Who Are the Real Pirates in Somalia’s Water?

When will Somali piracy problem come to an end? When will the world really care for Somalia’s unprotected waters, stop the illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste? When would the world leave the vast coast of Somalia to Somalis to protect?

According to the United Nation (UN) report, an estimated US$300 million worth of seafood is stolen from the Somali’s coastline each year by foreign vessels. In response, piracy off the Somali coast has threatened international shipping since the collapsed of Somali government in early 1990s.

It has recently become a big issue, which has affected the maritime world and has lead to a shift in strategy towards Somalia. Somalis and many leaders around the world believe that the problem of piracy is linked to the need for peace and stability in Somalia.

However, piracy has become the easiest way to make money for the jobless youth, former militiamen and ex-fishermen in the restive country of Somalia. Allegedly, deadly clashes between Islamist rebels and the fragile UN-backed Somali government have forced many jobless youths to join the lucrative scourge.

In August 2008, the Security Council called on all countries and regional organizations with the necessary capacity to deploy naval ships and military aircraft off the Somali coast to fight against piracy. This call impedes UN efforts to feed the millions of hungry civilians in the war-torn country.

What Led to the Action of Pirates?

The key cause of piracy in Somalia’s unprotected waters, are the foreign ships that have looted seafood, dumped toxic waste, and have destroyed the boats of fishermen. Poverty, lawless, instability and jobless are other reasons that have exacerbated piracy in Somalia. Elders in the pirate-powered districts believe that there are two pirates operating in Somali waters, thus complicating the situation.

“The foreign vessels that illegally fish, and destroy fishermen’s boats are the real pirates, but the world doesn’t recognize them as pirates,” Muhammed Jama’a a resident of Harardere district, North of Somalis capital Mogadishu told IOL in a telephone interview.

“Since 1991, foreign vessels have been dumping toxic and nuclear waste in our waters, and have destroyed an unknown number of our marine resources.”“They (people) don’t have a choice to fight against foreign vessels, if the world doesn’t recognize the looters as pirates, and protect them from our mineral resources, we will support our volunteer coast guards (pirates),” Jama’a said.

Badmax, a Somali pirate based in Harardere district told IOL:

“I was a fisherman in Harardere coast village in central Somalia, but I became a coast guard (pirate), when foreign vessels destroyed our fishing equipments and looted our seafood.”

He pointed out that piracy could be a problem as long as Somalia remains unstable, Badmax was among the pirates, who seized the Spanish tuna trawler hijacked on October 2, 2009, and they took nearly US$ 4 million as ransom.

Do the pirates Act on Behalf of the People?

Pirates claim they are defending Somali’s long coastline, and act on behalf of their people, but this is not what all Somalis believe. There is a small number of people who support pirates:

“We support the pirates only when they hijack foreign vessels which dump toxic waste or fish illegally,” an Eyl resident said.

Saalim, a local radio station director in Puntland, a semi-autonomous Somali region told IOL

“Residents in Eyl district chased away the pirates who had power in that district years ago. This show Somalis don’t like pirates,”

Ahmed Sheikh Burale, a former head of Banadir Court of Appeal, who worked for Siad Barre’s administration told IOL:

“Pirates at first acted on behalf the people. They hijacked a number of foreign vessels which were dumping toxic waste on our coast, and illegally fishing, but now the pirates are totally different. They started hijacking cargo ships, UN-chartered ships and tourists’ yachts and this is not what we want.”

Burale, also a Somali author, added that pirates are now a great problem for Somalis, especially the Internally Displaced People (IDPs):

“Sometimes they hijack ships carrying humanitarian food aid for IDPs – it’s a problem.”

The scourge of piracy along Somali waters has threatened the delivery of aid to the war-torn country, which half of its population depend on.

Honorably without Supporters

Some family and friends regard pirates as honorables in Harardere Coast district in Mudug region, about 500 km to the North Eastern of Mogadishu the capital of Somalia. The population (mostly nomads and fishermen) of the district is estimated at 7,000. Also there’s small number of businessmen.

“They have money, they build new big houses, they buy new cars, they wed the most beautiful girls, and most of them are aged between 20 and 35 years and business is booming,” said Si’ad Abdulle in Harardere in a telephone interview.

Local Perception of the Pirates

“The pirates based in our district [Harardere ] came from different regions in Somalia, but a few are residents. We support them only because they chase or hijack foreign vessels,” Abdirizak a resident in Harardere added.

According to Reuters, activity has helped bolster the local economy in Harardere, which has morphed from a fishing village to a town where pirates cruise the streets in luxury cars.

“They (people) don’t have a choice to fight against foreign vessels, if the world doesn’t recognize the looters as pirates, and protect them from our mineral resources, we will support our volunteer coast guards (pirates),”

“Piracy-related business has become the main profitable economic activity in our area, and as locals we depend on their input,” said Mohamed Adam, Harardere deputy security officer, told Reuters.“The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and public schools,” he added.

There is no fighting amongst pirates, because the money keeps them together!

“Our people don’t like pirates, but they have money, power, and they are getting stronger with each day!

The battle between pirates and foreign naval forces in Somali waters have heavily impacted on fishermen in the south, central and north eastern Somalia who face daily harassment from warships.

“The fight against piracy is affecting us. Warships suspect us as pirates; they frequently target us, which sometimes jeopardize our work” a fisherman in Gara’d Village told IOL.

In the recent past, France navy forces opened fire on fishermen, causing the death of four fishermen including a Yemeni. Others were injured.

Double the Price

Moneyed pirates in one of the worlds most poverty country, buy the cars, clothes and mobile phones in double price. Toyota Surf Vehicle is nearly US $6,000 dollars in Mogadishu, however…

“They buy Vehicle Toyota surf from the car dealers at a double price $12,000 US dollars when they get ransom from the ships,” a car dealer in Mogadishu told IOL.

Sacdiyo Abdillahi, a tea seller in Harardere told IOL:

“I normally sell a cup of tea at 2,000 Somali shilling (US$ 0.2) but the pirates; I charge them 12,000 Somali shillings (US$1).”

Pirates, who hijack ships and are waiting for ransom delivery, usually take credit from ‘special shops and restaurants’, and repay double price.

Between Pirates and Foreign Naval Ships!

Cost of Living

When pirates get their ransom, the price of the basic household commodities shoot up:

“We cannot buy anything as we once used to. Getting something for our children is now a nightmare. Everything has just skyrocketed. We are really suffering,” a resident in Harardere told IOL.

Thousands of residents in most pirate-controlled districts face the same problem: after a hefty heist, the price of food and other commodities become a problem to the locals who are mostly nomads and fishermen who are reeling from the occasional droughts.

By Abdulkarim Jimale



The Nature of War on Piracy


Why would the world declare war on piracy after 20 years of bloodshed and anarchy in Somalia?


Navies from more than two dozen nations are patrolling Somali’s water to deter possible pirate attacks on commercial and UN-chartered vessels. Somalis are now suspects in the increase of foreign trawlers which steal seafood since the start of the anti piracy mission.


Ahmedou Ould-‘Abdallah, UN special envoy to Somalia stated on July 25, 2008 “because there is no (effective) government, there is so much irregular fishing from European and Asian countries.”


Awad Ahmed Ashareh, a Somali MP told radio Shabelle early this year that foreign vessels are looting Somalis seafood:


“Spain, South Korea and other countries are illegally fishing, dumping toxic waste, and destroying our mineral resources. They come for their own interest.”


Mr. Awad added that foreign navies patrolling in Somalia coast are protecting their cargo ships. In the other words, countries, which have deployed warships, are only concerned with the trawlers that come under constant attacks from the pirates.

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