OCEAN PIRACY : 1990-2001
Acknowledgement: I am grateful and indebted to many sympathetic, interested and well-informed people in preparation of this
document. In sincere appreciation, I like to mention Prof. Julian Bauer of Ecoterra
International. In addition I need to mention that parts of my compilation is also based on the article by
Abdirahman Jama Kulmiye, who achieved to publish the terrible situation of fisheries piracy by
foreign vessels in Somali Waters and some of the know facts in the Daily
Nation newspaper see:
Militia vs Trawlers: Who is the Villain?
In the struggle for a better future for people and nature, it s my hope
that this dossier will be useful and interesting to all and encourage
the Somali People to better defend their marine waters and life.
Andrew M. Mwangura
P.O. Box 92273
Tel : +254 (11) 315151
Fax : +254 (11) 230001
Ocean Piracy: 1990-2001
piracy attacks along the Somali coast involving five Kenyan
registered fishing vessels have, since 1990, been documented.
Regrettably, not all the confrontations between local militias and
trawlers have been restored peacefully. Quite a number have ended in
violence, claiming loss of lives, serious physical and psychological
injuries to a dozen-odd people on both sides as well as leading to
the loss of property worth millions of dollars.
breakdown of law and order in Somalia as well as the easy access to
sophisticated weaponry in the open market has complicated the
situation further. Deplorable acts such as piracy and hostage taking
have clearly outraged Somalia’s friends and foes alike and further
dented its already battered image as a nation.
such a reaction begs a number of questions:
What was a Kenya-flagged trawler fishing within Somalia
territorial waters when she was licensed to conduct her business
within Kenyan waters only?
Who ordered or authorised the ship to fish in Somalia
Were Kenyan authorities aware of the ship’s covert
Why are so many seafarers unable to resist fishing in Somali
waters despite the terrible security risks?
Why do Somalia fishermen arm themselves in the first place?
answers to these questions are to be found in the rich fishing
grounds off the 3,300 km coastline of Somalia. Conservative
estimates have put the country’s yearly sustainable marine
production at between 300,000 and 500,000 metric tonnes.
to the break out of civil war following the ouster of dictator
Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991, available fisheries statistics show
that the official annual marine output stood at 20,000 metric tonnes,
a mere 4% of the potential production. Half of this catch was landed
by the country’s estimated artisanal fishermen and the rest by
licensed foreign fishing vessels. If fully exploited, the fisheries
output could indeed contribute substantially to the country’s
gross national product.
fishing activities in the west Indian Ocean region have been aided
and abetted by rich distant-water fishing nations to placate their
disgruntled fishermen who have been rendered jobless due to the
limited-entry fishery policies enforced in those countries.
collapse of the Somali government in 1991 heralded the opening of
fishing floodgates and foreign fishing vessels from all corners of
the world invaded the area with the sole aim of plundering
Somalia’s marine resources. Indifferent to both the short and long
term impact of their activities on the environment, they used a
range of internationally banned methods and equipment.
the entire coastline has been invaded, the bulk of incursions are
off the north-eastern coast where most of the country’s troubled
areas are concentrated. It is said that about 300 foreign-owned
vessels – neither reported, regulated nor paid for – are
conducting pirate fishing off the break-away Republic of Puntland
coast alone and in 700 other parts of the Somalia coastline.
trawlers are no ordinary ships; they are intimidating big,
menacingly powerful and are capable of not only towing smaller
trawlers but capacious enough to comfortably accommodate a medium
sized aeroplane apiece. They also process tonnes and tonnes of
marine products on board in a single six-hour shift.
target only high-grade marine products such as shrimps, lobsters and
demersal fish that fetch high prices in international seafood
trawler nets don’t discriminate between the expensive target
species and the unwanted, low-value fish called ‘by-catch’ but
sweep up anything and everything on their path. The majority of the
netted organisms are, needless to say, dumped over-board dead or
addition, they trawl over highly sensitive biotopes in the
near-shore ecosystem that many marine organisms use as nursery and
breeding grounds. Apart from these destructive practices,
Somalia’s marine waters have also become dumping grounds for all
sorts of toxic industrial waste mostly toxic and radioactive in
by any standards, there is an environmental time bomb waiting to
explode in Somalia. And if the bomb explodes it will not bring down
Somalia alone, but will sweep across the region like wildfire.
Neighbouring nations such as Djibouti, Kenya and Tanzania which
share wind and ocean current regimes with Somalia will suffer the
a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded study carried
out recently by international agencies such as UNCTAD, IMO, FAO,
UNEP and IUCN to explore all the possible ways of toxic dumping and
pollution was unable to find specific evidence, this does not mean
that it is not happening.
that Somalia has a 3,300 km of coastline, the claims cannot be
ignored and need to be looked into very keenly.
a long time now, the wronged Somali fishermen have been demanding
compensation for their destroyed gear from the ship operators as
well as a total stop to all illegal fishing activities in the Somali
waters. This, they correctly argue, will save their gear and protect
their environment from further damage.
fishermen’s demands have not gone down well with the looters of
Somalia’s rich marine resources who regard the country as a
no-man’s land free for all; and they treat any interference with
the smooth running of their looting spree as tantamount to a
declaration of war.
is said that when the fishermen try to talk to the trawler captains
to solve the problem in an amicable, civilised manner, they
invariably meet resistance from hostile crew who spray them with
pressurised water, sometimes capsizing the fishermen’s small boats.
provocations have angered the fishermen so much to begin arming
themselves with deadly weapons and even acquire speed boats in
preparation for bloody confrontation in such face-offs.
counter this new threat, the looters have devised ways to protect
their fishing interests in Somalia. One such way is to hire sections
of local militiamen to guard ships while they are within Somali
the presence of the ‘guards’ aboard the vessels the fishermen
have managed to arrest a number of vessels (trawlers) that plunder
the country’s resources.
trick is to conceal the true identity of the real owners by
registering vessels using dummy or shell companies in Kenya, turning
Kenyan seaports into conduits from which shipping expeditions to the
rich fishing grounds of Somalia are organised.
war purportedly being waged by the Somali fishermen against foreign
trawlers is not making a few dollars in ransom money, rather, it is
about protecting what patriotic Somalis regard as their country’s
rightful resources from being depleted and destroyed on Somali’s
waters like so many sharks in a feeding frenzy.
proliferation of the fishing vessels is the root cause of the whole
problem for their was not a single hijacking incident reported in
Somalia before these uninvited guests visited the area.
is indeed the responsibility of everyone to protect and jealously
defend his or her resources from depletion in order to leave behind
a legacy for future generations. This is important at a time when
the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that 60% to
70% of the world’s major fisheries are fully exploited,
overexploited or depleted.
us be fair to both sides of the coin and ask us who is a pirate? Is
a pirate the poor fisherman who is trying to save whatever remains
of his once plentiful but now endangered resources? Or is a pirate
the thieving sea captain who is bent on depleting Somalia’s
resources to enrich himself and his fishing company at the expense
of the poor fisherman?
it to say, it is high time this issue was taken more seriously.
Although Kenya earns thousands of dollars (a total of US$ 168,835)
annually in the registered tonnage fees from these foreign owned
fishing trawlers, there is a need to reconsider this matter.
as I have mentioned earlier in this document, there is an
environmental time bomb waiting to explode in Somalia and in
addition to that this is contrary the UNCLOS International Laws of
don’t they use Kenyan fishing grounds? The 640 km-long Kenyan
coastline stretches from Vanga in the south to Kiunga in the
north-east with access to 200 nautical miles of the Economic
Exclusive Zone (EEZ) which is a high potential fishing ground.
offshore fisheries which include EEZ have a potential of up to
200,000 tonnes in Tuna and Tuna-like species of which is yet to be
exploited by Kenya.
fishing vessels held captive in Somalia (1990-2001):
of the Vessel
Bahari Kubwa (Ex-Airone)
Somali, Senegalese and Kenyan
Bahari Hindi (Ex-Antonietta Madre)
Polish, Romanian,Tanza-nian, Kenyan and Senegalese
1997 and Garaad, 1998
Pesca, of Bari, Italy
Bahari Kenya (Ex-DeGiosa Giuseppe)
Spaniard, Kenyan, Roma-nian and Somali
Pesca, of Bari, Italy
Kenyan, Tanzanian, Ethi-opian and Somali
Trawlers involved in prawn fishing are restricted to 25 metres with
steering power not exceeding 500 hp and weighing 500 GRT tonnes.
Trawling is a prohibited fishing method within 5 nautical miles off
the shore (coast).