Student Researcher: Christine Wilson
Faculty Evaluator: Andre Bailey, EOP Advisor
Sonoma State University
The international community has come out in
force to condemn and declare war on the Somali fishermen pirates, while
discreetly protecting the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU)
fleets from around the world that have been poaching and dumping toxic
waste in Somali waters since the fall of the Somali government
eighteen years ago.
In 1991, when the government of Somalia collapsed, foreign interests seized
the opportunity to begin looting the country’s food supply and using the
country’s unguarded waters as a dumping ground for nuclear and other
According to the High Seas Task Force (HSTF), there were over 800 IUU
fishing vessels in Somali waters at one time in 2005, taking advantage of
Somalia’s inability to police and control its own waters and fishing
grounds. The IUUs poach an estimated $450 million in seafood from Somali
In so doing, they steal an invaluable protein
source from some of the world’s poorest people and ruin the livelihoods of
Allegations of the dumping of toxic waste, as well as illegal fishing, have
circulated since the early 1990s, but hard evidence emerged when the tsunami
of 2004 hit the country. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
reported that the tsunami washed rusting containers of toxic waste onto the
shores of Puntland, northern Somalia.
Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, told Al Jazeera that when the barrels
were smashed open by the force of the waves, the containers exposed a
“frightening activity” that had been going on for more than a decade.
“Somalia has been used as a dumping ground
for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through
the civil war there,” he said.
“The waste is many different kinds. There is
uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium
and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital
wastes, chemical wastes - you name it.”
Nuttall also said that since the containers came
ashore, hundreds of residents have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and
abdominal bleeding, skin infections and other ailments.
“What is most alarming here is that nuclear
waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste that is potentially
killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean,” he said.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy for
Somalia, says the practice helps fuel the eighteen-year-old civil war in
Somalia, as companies pay Somali government ministers and/or militia leaders
to dump their waste.
“There is no government control... and there
are few people with high moral ground... yes, people in high positions
are being paid off, but because of the fragility of the Transitional
Federal Government, some of these companies now no longer ask the
authorities - they simply dump their waste and leave.”
In 1992 the countries of the European Union and
168 other countries signed the
Basel Convention on the Control of
Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.
The convention prohibits waste trade between
countries that have signed, as well as countries that have not signed the
accord, unless a bilateral agreement had been negotiated. It also prohibits
the shipping of hazardous waste to a war zone.
the United Nations has disregarded its own
findings, and has ignored Somali and international appeals to act on the
continued ravaging of the Somali marine resources and dumping of toxic
wastes. Violations have also been largely ignored by the region’s maritime
This is the context from which the men we are calling “pirates” have
Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somali fishermen who, at first, took
speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a
“tax” on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia.
One of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, explains that their motive is,
“to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our
waters... We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea
bandits [to be] those who illegally fish, and dump waste, and carry
weapons in our seas.”
Author Johann Hari notes that, while none
of this makes hostage-taking justifiable, the “pirates” have the
overwhelming support of the local population for a reason.
The independent Somalia news site WardherNews
conducted the best research we have on what ordinary Somalis are thinking.
It found that 70 percent,
“strongly support the piracy as a form of
national defense of the country’s territorial waters.”
Instead of taking action to protect the people
and waters of Somalia from international transgressions, the UN has
responded to the situation by passing aggressive resolutions that entitle
and encourage transgressors to wage war on the Somali pirates.
A chorus of calls for tougher international action has resulted in
multi-national and unilateral Naval stampede to invade and take control of
the Somali waters.
The UN Security Council (a number of whose
members may have ulterior motives to indirectly protect their illegal
fishing fleets in the Somali Seas) passed Resolutions 1816 in June 2008, and
1838 in October 2008, which,
“call upon States interested in the security
of maritime activities to take part actively in the fight against piracy
on the high seas off the coast of Somalia, in particular by deploying
naval vessels and military aircraft...”
Both NATO and the EU have issued orders to the
same effect. Russia, Japan, India, Malaysia, Egypt, and Yemen, along with an
increasing number of countries have joined the fray.
For years, attempts made to address piracy in the world’s seas through UN
resolutions have failed to pass, largely because member nations felt such
resolutions would infringe on their sovereignty and security. Countries are
unwilling to give up control and patrol of their own waters. UN Resolutions
1816 and 1838, to which a number of West African, Caribbean and South
American nations objected, were accordingly tailored to apply to
Somalia has no representation at the United
Nations strong enough to demand amendments to protect its sovereignty, and
Somali civil society objections to the Draft Resolutions - which makes no
mention of illegal fishing or hazard waste dumping - were ignored.?
“Do we expect starving Somalians to stand
passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us
snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome?
We didn’t act on those crimes - but when
some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for
20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about 'evil.'
If we really want to deal with piracy, we
need to stop its root cause - our crimes - before we send in the
gun-boats to root out Somalia’s criminals.”
Update by Mohamed
The crises of the multiple piracies in Somalia have not diminished since my
previous article, “The
Two Piracies in Somalia: Why the Word Ignores the Other,” was
written in December 2008.
All the illegal fishing piracy, the waste
dumping piracy and the shipping piracy continue with new zeal. Somali
fishermen, turned pirates in reaction to armed foreign marine poachers, have
intensified their war against all kinds of ships in the Gulf of Aden and the
On international response, foreign governments, international organizations
and mainstream media have been united in demonizing Somalia and described
its fishermen as evil men pillaging ships and terrorizing sailors (even
though no sailors were harmed). This presentation is lopsided. The media
said relatively little on the other piracies of illegal fishing and waste
The allied navies of the world - fleets of over forty warships from over ten
Asian, Arab, and African countries as well as from many NATO and EU member
countries - stepped up their hunt for the Somali fishermen pirates,
regardless of whether they are actually engaged in piracy or in normal
fishing in the Somali waters.
Various meetings of the International Contact
Group for Somalia (ICGS) in New York, London, Cairo, and Rome continue
to underline the demonization of the Somali fishermen and urge further
punitive actions without a single mention of the violation of illegal
fishing and toxic dumping by vessels from the countries of those sitting in
the ICGS and UN forums in judgment of the piracy issue.
At the ICGS Anti-Piracy meeting in Cairo on May 30 2009, Egypt and Italy
were two of the loudest countries calling for severe punishment of the
Somali fishermen pirates.
As the ICGS are meeting in Rome today (June 10,
2009), two Egyptian trawlers full of fish illegally caught in Somali waters
and an Italian barge that had been towing two huge tanks suspected of
containing toxic or nuclear waste are being held in the Somali coastal town
of Las Khorey by the local community, who invited the international experts
to come and investigate these cases. So far, the international community has
not responded to the Las Khorey community’s invitation.
It should be pointed out that both the IUUs and waste dumping are happening
in other African countries. Ivory Coast is a victim of major international
It is said that acts of piracy are actually acts of desperation, and, as in
the case of Somalia, what is one man’s pirate is another man’s Coast Guard.
Al Jazeera English, October 11, 2008
Title: “Toxic waste behind Somali piracy”
Author: Najad Abdullahi
Huffington Post, January 4, 2009
Title: “You are being lied to about pirates”
Author: Johann Hari
WardheerNews, January 8, 2009
Title: “The Two Piracies in Somalia: Why the World Ignores the
Author: Mohamed Abshir Waldo