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Analysis: Somalia Piracy Began in Response to Illegal Fishing and Toxic Dumping by Western Ships off Somali Coast
April 14, 2009
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama vowed an international crackdown to halt piracy off the coast of Somalia Monday soon after the freeing of US cargo ship captain Richard Phillips, who had been held hostage by Somali pirates since last Wednesday. Three Somali pirates were killed in the US operation.
While some military analysts are considering attacks on pirate bases inside Somalia in addition to expanding US Navy gunships along the Somali coastline, others are strongly opposed to a land invasion. US Congress member Donald Payne of New Jersey made a brief visit to the Somali capital of Mogadishu Monday and said piracy was, quote, a "symptom of the decades of instability." His plane was targeted by mortar fire as he was leaving Somalia, soon after a pirate vowed revenge against the United States for killing his men.
Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told Fox News over the weekend that the US should assemble a, quote, "coalition of the willing" to invade Somalia.
Meanwhile, local fishing and business communities along the Somali coast are suffering as a result of the increased American and international naval presence in their waters.
SOMALI FISHERMAN: [translated] American Marine forces always arrest us as we continue fishing. We meet their warships, and at times they send helicopters to take photos of us, as they suspect we are pirates. And we are not.
AMY GOODMAN: While the pirates story has dominated the corporate media, there has been little to no discussion of the root causes driving piracy.
SOMALI BUSINESSMAN: [translated] People are worried about the troops, as it is becoming more and more difficult to do business. There's a lot of warships patrolling the sea, and merchant ships are getting more and more checked, thinking they are operated by pirates.
Mohamed Abshir Waldo is a consultant and analyst in Kenya. He is Kenyan of Somali origin. In January, he wrote a paper called "The Two Piracies in Somalia: Why the World Ignores the Other?" He joins us on the phone right now from Mombasa.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: Hello. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us. Can you talk about what you think the two piracies are?
MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: Well, the two piracies are the original one, which was foreign fishing piracy by foreign trawlers and vessels, who at the same time were dumping industrial waste, toxic waste and, it also has been reported, nuclear waste. Most of the time, we feel it's the same fishing vessels, foreign fishing vessels, that are doing both. That was the piracy that started all these problems.
And the other piracy is the shipping piracy. When the marine resources of Somalia was pillaged, when the waters were poisoned, when the fish was stolen, and in a poverty situation in the whole country, the fishermen felt that they had no other possibilities or other recourse but to fight with, you know, the properties and the shipping of the same countries that have been doing and carrying on the fishing piracy and toxic dumping.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what IUUs are?
MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: IUUs are–I don't remember now, but it's uninterrupted an unreported fishing, unlicensed, unreported, uncontrolled, practically, fishing. Without [inaudible]–
AMY GOODMAN: In your article, you say–in your article, you say it stands for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing fleets from Europe–
MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: –and Arabia and the Far East.
MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: Correct, correct. And this has been known to both the countries in the West that had these fishing fleets, which included Spain, Italy, Greece, and eventually UK and others who joined later, as well as Russian. And, of course, there were many more from the East. And this problem has been going on since 1991. And the fishing communities and fishermen reported and complained and appealed to the international community through the United Nations, through the European Union, with no, actually, response in any form at all. They were totally ignored.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Abshir Waldo, explain how what you call "fishing piracy" began.
MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: Fishing piracy means fishing without license, fishing by force, even though the community complains, even though whatever authorities are there complain, even though they ask these foreign fishing fleets and trawlers and vessels that have no license, that have no permit whatsoever, when they tell them, "Stop fishing and get out of the area," they refuse, and instead, in fact, they fight. They fought with the fishermen and coastal communities, pouring boiling water on them and even shooting at them, running over their canoes and fishing boats. These were the problems that had been going on for so long, until the community organized themselves and empowered, actually, what they call the National Volunteer Coast Guard, what you would call and what others call today as "pirates."
AMY GOODMAN: So you're saying illegal fishing is happening off the coast of Somalia. What countries are engaged in it?
MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: The countries engaged include practically all of southern Europe, France, Spain, Greece, UK. Nowadays I hear even Norway. There were not many Scandinavians before, but Norwegian fishing now is involved in this, you know, very profitable fishing business. So, there are others, of course. There are Russian. There are Taiwanese. There are Philippines. There are Koreans. There are Chinese. You know, it's a free-for-all coast.
And to make things worse, we learned that now that the navies and the warships are there; every country is protecting their own illegal fishing piracies–vessels. They have come back. They ran away from the Somali volunteer guards, coast guards, but now they are back. And they are being protected by their navies. In fact, they are coming close to the territorial waters to harass again the fishermen, who no longer have opportunity or possibility to fish on the coast because of the fear of being called pirates and apprehended by the navy, who are at the same time protecting the other side.
So the issue is really a matter of tremendous injustice, international community only attending and talking and coming to the rescue of the–of their interests and not at all considering or looking from the Somalis' side. This does not mean I am condoning or anyone is condoning piracy or endangering the life of innocent sailors and crews or damaging the property of others, but these people, these fishermen-turned-pirates, had no alternative but to protect themselves, to protect their turf, to–you know, an act of desperation, you might call it.
AMY GOODMAN: What do people in Somalia feel about the pirates, the issue of pirates off the coast?
MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: A mixed reaction, I think, in Somalia. The people do not want the innocent sailors to be harmed. They don't want any major environmental disasters to happen by blowing up chemical- or oil-carrying vessels. And they urge the pirates, or fishermen pirates, they urge them not to do any such things.
On the other hand, since there's no sympathy, there's no understanding, there is no readiness for dialogue with the coastal community, with the community in general, with the Somali authorities or the regional government or the national government on a joint action for solving these problems, then it's each for his own way of doing. But the people are very concerned. On the one hand, they would like this to be resolved peacefully; on the other, they feel very sad for injustice being done by the international community.
AMY GOODMAN: A little more on the issue of toxic dumping, if you would, Mohamed Abshir Waldo. I don't think people in the United States understand exactly what it is you're referring to and how it affects people.
MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: Well, toxic dumping, industrial waste dumping, nuclear dumping, as you are probably aware and have heard and many people know, for quite some time, in the '70s mainly, in the '80s, in the '90s, there was a lot of waste of all these kinds that companies wanted to get rid of, following very strict environmental rules in their countries. So where else to take but in countries in conflict or weak countries who could not prevent them or who could be bought? So these wastes have been carried to Somalia. It's been in the papers. It has been reported by media organizations like Al Jazeera, I think, like CNN. Many had reported about the Mafia, Italian Mafia, who admitted it, dumping it in Somalia for quite some time, for quite a long time.
And as we speak now, I heard yesterday, in fact, another vessel was captured in the Gulf of Aden by community–this time not pirates, by the community, when the suspected it, and it was carrying two huge containers, which it dumped into the sea when they saw these people coming to them. They have been apprehended. The vessel had been apprehended. Fortunately, the containers did not sink into the sea, but they are being towed to the coast. And this community has invited the international community to come and investigate this matter. So far, we don't have action. So this dumping, waste dumping, toxic dumping, nuclear waste dumping has been ongoing in Somalia since 1992.
AMY GOODMAN: When I read your article, Mohamed Abshir Waldo, it reminded me of a controversial memo that was leaked from the World Bank–this was when Lawrence Summers, now the chief economic adviser, was the chief economist at the World Bank–in which it said, "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable, and we should face up to that. I've always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted." He said he was being sarcastic.
MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: Actually, the more formal official concerned with this UN habitat has also confirmed in various reports that this has been dumped in Somalia. The special representative of the Secretary-General, Ould-Abdullah, who is now working with the Somali authorities, has also, I think, made a statement to that effect. So it is very well known. It's not something hidden. It's not something we are making up. The world knows, but it doesn't do anything about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Abshir Waldo, thank you for joining us, a consultant in Kenya, speaking to us from Mombasa.