Of Toxic Wastes, Warlords, and Pirates

In 2006, Assaf said, the Somali people complained before the UN about the problem of illegal trawler fishing in their area, which was causing the plunder of their fish stocks – especially the prized yellow fin tuna, red snapper and barracuda.

“Despite repeated requests, the UN refused to act. Meanwhile, the warships of global powers that patrol the strategically important Gulf of Aden, did not seize any vessels dumping toxic chemicals off the coast,” Assaf explained.

“So the angry Somalis, whose waters were being poisoned and whose livelihoods were threatened, took matters into their own hands. Fishermen began to arm themselves and attempted to act as unofficial coastguards. They began to seize ships in late 2006. These [ships] were released after a ransom was paid,” he furthered.

The self-proclaimed “pirate” leader Januna Ali Jama, explained to the international media that the ransom they demanded for the release of the Ukranian ship which they seized in November 2008 is to be used for the coastal cleanup.

“We are just reacting to the (dumping of the) toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years,” Ali Jama said, quoting from Assaf’s report.

“The Somali coastline has been destroyed. We believe that this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas,” Ali Jama added.

The warlords join the “show”

Due to the handsome amount that the sea militias receive, Somali government officials who formed part of the Western-backed Transitional Federation Government (TFG) soon joined the “show”.

“They have transformed the piracy operation into a multi-million industry that funded their lavish lifestyles,” Assaf said.

The officials have begun to fund the militants-turned-pirates with guns, ammunitions and grenade launchers.

Despite their ouster during the popular rebellion of the Union of Islamic Courts in July 2006, the piracy continued.

To date, the Somali buccaneers operate in five well-organized groups, drawing members from large clans, which are extended family networks.

“These groups,” said Crispian Cuss of the London-based Olive Group, “are controlled by warlords and criminal gangs who recruit local fishermen and take a lion’s share of the profits.”

The profit sharing, according to a news report from the leading news wire service, works like this: 20 percent of the ransom goes to the group bosses; 30 percent is used for bribing corrupt officials; 20 percent goes into capital investment like guns, ammunition, fuel, food, and cigarettes; and the remainder goes to the operatives themselves.

It is desperation to earn a living said Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers’ Assistance Program that pushes these fishermen to go into piracy.

Today, there are about 2.5 million Somalis who go hungry everyday, depending only on food aids being shipped to Somali by the UniUN’s World Food Programme.

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