Somali Piracy – The Reverse of the Coin

Somali piracy is now under control. EUNAVFOR statistics show a dramatic reduction in sightings, attacks and boardings. No vessel has been successfully captured by pirates since May 2012. So great has been the success of the anti-piracy action that Somalia has been eclipsed by the Gulf of Guinea as pirate central.

However, as I argued in my previous blog, the success against piracy has been achieved through the offshore strategy of deterrence, intervention and subsequent prosecution at a cost of £6 billion in 2012. Such a strategy is unsustainable in the longer term and can only buy time to develop a viable alternative economy to supplant the appeal of criminality: the reverse of the coin.

The case for developing a sustainable fishing industry – encompassing artisan sector, industrial sector and licensed foreign vessels – to support the coastal communities and Somali economy is simple.

Spread of Yellow Fin tuna

Spread of Yellow Fin tuna

Somalia has 3,300 kilometres and a corresponding potential EEZ covering 39,000 square kilometres. The UN conservatively estimated that the fishery resources within 200 miles of the Somali coast where capable of yielding sustainable annual catches of 200,000 tons. This by any standards is a high value resource at a time when fish stocks are falling across the world.

The benefit of a revitalised fishing industry is undisputed.

Spread of Big Eye Tuna

Spread of Big Eye Tuna

Its exact monetary value might be put at between $45 million, based on the catch landed in Somaliland to $300 million based on the UN assessment of the fish stocks taken illegally from Somali waters.

A sustainable fishing industry would deliver jobs, as many as 90,000 in some estimates in fishing, processing, logistics and marketing. It would enable the development of an alternative economy delivering taxation back to the state to fund roads, hospitals and schools. It would provide a business opportunity for Somali investors and finally, it would provide jobs for  the coastal communities, along with  increased social standing.

The good news is that this is recognised by the local population. Very few Somalis want to live in a culture dominated by organised crime and many communities have taken direct action to drive out or bar pirates from their towns and villages.

Artisan Fishermen

Artisan Fishermen

As Amina Farah Arshe says “We can stop (piracy) by empowering the people. We can stop it by giving jobs to the youth. People would make money, the government would collect tax revenues, and piracy would diminish,” she said.

So why has it not happened yet?

The superficial answers are that Somali waters are still disputed; its a logistical challenge; the pirates threaten the fishermen and steal the fish. I agree that these are all difficulties but none are insurmountable barriers to progress.The underlying problem is that nobody has taken ownership of the land based solution to piracy.

The reality is that only the Somali government can own the problem and the rest of us are merely there to advise, assist and support.

I have no doubt that the politics of Somalia, Mogadishu, Somaliand, Puntland, Bari region all hinder progress, but while the government fails to grasp the heart of the matter, Somali waters are being plundered by foreign fishing fleets to the tune of $300 million each year.

So what does the Somali government need to do? This is my six point plan.

Claim ownership of the EEZ. I am aware of the dispute over the claims of territorial waters against the EEZ. Both serve the same purpose. My advice is to ditch the lawyers and move to mediation between the decision makers. Find a mutually acceptable solution and then turn it into a legally binding agreement. North Light Solutions would be more than happy to advise and assist.

Establish a presence in the EEZ to deter illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing. The Puntland Maritime Force have had some small scale success at detaining illegal fishermen. The long term solution should be the Somali coast guard but it is still some time away and as yet we have no date for the initial operational capability.

The interim solution is to deploy civilian fishery protection vessels to work in conjunction with the coastal communities and international maritime force to deter illegal fishing. A single vessel, under the authority of the Somali government, flying the Somali flag patrolling Somali waters will send a strong signal of intent for the future. It may not be perfect but it will be better than nothing.

Create a team to deliver the fishing industry. Somalis are canny business men capable of running complex business provided they are given the right level of advice, technical assistance and support. Put together a team of “doers” under Somali leadership and start working the problems.

Develop the business plan for the industry. I have used the term “estimated” through this blog because up to date data is non-existent. Now is the time to do the hard graft, to match the reality with the ideas. What are the natural resources, what are the benefits, what investment is required, how and when will it be spent, how will it be recouped?

Gather the investment. The international community will contribute towards the fishing industry. In 1995 foreign investment exceeded $22 million. That cost will be significantly higher today but would still be a considerable saving over the security costs of countering piracy using military force.

Do it and do it now. The window for change is open. Solve the problem before it closes. Conferences and conventions all  have their place but nothing happens without action.

Action this dayThis brings me neatly to the the third annual international counter-piracy conference in Dubai which opens on 11 Sep. The organisers state that it will focus on rebuilding the nation of Somalia, which is excellent news. The reverse of the coin is recognised.

What concerns me is that no Somali representative is shown as a speaker or panellist in any of the sessions, yet they hold they hold the key to the land based solution. Surely, its time we got the Somalis to step up to the mark, after all its their country, or is it a case that we are not encouraging them to do so.

Piracy can only be defeated by utilising both sides of the coin. The international community currently owns one side and the Somalis own the reverse. The solution will ultimately be their solution brought about with our assistance. So lets start taking that approach.

Coin 1 (2)

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