Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The reason Somali fishermen became pirates

(photo: AP)

“Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it.” ~Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia

There are two sides to every story, but the cause of Somalia's piracy problem is barely discussed in the media. In January, Kenyan analyst Mohamed Abshir Waldo wrote a paper entitled “The Two Piracies in Somalia: Why the World Ignores the Other?” That is a very good question.

I decided to write this blog when I received an email yesterday from a yachtie friend who'd gone ashore in Djbouti, just north of Somalia.

She writes:
Personally, I have a certain amount of sympathy for the Somalian "Robin Hood's." After finishing a job on an expedition boat I got off in Djibouti to see the country and maybe go into Ethiopia. I hitched a lift with a group of French navy pilots going up to Lac Abby. It was an amazing adventure! They were the crew of the new French spy plane that is permanently patrolling those waters. They know everything that is going on! Information that could be used to avoid piracy situations? They found the 4 French "tourists" that were kidnapped in the Yemen. Orwell's "Newspeak" is found here. I think this is a power play whose main player is not yet clear.

There is a perversity in protecting the very commercial interests that have driven a country into abject poverty. Orwell's "doublethink" is found here. There are two refugee camps in Djibouti, that are the largest in the world, both cardboard cities are dependent on just two stand pipes and charity, supplemented by the prostitution of the women to the servicemen who are station there.

The connection is our humanity.....or our gradually increasing detachment from it!
In a nutshell, other countries have been illegally fishing Somali waters, taking crab, lobster, and fish that the Somali fishermen exclusively used to gather. Even worse, there is proof that European toxic waste is being dumped, much of which washed ashore after the 2005 tsunami, sickening livestock and people, and killing three hundred. Yet the U.N. does nothing.

Here are some excerpts from Mohamed Abshir Waldo's paper:
. . . massive illegal foreign fishing piracy [has] been poaching and destroying the Somali marine resources for the last 18 years following the collapse of the Somali regime in 1991. With its usual double standards when such matters concern Africa, the “international community” comes out in force . . . against the Somali fishermen pirates while discreetly protecting the numerous Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing fleets there from Europe, Arabia and the Far East.

The countries engaged include practically all of southern Europe, France, Spain, Greece, UK. Nowadays I hear even Norway. There were not many Scandinavians before, but Norwegian fishing now is involved in this, you know, very profitable fishing business. So, there are others, of course. There are Russian. There are Taiwanese. There are Philippines. There are Koreans. There are Chinese. You know, it’s a free-for-all coast.
One report estimated that more than $300 million dollars-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving.
“IUU fishing is detrimental to the wider marine ecosystem because it flouts rules designed to protect the marine environment which includes restrictions to harvest juveniles, closed spawning grounds and gear modification designed to minimize by-catch on non-target species….In so doing they steal an invaluable protein source from some of the world’s poorest people and ruin the livelihoods of some legitimate fishermen; incursions by trawlers into the inshore areas reserved for artisanal [as opposed to commercial] fishing can result in collision with local fishing boats, destruction of fishing gear and deaths of fishermen” says the High Seas Task Force (HSTF). In its report, Closing the Net: Stopping Illegal Fishing on the High Seas, HSTF puts worldwide value of IUU catches at $4 to $9 billion, large part of it from Sub-Sahara Africa, particularly Somalia.
Not only are other countries pillaging Somalia's waters, they are dumping toxic waste. This excerpt comes from a columnist for the London Independent:
As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."
It seems that piracy will continue as long as the plundering of Somalia's waters is tolerated.

Mohamed Abshir Waldo concludes:
In their current operations, the Somali fishermen pirates genuinely believe that they are protecting their fishing grounds (both 12-mile territorial and EEZ waters). They also feel that they exacting justice and compensation for the marine resources stolen and the destroyed ecosystem by the IUUs. And their thinking is shared and fully supported by the coastal communities, whose protectors and providers they became.

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