Somali pirates protect illegal fishing ships off Africa


Frustrated by a string of failed hijacking attempts, Somali pirates are turning to a new business model: providing “security” for ships illegally plundering Somalia’s fish stocks — the same scourge that launched the Horn of Africa’s piracy era eight years ago.

Somali piracy was recently a fearsome trend that saw dozens of ships and hundreds of hostages taken yearly, but the success rate of the maritime hijackers has fallen dramatically during the last year, thanks to increased security on ships and more effective international naval patrols.

Somali pirate gangs in search of new revenue are now providing armed protection for ships illegally fishing Somali waters. Pirates are also trafficking in arms, drugs and humans, the Associated Press said, citing a report published this month by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

The security services for fishermen bring piracy full circle. Somali pirate attacks originally were a defensive response to illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping off Somalia’s coast. Attacks later evolved into a clan-based, ransom-driven business.

As many as 180 illegal Iranian and 300 illegal Yemeni vessels are fishing waters in the northern Somali region of Puntland, as well as a small number of Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and European-owned vessels, according to estimates by officials in Puntland. International naval officials corroborate the prevalence of Iranian and Yemeni vessels, the U.N. report said.

The “security” teams help vessels cast nets and open fire on Somali fishermen in order to drive away competition. “The prize is often lucrative and includes large-reef and open-water catch, notably tuna,” the report says.

The nearly 500-page U.N. report also accuses Somalia’s government of wide-ranging corruption. In response, Somalia’s presidential spokesman told the AP that the report contains “numerous inaccuracies, contradictions and factual gaps.”

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