OPINION | Illegal Fishing in Somalia - An Act of Piracy by Fernando Ibáñez
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OPINION | Illegal Fishing in Somalia - An Act of Piracy by Fernando Ibáñez

By Fernando Ibáñez 

OPINION | Illegal Fishing in Somalia - An Act of Piracy by Fernando Ibáñez

It is an unacceptable to turn a blind eye to the problem of the illegal fishing in Somali waters. International community has never had a particularly strong interest in this topic. The first mandate of Operation ATALANTA did not include anything about it. And the last mandate includes, inter alia, to monitor fishing activities off the coast of Somalia. However, enforcement actions have been given low priority, as a result, foreign fishing vessels are constantly raiding Somalian natural resources.

In June 2014, Somalian President outlined the Exclusive Economic Zone of Somalia in accordance with the UNCLOS. That is, Somali authorities may license fishing activities up to 200 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, and that each vessel wishing to fish should pay for the license. This is indeed a necessary step forward but not a sufficient enough to stamp out illegal, undeclared and uncontrolled fishing. For only with adequate capabilities can Somali authorities have sufficient means to monitor and protect its maritime domain- which will effectively tackle the problem.

Last May the Mayor of Eyl, a Somali coastal town and former pirate hub, declared: “Illegal fishing disrupted the economic activities of locals, and may drag many into illicit acts of piracy as a substitute” . While in 2014, the Puntland State of Somalia officially banned any kind of illegal fishing and issued a strict warning to the foreign vessels coming into its waters . Following these control measures, the Puntland Coastguards had arrested illegal Yemeni fishermen and their vessel, and thus, to uphold this the Puntland authorities are appealing to the international community for help.

What can be rightly pointed is that the lack of naval capabilities has been one of the significant reasons that underpins the rise of the Somali piracy.

A few days ago, Secure Fisheries, a program of the One Earth Future Foundation, launched its report  examining the extent of IUU fishing by foreign vessels and their impact on the sustainability and profitability of Somali fisheries. The number of foreign fleets fishing illegally in the region has increased 20 times since 1981. As the report estimates that foreign IUU vessels catch three times as many fish as the Somali fishing sector.

Foreign vessels are primarily industrial in nature or purse seine vessels from Asian and European states or smaller gill net vessels from neighboring countries such as Yemen and Iran.

According to John Steed, Secure Fisheries Regional Manager for the Horn of Africa, “Illegal fishing was the pretext used by criminal gangs to shift  from protectionism to armed robbery and piracy . And now the situation is back where it was, with large  numbers of foreign vessels fishing in Somali waters again - and there is a real danger of the whole piracy cycle starting all over”.

However, in my opinion, the end of the Somali piracy is a fact. No incident of hijacking has occurred in which the pirates have obtained a ransom since May 2012. In 2011, one in every three boats that were attacked, repelled the attackers due to the presence of an armed team of private security personnel. In 2012, the same was true for two out of every three attacks; and since 2013, in over 90% of cases. The chance of being hijacked under these conditions is virtually non-existent.

Figure 1. Attacks with presence of armed guards and number of hijackings 
Prepared by the author with data from IMB, IMO and NGA. 
Source: http://revista.ieee.es/index.php/ieee/article/download/136/214

Nowadays, Somali pirates are even unlucky. Last March, they hijacked an Iranian fishing vessel without an armed security team onboard. Although the vessel was captive for five months, it managed to escape with all the crew members unhurt. The captain cut his anchors and motored out. It was an unprecedented fact. This incident confirms that Somali pirates are not what they were in the past. For keeping a ship hijacked is a very expensive operation as salaries to guards have to be paid, hostages have to be fed, a negotiator has to be hired and others. In fact, financing an operation to hijack a vessel is not cheap. It requires the active involvement of investors prepared to risk their money. Who would invest in a business in which three and a half years back no income could have been obtained?

As pirates acted off Somalia, local fishermen were benefited due to the fact that foreign fishing vessels navigated further from the coastline fearing their attacks. That is why the end of the Somali piracy is promoting, again, that foreign fishing vessels sail closer to the coast of Somalia. And, again, illegal fishing in Somalia is on a huge scale and it does not seem possible to stop it with current level of action. An estimated $300 million worth of seafood is stolen from Somalia each year. As the United Nations Statistics Division reports, a GDP figure of $1.306 billion for 2012, illegal fishing represents over 20 per cent of the total Somali GDP.

Therefore, I do not believe that the presence of foreign fishing vessels in Somali waters could involve a rise of piracy acts. Pirates may hijack an Iranian, Yemeni or Chinese fishing vessel but they will not be paid a ransom by them.  Their success depends on the presence of armed security teams present in the merchant vessels. In my opinion, the immediate need lies in addressing the issue of illegal fishing in Somalia, for illegal fishing is another way of piracy. But it is irrespective of whether Somali pirates will return or not. Events such as the Maersk Alabama hijacking will not come back.

Author The Author:

Fernando Ibáñez is a Ph.D in Conflicts, Security and Solidarity and Master in Global Security and Defense by the University of Zaragoza (Spain). Degree in Politics and Sociology by the Spanish National Distance Education University-UNED and Degree in Teaching by the University of Zaragoza. He is Certificate in Terrorism Studies by the University of St. Andrews (2010).

Since 2012 he is a lecturer in Master in Security, Defense and Strategy in Madrid Open University. He is also a teacher in Master in Intelligence and Counterintelligence operations and Director of the Course “Modern Maritime Piracy: The Case of Somalia” in the International Institute for Defence & Security (CISDE) in Seville (Spain). He is a member of the Spanish Academic Community of Experts on Intelligence for Security and Defence (ESPRINTEL) and of the Association of Spanish Graduates in Security and Defence (ADESYD).

 Image Attribute:  Fishing Boat in Indian Ocean Region (for representation only) - Credits: Philippe Gabriel/Source: Wikimedia Commons

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