Somalia Releases 33 Iranian Fishermen, Signaling Potential Thaw in Frosty Ties

Published: March 25, 2024

MOGADISHU, Somalia (Horseed Media) – Somalia has released 33 Iranian fishermen and sailors who had been imprisoned in the country, signaling a potential thaw in frosty relations between the two nations that were disrupted in 2016 amid accusations of Iranian interference in Somalia’s domestic affairs.

The release of the Iranians comes amid Somalia’s broader crackdown on illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing within its territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Last year, Somalia’s Attorney General charged 36 foreign nationals, including the 33 Iranians, for illegal fishing activities and violating Somali sovereignty.

“This release could pave the way for renewed diplomatic efforts and dialogue between our two countries,” said Ali Gholampour, Iran’s ambassador to Kenya and Somalia. He proposed drafting a fishery cooperation agreement to prevent future incidents.

The 33 fishermen were arrested in the summer of 2023 for operating without valid fishing permits. They were convicted by a Banadir court and received hefty fines exceeding $10,000 each before unsuccessfully appealing in July 2023.

For decades, foreign fleets from Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere have carried out illicit fishing in Somali waters, exploiting a lack of maritime security amid civil conflict. This has severely impacted local fish stocks and livelihoods.

The release is seen as a goodwill gesture as Somalia seeks to assert control over its maritime resources and territorial waters. But it may also reflect a broader desire to repair ties with Iran following their severing in 2016.

As Somalia rebuilds after decades of civil war, regulating its EEZ and preventing IUU fishing remains a major challenge requiring cooperation with international partners. The release provides an opening for potential talks with Iran on this front.