Friday, April 13, 2012

Piracy: From Somalia to Senegal?

Recently fishing unions in Senegal in West Africa warned that if unauthorized fishing by foreign trawlers in their waters is not reined in, piracy could take hold in Senegal and it could end up becoming an international threat to shipping like Somalia. The economic losses resulting from pirate attacks in Somalia is estimated at ten billion dollars. The British newspaper Guardian in a detailed article on this topic on April 3 focused on comparing the warnings issued by Senegalese fishers with the past warnings by Somali fishers and it concluded that the current warnings about the influx of Chinese, European and Russian fishing trawlers in North, East and West of Africa should be taken seriously.

The FAO, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, maintains that all the aquatic resources of West Africa have been exploited to the full capacity and even beyond. And currently over one and half million local residents of the region, whose lives depend on these resources, are facing deep economic hardship. Statistics reveal that European fishing vessels catch over 235 thousand tons of fish between the waters of Mauritania and Morocco alone while tens of thousands of tons are also caught with giant nets in the waters of Sierra Leone, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau and other countries.

The origin of piracy in Somalia goes back to the 1990s when the Siad Barre regime fell from power resulting in the disintegration of the navy and coastal guards.

At that time tens of thousands of people whose lives faced dire difficulties due to severe droughts and poverty in Somalia turned to coastal areas and formed fishing communities to provide for their needs and thus fishing became their only means of survival. When civil war broke out in Somalia, foreign fishing vessels began entering Somali waters illegally and catching large volumes of rock-lobster and other warm water fish along the tip of the Horn of Africa. In 2006 Somali fisher-men described the way illegal fishing trawlers not only deplete natural and aquatic resources, they also use various methods to stop local fishers from their activities. According to Somali local fishers, foreigners had torn their nets and made permanent bases for themselves near the coast. Now Senegalese fishers are stating similar statements and saying that catches are already down by 75 percent since 10 years ago because foreign illegal fishers have extensively depleted their aquatic resources and they are very worried about the approach of a big catastrophe.

Somali coastal residents who saw their livelihoods threatened by foreign trawlers took up arms and became a kind of coast guard. This however led to the creation of piracy in these waters. In time, ransom payments to poor fishermen of Somalia by these foreign fishing vessels encouraged the escalation of pirate attacks. Recently a number of local Senegalese fishers have warned that they will attack foreign vessels to protect their vital resources and local economy. They maintain that within the next ten years people will become armed and fishers will go fishing with guns aboard.

Therefore illegal exploitation of the natural resources, degradation of the marine environment, poverty and war created a vicious cycle of corruption, theft and destruction in Somalia and now the same may happen off Senegal waters.

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