August 25th, 2011
11:58 AM GMT
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(CNN) There is nothing swashbuckling about Somali piracy. The pirates are not romantic anti-heroes with a parrot on their shoulder. Instead, they are recognized as lawless, dangerous criminals who roam East Africa’s waters terrorizing the shipping industry.

The direct impact of the criminality off the Somalia coastline is being felt on the mainland, where critical food aid is not getting through to famine-struck Somalis because 80 to 90% of humanitarian relief arrives by sea, according to a recent report by the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Few ships and aid organizations are willing to take the risks involved in delivering tons of food aid, says the AfDB report. Owners and aid workers fear the ships will be seized and crews kidnapped for ransom. For now, despite the dangers, some humanitarian agencies still operate, often with protection from NATO warships.

The critical needs of feeding Somalis today, as well as the long-term implications of creating a sustainable agriculture sector, are often discussed by political scientists and economists. What to do about the state of anarchy in the failed state that is Somalia?

It is a question that has been debated for many years now, and I fear is not about to be imminently solved, even as African Union troops continue to do a brave job in defending Mogadishu against Al-Shabaab militias.

The issue of piracy, though, is not a purely hopeless problem, because its roots lie in the collapse of the fishing industry in Somalia.

A confluence of events in 1991 created a vacuum that laid the ground for the birth of Somali piracy. As the Siad Barre regime collapsed and plunged the country into civil war it left the Somali coastline unprotected. Around the same time the EU tightened fishing controls in Europe, pushing some fishing ships to look for new waters.

So fleets from Europe and Asia - many operating illegally - moved into the open East African waters to fish. And fish they did, ­ plundering, according to many reports, the oceans of fish stocks. The ripple effect was enormous, decimating the livelihoods of many Somali fishermen.

Many of these formerly destitute Somali fisherman “took matters into their own hands,” according to the AfDB, and turned to hijacking ships to make up for lost income.

The new “industry” was quickly co-opted by the Somali warlords and is now an organized, hierarchical gang-like operation.

However, the AfDB and other observers still point to the many ships that continue to fish illegally in East African waters.

There is concern that this root cause of the Somali piracy issue has been badly managed by the international community. For example, NATO warships that police the passageway of the Gulf of Aden are not tasked with shutting down these offshore fisheries that continue to operate without jurisdiction, say observers. Allowing fish stocks to replenish, some say, might just mitigate the need for Somalis to earn a living out of piracy.

Others say this is just naïve, that the Somali coastline is a dangerous but strategic piece of maritime real estate, which will continue to destabilize the region no matter the state of fishing stocks.



soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Jumbo

    Ummmmm

    August 25, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  2. Melese Zenawi

    Seems like you purposely forgot to mention the toxic waste ,"Radio Active" and Hazardous "Nuclear" Waste being dumped off the coast of Somalia. By most EU countries and Large Western Corps. Yea we should be talking about the fishes but not the children being born blind from all this!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 25, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  3. nabil

    could be a real rout cause of the Somali piracy problem.

    August 25, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  4. NextLifeDK

    If you go back to the "peaceful" time of Siad Barre, you will find it difficult to find any notable number of fishermen. NGO's attempts in the past 15 years to convince the Somalis to start up a fishing industry have failed miserably quite simply because nobody in Somalia seems to want to join in the establishment of a viable (or at least internationally financed) fishing industry.
    I'm inclined to believe that the "you-stole-our-fish" story is just a rationalisation by East African organised crime to do what they do best; stealing and killing.
    Of course, this does not mean that I condone the behaviour of European and Asian fishing pirates.

    August 25, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  5. Naomi

    What happens if Asians keep masacring sharks? Do Asians have any brain? (I'm Asian in saying this.) They ruin the West's effort to conserve the planet. They don't care. They just want to be rich and get ahead of the West. Ban sushi right away.

    August 26, 2011 at 2:53 am |
  6. Naomi

    Asians are ruining the planet by eating weird stuff all the time. All Earthlings should be required to have Jewish or Muslim diet to preserve the planet.

    August 26, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  7. ytuque

    You have to be a real apologist to buy into this argument that illegal fishing turned the Somalis into pirates. The more likely cause is that Somalis have always been lawless, and the ships passing off their coast were simply convenient targets.

    August 26, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  8. T1Brit

    You can call them 'European' if you want – but the truth is that the illegal fishers are SPANISH

    The SPANISH trawlers are devastating the oceans : http://www.illegal-fishing.info/item_single.php?item=news&item_id=3773&approach_id=

    August 26, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  9. NorGuy

    This was a very interesting article and I commend CNN to bring up several different facets of the problem of illegal fishing. First of all, it is disputed how direct link exists between illegal fishing and piracy off the coast of Somalia. But we know that that the lack of enforcement and security on land or on sea creates opportunities for criminals. Imagine a scenario where all police and security personnel disappeared from your neighborhood. People from another town, which enjoys security, came to your town and picked up whatever they wanted. They left your town with damaged crops, less food and work opportunities. In addition they left behind toxic waste that made your family ill. I believe that this situation would have prompted your community to form vigilante groups to protect what you believed was rightfully yours. With the lack of a government to take care of the security and law enforcement such groups would easily turn into criminal enterprises but using the original rationale for their existence. In other words, they are now hard boiled criminals which claim that they protect the community.

    I am not saying this to trivialize the existence of pirates outside Somalia. But I believe it is important to understand why this phenomenon came into being. There are indications that there are similar developments in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Nigeria and Benin. In a newly issued study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime they indicate such development. They write in their report “The nexus between marine living resource crimes and piracy is also highlighted in the context of a possible spread of pirate activities. Interviews with regional experts suggested that vigilante groups based in fishing communities may currently be in formation in the Bay of Guinea as a result of depleted fish stocks due to marine living resource crimes.”

    Perhaps is Somalia a lost case, but we should learn from the mistakes and try to prevent the spread of piracy to other parts of Africa. To contribute to sustainable fishing in West Africa would therefore be a good way of preventing piracy and any other types of crimes committed at sea in their waters.

    The report of UNODC can be downloaded here:

    http://www.unodc.org/documents/human-trafficking/Issue_Paper_-_TOC_in_the_Fishing_Industry.pdf

    August 26, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  10. jaamac

    @NorGuy well said...Does any of the so called "experts" expalin the fact why Somaliland is free of piracy if we were to believe the notion that EU and asians depleted fishing. Somaliland is an independent country that declared it is independence from the former Somalia in 1991

    August 26, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  11. dulouz

    This "article" reeks of political correction, bias and journalistic activism but again that's what CNN does best.

    August 27, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  12. santafe canon

    Even in the best fishing conditions, the best haul ever would never come close to bringing in the kind of money pirates get from hijacking ships and holding out for millions of dollars. Poor fishing did not turn honest fishermen into pirates and criminals did. General lawlessness brought on piracy. There are "BAD" people in the word and the "GOOD" people did not make them bad.

    August 27, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  13. DaLe

    edition. cnn. com/2010/WORLD/africa/10/18/somalia.piracy.s.korea/index.html?iref=allsearch
    edition. cnn. com/2011/WORLD/europe/05/03/spain.pirates.convicted/index.html?iref=allsearch

    it seems absurd if fishing companies in the EU, which get subventions perhaps for keeping to catch quotas, have ships 'harvesting' (outside those quotas). Respectivly,

    "Not forgetting that Spain is one of the countries that most subventions receive from the EU. These subventions are often addressed to build bigger fishing vessels to contribute with the overfishing."
    oceansentry. org/lang-en/overfishing/campaign

    Certainly interesting system in which stolen food is sold to taxpayers who pay for the stolen food, pay to replace the stolen food (admittedly, considering there would be a non-industrialized open ocean fishing industry), and pay subventions. Obviously though, the main issue here is the issue of overfishing, and the fact that four millions fishing vessels means many millions more jobs on sea and land. The least thing that could be done, in my opinion, is to ban expansion of open sea fishing where (over)developed.

    August 28, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  14. Neville

    Somalia piracy is a little like terrorism in Northern Ireland. As they used to say, 'if you're not confused, you don't understand'. What is true to say but rarely picked up in the US media is that for the brief period of control of Somalia by the Islamic Courts Union, piracy ceased because Islamic law was imposed. When the US-backed Ethiopians invaded and restored the TFG, the piracy returned and the TFG sees no reason to enforce any kind of prohibition. The failed state that the 'civil war' engendered fractured the country and set the political and social process back years, creating a vacuum in which lawlessness thrives. The simple truth? It is less dangerous and more rewarding to be a pirate than to attempt to live a normal life in Mogadishu. The US, EU, African Union and the entire international community shares the blame for that. A few illegal fishermen is a side issue (they were from many countries by the way, not just European). The tragedy is that seafarers who are simply trying to do their jobs are being tortured and sometimes killed by pirates who are increasingly desperate to cash in on a highly lucrative trade. Somalia piracy has social, political and financial costs but so far the only people paying are the insurers.

    August 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  15. Ravishankar

    Why are we not getting rid of the pirates. Aren 't they as bad as Saddam, Talibans, Gadhafi and other surviving dictators. Why no UN resolutions? Strange !

    September 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  16. MarkyGA

    There's only ONE reason for the Somalia fiasco... incompetence inside the beltway. This is the ULTIMATE example of how our civil servants are FAMOUS for allowing a tiny little campfire to swell up into a full blown 1988 Yellowstone inferno. They do it again and again and again and again. Adolph and the nazis, al qaeda, and now this. Pitiful.

    September 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
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    September 14, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  18. teddy

    i thought about this long time ago that those ppl are fishing illegaly

    September 17, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  19. jorgez

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    September 19, 2011 at 2:00 am |
  20. sakale

    Somali pirates will be get rid off if a central Somali government is formulated by international community. Because pirates are very dengerous for all international relations of shipping.

    September 23, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  21. Charlie P Money

    This is just ridiculous. I personally have friends in the oil industry. Not floor traders, they own tankers. These people have personally assured me that the somali pirates are not even a nuisance. Imagine you are shipping millions and millions of barrels each day. In one completley lawless unregulated sea near the gulf of aiden and horn of Africa once in a while your shipment gets hijacked by pirates. WHO CARES? The pirates can not take your shipment. It is impossible to unload and transport and sell that oil in Somalia there is no infrastructure. The crew is worthless group of Philipinos and a hodge-podge of international low life drifters. The media will make a big deal about trapped miners but will never go to town for crew hostages. So the "pirates" in some Austin Powers like irony hold billions of dollars of goods hostage for .......!!!!!!! "One MILLLLLION dollars"
    Now that the media has championed pirates and the new terrorists or the even new communists international traders like my friends are being screwed because now there is actual regulations and actual military and police boats in East Africa...... Thank you media for ruining a nice unregulated part of the sea! More regulation and red tape wohooo and where is it ? East Africa??? If there is any place in the world more regulation won't work its East Africa

    September 27, 2011 at 6:04 am |
  22. chappy

    well, lets see for a thousand years they had fishing poles. 20th century they see high powered rifles....

    hum....

    Fall back plan, blame your own murderous ways on someone else.

    October 2, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  23. John Papathanassiou

    It's a great piece. I would love to post it on some of my Linked-in groups. Can Mrs. Curnow's office assist. Look forward to your feedback. Thank you,

    October 2, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  24. ndinimotto

    I guess America forgot about the failed regime change attempt that pretty much destroyed the country. What is it with you people you screw up other people country kill countless millions then you wonder why everybody hates you and wants to attack you ............Anyway no worries i think by the time we get your next republican prez you will be well and truly on your way to being a 3rd world country so we just sit back and watch .....

    October 14, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  25. tp

    Is illegal fishing to blame for Somali pirates?

    In one word. YES.

    October 19, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  26. Bill

    How many small time fishermen around the world earn millions from their trade? None. The Somalis decided piracy way was the best way for some real money.

    October 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  27. Hugh Allen

    Let me see if I've got this right. An independent sovereign country descends into chaos and becomes unable to police its coastline. This leads to abuse of the fisheries by foreign vessels and therfore piracy. Isn't the root cause the lack of government? And does Somalia expect us to do something about it (God help us if we tried)? If Somalis would actually set aside their differences and build a proper state, the piracy (and over-fishing problem) would go away. But they have a deep seated preference for clan rule and the rule of the gun (ask all of their neighbours who constantly have problems with violent crime and poaching), so have to deal with collateral consequences such as piracy.

    October 22, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  28. Hugh Allen

    Charley P Money. I hope your piece is tongue in cheek. Who the f*** are you to declare crews "....worthless group of Philipinos and a hodge-podge of international low life drifters..." Sounds to me that you are a worthless, low-life master of the universe and a paid up member of the de-retgulation clan that's just deivered us a world-class recession. Sometimes I wonder why I believe in social justice. Thanks for reminding me of its necessity.

    October 22, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  29. Pasha

    I witnessed millions of fishes dead in between Hafoon and Beyla both are in Somalia, thousands of fishermen became blind on temporary and permanent basis, all those happened in 2003. The nets of fishermen were taking by the foreigner ships and even they kill some of the fishermen. So, revolution started against foreign illegal activities and it turned into criminal movement. Pirates got 2 to 9 million every month but how about theft earning of the world nations to the Somali see? it worth more than 500 million every week. If the industrialized Countries are doing illegal activities how about the hungry and homeless people??? I am sure of one thing the developed countries need not to finish pirates because this is the only reason they have to stay into Somali sea and they want to accelerate their business in there. Insurance companies are also vitally motivating the piracy game as they are earning triple income than before.. So Robyn Curnow what hurts my feeling, I should not try on you. If you were blind those are the facts, but if it is your job than only more salary can satisfy you. Thanks allot

    November 1, 2011 at 12:11 am |
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  35. sa'eed

    really, since Somali central government collapsed the illegal fishing of coast Somali is normal action occurred because the international community are not respect the sovereignty of Somali and that is why the Somali piracy created to protect their coast

    July 24, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  36. Hhacesh

    really somali sea pirates creates Ethiopian army and European trawlers, because before the capturing of the Ethiopian army in somalia there were not any sea pirates at all.

    January 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  37. lukeskyrunner

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