain forest of fish. But our fishermen can’t compete with the foreigners in big ships who come to steal from our waters.”

Many of Somalia’s angry fishermen have picked up rifles and joined the pirate mafias that have seized more than two dozen vessels off the Somali coast so far this year, maritime security experts say.

“It’s almost like a resource swap,” said Peter Lehr, a Somalia piracy expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the editor of “Violence at Sea: Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism.” “Somalis collect up to $100 million a year from pirate ransoms off their coasts. And the Europeans and Asians poach around $300 million a year in fish from Somali waters.”

The most important paragraph is the last. Somali pirates are sophisticated, well trained and smart, but they have only managed to regain one third of what has been stolen or vandalized.

Are we, then, able to say something about how the Somalis themselves look at this business. I have not spoken with any pirates, but the New York Times have. They had a conversation with the spokesman for the pirtes aboard the «Faina». I do not vouch for the spokesman, he might be propagandising, but who would not be? Still he is quoted by NYT:

“We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”


He insisted that the pirates were not interested in the weapons and had no plans to sell them to Islamist insurgents battling Somalia’s weak transitional government. “Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons,” he said. “We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money.”

Al Jazeera reports that it costs 2,5$ to dump a ton of hazardous waste of Somalia. If you wanted to do it properly, it would cost you a 1000$ or more per ton. That is cost cutitng that matters to the bottom line! In the same article Al Jazeera quotes the UNs envoy to Somalia:

“What is most alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste that is potentially killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean,” he said.

Ould-Abdallah declined to name which companies are involved in waste dumping, citing legal reasons.

But he did say the practice helps fuel the 18-year-old civil war in Somalia as companies are paying Somali government ministers to dump their waste, or to secure licences and contracts.

So, there is no doubt that fish, pirates are words that belong together. Still, they belong together in slightly different ways off the coast of Somalia than they do in the Barents Sea.,