Date: Thu Nov 20 2008 - 22:18:26 EST
To turn the tide on piracy in Somalia, bring justice to its fisheries
A coalition force tasked with fishery protection would address a root cause
of the crisis.
By Katie Stuhldreher
from the November 20, 2008 edition
Washington - In the past few weeks, a failed state that was forgotten for
more than a decade once again made the world take notice. While Somalia's
weak transitional government fails to assert control on land, a band of
highly organized pirates have taken firm control of the country's sea
The pirates' recent seizure of a Ukrainian ship transporting military
hardware and a Saudi oil supertanker has prompted the world to take action,
with many countries sending warships to patrol the area around the Somali
coast and Gulf of Aden. A longer-term solution may prove simpler and less
costly: Forget about freight and focus on fishing.
Beyond the immediate need to temporarily send warships to police the
troubled waters, a coalition force tasked with fishery protection should be
deployed. It could be done under the auspices of the United Nations,
African Union, or a coalition of willing states. This option will address a
root cause of the piracy problem, rob the modern-day buccaneers of their
legitimacy, and be more acceptable to the region as an enduring part of the
First, this option will address the very problem that originally sparked
this rise in piracy. The problem of piracy in Somalia originated about a
decade ago because of disgruntled fishermen.
The headless state had no authority to patrol its tuna-rich coastal waters
and foreign commercial vessels swooped in to cast their nets. This proved a
slap in the face for Somalis, who saw these vessels as illegal and raking
in profits at the expense of the local impoverished population. To make
matters worse, there were reports that some foreign ships even dumped waste
in Somali waters.
That prompted local fishermen to attack foreign fishing vessels and demand
compensation. The success of these early raids in the mid-1990s persuaded
many young men to hang up their nets in favor of AK-47s. Making the coastal
areas lucrative for local fishermen again could encourage pirates to return
to legitimate livelihoods.
Second, a fishery protection force will eliminate the pirates' source of
legitimacy. The pirates' spokesman, Sugule Ali, told the international
press last month that his men executed attacks to prevent illegal fishing
and dumping in their waters.
Although this claim may seem thin, it matters to the pirates' public image
and sense of legitimacy. If the international community steps in to address
their concerns, they will lose the one pretense they continue to stand upon
for internal support and credibility.
Third, an international force sent to protect local industry will achieve
the same goal as warships but in a more acceptable way. The principal
reason piracy thrives along Somalia's coast is that there is no coastal
authority to patrol these waters. Armed foreign ships will still serve to
fill that vacuum and deter attacks, but with the explicit mission of
serving Somalia's people – the very people who have chalked up enough
reasons to dislike foreign military interventions and are likely to view
the presence of warships as intimidation.
Skeptics could argue that intimidation is just what these lawless bandits
need. However, temporary crackdowns have not uprooted the problem yet. The
Union of Islamic Courts brutally suppressed piracy during the brief period
they controlled the Somali capital in 2006, but the pirates waited them out
and resurged stronger than ever.
In response to pressure, the pirates also tend to migrate further down the
long Somali coastline to focus operations in areas of the sea that are more
difficult to patrol. A fishery protection force, however, could convince
pirates that it is here to stay and futile to evade.
Piracy will not be eradicated from the region until Somalia becomes a
stable, functioning state with a thriving economy. A robust fishery
protection force can keep piracy under control in the meantime while the
world shifts its resources to this bigger problem. This creative solution
could make Somali waters more secure and give its people much-needed hope
for the future.
• Katie Stuhldreher is a graduate student at the Elliot School of
International Affairs at George Washington University, where she's
currently researching Somali piracy.
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