July 30, 2013

A UN report released last week has revealed fears that businessmen in the Gulf region may be actively supporting illegal fishing in Somali waters, often using former pirates as armed guards for the fishing vessels.

The annual UN report compiled by the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea details the ongoing security situation both inside the borders of the two countries and their territorial waters. In Somalia’s case, a development of the piracy scourge that threatened regional shipping over the past few years has been identified, as former or inactive pirates are being hired as private armed guards for illegal shipping vessels exploiting Somalia’s rich seas, mainly near the Puntland region. A far-reaching business network contains links to GCC countries, according to the report.

‘Puntland officials estimate tens of thousands of tonnes of illegal catch has been fished from Puntland’s coastline between 2012 and 2013 by hundreds of illegal fishing vessels. The vessels are mainly Iranian and Yemeni-owned and all use Somali armed security. The Monitoring Group inspected four forged fishing licences registered between May and October 2012 that have been confiscated from unlicenced Iranian vessels by international naval forces,’ stated the report. ‘Local fishermen from different communities along the Puntland coast between Las Qoray and Hafun have confirmed that the private security teams on board such vessels are normally provided from pools of demobilised Somali pirates and coordinated by a ring of pirate leaders and associated businessmen operating in Puntland, Somaliland, the UAE, Oman, Yemen and Iran.’

Researchers working for the UN Monitoring Group said sources detailed that known pirates operators and clan warlords are in contact with businesses in the Gulf region.

‘Illegal fishing networks are also operating in the Las Qoray area of northwestern Puntland, and are coordinated by a number of businessmen operating in Puntland, Somaliland and Dubai, and who have connections to Oman and Yemen,’ said the report. ‘The Las Qoray network has ties to the Qandala-Hafun network and also appears to have connections to an arms smuggling ring with connections to Al Shabaab in northeastern Somalia.’

An official with knowledge of pirate activities and maritime security in the Indian Ocean said it was expected that pirates would make the transition from hijacking to armed security, given that the proceeds of illegal fishing are valued upwards of US$23bn (RO8.85bn) a year. It made economic sense for pirates to profit from this new enterprise, he said.

“Ex-pirates need to be employed. With their weapon handling skills and sea experience, they are ideal to be poachers-cum-gamekeepers. Using former pirates as private security guards enables the sharing of earnings amongst officials and locals alike along with the clan leaders,” said the official.

“Another economy returns to villages that were profiting from piracy-related finances. The money dried up for a time, but earning from security gives some respectability and is a way to avoid being targeted by naval forces and by Islamists who look on piracy as an unIslamic act.