With a flash of imagination, Commodore Michiel Hijmans, who commands the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) fleet that patrols the Horn of Africa’s coastline, invited clan leaders from Puntland on board his flagship on 12 July.
Ostensibly, the meeting was “to build on the existing relationship …between NATO and Puntland authorities,” according to a NATO communiqué. It seems the main purpose was for NATO to win support from the clan leaders for its war against piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
The clan leaders were willing to back their efforts but wanted a quid pro quo: could NATO help them in their war against the plunder of Somalia’s fish stocks by foreign fishermen? The NATO officers explained that such tasks were well beyond their remit.
This is the contradiction in the war against Somali pirates. NATO and others have spent about $200m to fight piracy but governments have done nothing to stop the plunder of Somalia’s fisheries, mainly by European and Asian fishing fleets.
Talking of the “twin piracies”, Somali writer Mohammed ‘Waldo’ Abshir powerfully links the destruction of Somalia’s fishing industry by foreign fleets with the rapid growth of piracy along the coastline. With the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991 and ensuing civil war, Somalia’s coastguard and navy disbanded, leaving its 3,300km of coastline unprotected.
Somalia’s collapse coincided with a moratorium on EU fisheries. Unable to fish in EU waters, fleets from Europe and Asia headed for Somalia’s coast, where they plundered fish stocks, reckoned to be of some 200,000tn and worth about $300m a year.
Some Somali warlords, says Abshir, issued bogus fishing licences to companies from Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Russia, the UK, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India, Yemen, Egypt and Kenya.
According to the High Seas Task Force, part of the World Commission on Protected Areas, these illegal fleets break most international conventions, operate illegally in the country’s 12-mile territorial waters as well as destroying the country’s juvenile fishing and spawning grounds.
The task force says these criminal or pirate fleets use “mother-ship factories, trans-shipment and re-supply at sea. This means that vessels can remain at sea for months, refueling, re-supplying and rotating their crew.”?
These fishing vessels have no need to enter ports, instead they transfer their catches to transport ships. “Illegally caught fish are laundered by mixing with legally caught fish on board transport vessels,” says the task force.
Analysts estimate that the criminal fishing industry generates $4bn to $9bn a year, much of it from Africa and particularly from Somalia.
These rogue fleets are destroying marine stocks, robbing some of the world’s poorest people of their protein and taking the jobs of Somali fishermen. Now it has emerged that foreign companies have also been dumping toxic waste along Somalia’s coastline, adding to the devastation.
Solving this first piracy might just lead to a solution for the second.
This article was first published in the December 2010-January 2011 edition of The Africa Report.
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