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Most of the signatories of UN Resolutions 1816 and 1838, authorizing cooperative military efforts to address the piracy, are the same countries responsible for illegally fishing in the area. In his article, “The Two Piracies in Somalia: Why the World Ignores the Other,” Mohamed Abshir Waldo lists the involvement of “Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Russia, Britain, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India, Yemen, Egypt, and many others” in “illegal, unreported, and unregulated” (IUU) fishing off the coast of Somalia. Waldo states: “The European Union, Russia, Japan, India, Egypt, and Yemen are all on this piracy campaign, mainly to cover up and protect their illegal fishing fleets in the Somali waters.”
That’s a slightly longer list than I would suggest and I am surprised to hear the names of Russia and Britain. He certainly is right about most of those countries on the list.
According to a 2006 report by the High Seas Task Force, the worldwide value of IUU catches is $4 to $9 billion per year, with $1 billion from Sub-Saharan Africa. The report states: “Somalia has the longest coastline in continental Africa—3,300 km…abundant marine resources…no effective authority over territorial waters…for over a decade foreign fishing vessels have been able to plunder…with impunity…some 700 foreign-owned vessels are engaged in unlicensed and unregulated fishing…exploiting high value species such as tuna, shark, lobster, and deep-water shrimp. Many… are equipped with anti-aircraft cannon and machine guns to defend themselves against Somali pirates who patrol the coast, seizing vessels and kidnapping crews, for which they demand ransoms.”
In the 1990s, it is estimated that illegal fishing off the Somali coast brought in about $300 million worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster annually. I would be very surprised if there’s much illegal fishing going on today. Who would be dumb enough to engage in illegal fishing when they are likely to get hijacked, kidnapped, or seized by the pirates?
Describing what he calls “The Somali Piracy War,” Waldo claims only after local fisherman were attacked by illegal foreign fishing boats—“documented cases of trawlers pouring boiling water on them, nets cut or destroyed, smaller boats crushed, killing all occupants,”—that they armed themselves, only to be outmatched by the more sophisticated weapons of the illegal foreign fishing boats. Waldo identifies this as “a cycle of warfare” that is ongoing as each side tries to outmatch the other. Some say that fishermen banding together is at the root of the so-called Somali “coast guard”—a citizen militia. Others say this a myth pirates have created to mask their illegal activities.
For a while they probably did try to stop foreign fishing in their own way and obviously they didn’t have the means to compete effectively. But eventually they ended up turning to piracy primarily because it is far more lucrative. They can make many times more money in piracy than they ever could by fishing.