Who is protecting Somalia’s fishermen? [OP-ED]

Published: January 5, 2016

By Ahmed Ali – A maritime professional with an MA in International Maritime Policy

As Somalia’s waters have become less dangerous for international shipping, they have become much more dangerous for Somalia’s fishermen. Illegal fishing vessels that were wary of coming into Somali waters a few years ago have come back in a big way, only this time heavily armed and prepared for a fight.

Although piracy has been eliminated in the Horn of Africa region, the “pirate” term continues to be used as a tool to delegitimize and dehumanize Somalia’s fishermen, to the extent where they can now be killed with impunity, by anyone, within Somalia’s territorial waters, with the perpetrators taking comfort in the thought that, so long as they declare to have killed “pirates,” there will be no accountability and no questions asked.
The resources with which the Somali fishermen depended on for their livelihoods have been plundered, their plight used as a pretext to hold international shipping to hostage by transnational organized criminals, resulting in the over militarization of the Somali coast and the sad situation we find ourselves in today. What is happening to the Somali fishermen in Somalia’s waters can only be described as a catastrophe.

After recognizing the seriousness of the situation, BIMCO, the world’s largest international shipping association, appealed to the European naval force in the region (EU NAVFOR) to help stem the rampant illegal unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) that is taking place within Somali’s waters. Unfortunately, BIMCO’s appeal was declined, with EU NAVFOR stating that their mandate does not cover the tackling of IUUF in Somali waters.
However, what

EU NAFOR’s mandate does include is the monitoring of “fishing activities off the coast of Somalia.” And although EU NAVFOR has excellent surveillance capabilities in the region, to date it has not transmitted the gathered information to the Somali authorities.

Between Somalia’s central government and the regional administrations, in the past fifteen years there have been six different contracts awarded to six different private maritime security contractors (PMSC) with the aim of rebuilding Somalia’s coast guard. Yet today the country is still lacking a credible national coast guard. And also piracy has been eradicated in the region, the business of making money from the perceived potential threat of piracy continues to generate huge sums of money for the PMS industry. While today there is a PMSC “rebuilding” Somalia’s coast guard, at the same time there are hundreds of other PMSC’s competing for the lucrative protection business of escorting vessels transiting Somalia’s waters, to the tune of $15000-$60000 per transit, mainly due to the lack of a credible Somali coast guard.

The coastguards in the different regional administrations within Somalia, have done a valiant job with the meager resources at their disposal in tackling both banditry and IUUF within Somali waters. However, although there is ample willpower on the part of the Somali people, there is a major deficiency in the tools required to secure Somalia’s maritime domain.

Somalia needs a unified national coastguard in order to safeguard both the safety of its fishermen and the safety of the vital shipping lane off it’s coast. Waiting for a readymade coast guard to be delivered by a PMSC in five or ten years time will only result in more wasted time and more Somali fishermen put in harms way.

When it comes to rebuilding Somalia’s national coast guard, it should not be a case trying to reinvent the wheel, as the foundations for the national coastguard are already in place in the form of the regional administrations coast guards. And rather than the top-down method of rebuilding the coastguard, which over the years has not produced much results, it should be a more bottom up.

There needs to be a much greater integration between the different assets within the state so as to have a more unified and coherent approach when it comes controlling Somalia’s maritime domain. There is also a need for an enhanced maritime domain awareness capability for the coastal areas, through both dynamic and static surveillance tools, in order for the state to have a better awareness of the activities within its national waters. This should start with the increasing of security around the main ports in the country, with the aim of making them fully compliant with the ISPS code.

When looking at the bigger picture, the biggest losers from the piracy threat have been the Somali people and the shipping community. Hence why there should be a more concerted effort between the Somali state and the shipping community in order to find a long term solution that will be beneficial for both. BIMCO and other major shipping associations should explore ways in which they can work directly with the Somali state so that it has the capacity to ensure the security of this vital area.
The problems in Somalia’s maritime domain are way too big for the different “Lands” doted across the country to handle on their own individually. These are nationwide problems and will require nationwide solutions.

By Ahmed Ali – A maritime professional with an MA in International Maritime Policy

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