FISHY BUSINESS : Illegal fishing in Somalia and the capture of state institutions

Foreign IUU fishing operations are frequently facilitated by local Somali agents, often in cooperation with government or quasi-governmental actors, who for a fee provide fishing licences, flag registrations, falsified export documentation and even armed onboard security detachments.

As the GI-TOC has noted in previous research, there is also a potential overlap in the illicit networks involved in IUU fishing and in arms trafficking from Iran to Somalia and Yemen.21 The owner of at least one of the dhows licensed by Puntland – the Al-Aqris – has been previously identified by the GI-TOC as having possible ties to a Somali arms trafficking network.22 The businessman – who is based out of the port of Konarak, Iran – gave the name of his fishing agent in Somalia as ‘Sadam’. Sadam, the businessman told the GI-TOC, would arrange for two armed Somalis onboard, as well as fishing licences from Puntland authorities.23 ‘Iranian dhows have been warned not to go to Somalia, but Puntland authorities say that as long as they invite us, we can stay as long as we like’, he said, adding that the cost of a 45-day licence – exclusive of an armed guard detachment – was typically US$1 500.24 The GI-TOC subsequently identified the businessman’s local agent ‘Sadam’ as Sadam Abdi Ismail, a member of a prominent arms smuggling network in Puntland.25 Ismail was listed as the agent for eight of the 52 Iranian fishing vessels licensed by the Puntland administration in September and October 2020.

The 2015 maritime seizure of the dhow MV Nasir provided additional evidence of a possible nexus between arms trafficking and IUU fishing. On 24 September 2015, the Nasir was interdicted by Australian naval vessel HMAS Melbourne while transporting anti-tank guided missiles and other weaponry reportedly destined for the rebel Houthi administration in Yemen.30 The master of the vessel at the time of its seizure was Iranian national Javed Hoot (Figure 4), who later claimed ownership of seven dhows, which he used for independent arms trafficking operations into Somalia.31 Hoot also admitted involvement in the Somali fisheries sector. He stated that he would routinely pay US$10 000 per vessel to a Somali agent, who would secure the necessary permissions to fish and arrange for two armed guards to be stationed on board.32The reported owner of the seized arms consignment, Mashad-based Iranian national Shebab Meer Kazai, also confirmed his involvement in Somali fisheries. Kazai stated that he would pay US$15 000 to a local Somali agent to receive three armed guards on board fishing vessels he owned, as well as the necessary permissions from the Puntland administration.33 ‘We are protected’, he said.

Far more egregious, however, was Puntland’s issuance of licences to Thai fishing vessels engaging in human trafficking and forced labour practices. The case of the Marwan 1, an erstwhile Thai fishing vessel employing trafficked Kenyan seafarers, was but the latest example of what may be described as the Puntland administration’s complicity in Somalia’s ‘slave fishing’ vessels.

In his book The Outlaw Ocean, Urbina extensively documented the labour abuses and human rights violations committed aboard the Somali 7, including beatings, lack of medical care, human trafficking, death threats and unpaid wages.39 The abuses, Urbina noted, took place with the knowledge and complicity of both Somali federal government and Puntland administration officials.4

According to members of this crew, the Marwan 1 turned out to be another forced labour fishing operation. From April to July 2019, the Kenyan crew on the Marwan 1 endured deplorable working conditions, leading to multiple untreated injuries.50 They were reportedly forced to work up to 20 hours per day and sleep in the open, and were denied medical treatment.51Following a confrontation with the captain of the vessel, crewmembers were denied food for two days and were threatened with being locked in cold storage and being shot.52 In July 2019, the crew eventually managed to contact the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which in turn notified the Kenyan ambassador to Somalia. The following month, the seafarers returned home to Kenya after a long and onerous repatriation journey.53 Despite being promised a salary of KES 26 000 (US$240) per month,54 each crewmember ultimately received between US$450 and US$500 for a total of four months’ work, which was only sufficient to purchase airfare to Kenya.55

The individuals contacted by Somlink and Al Wesam included the prominent Puntland-based arms trafficker Abdirahman Mohamed Omar (aka ‘Dhofaye’) and Yemen-based trafficker Mohamed Hussein Salad. These communications may constitute preliminary evidence of a nexus between IUU fishing and arms trafficking operations, the existence of which has been previously hypothesized by the GI-TOC.6

This is Puntland’s only income generator at the moment.

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FGS and Puntland government collude in aiding illegal fishing in Somalia-report

Monday July 5, 2021

MOGADISHU (HOL) - Senior officials among them ministers at Somali Federal Government and Puntland State Government are central to facilitating illegal and unregulated fishing in the country’s waters, a report by a Swiss-based organisation has revealed.

According to the report, Fishy Business: Illegal fishing in Somalia and the capture of state institutions by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), the ministries of fisheries at the federal level and Puntland government either collude or operate separately in facilitating or taking part in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) in Somali waters.

Operating as either business partners or relatives, the government officials particularly in the Ministry of Fisheries and Finance exploit their positions to illegally issue fishing licenses and health certificates to companies in which they have a stake or for kickbacks in cases where there is no stake, the report argues.

In one instance, the report cites a company named North East Fishing Company (NEFCO) which has been operating in Somali waters for over three decades but severally flagged for IUU. According to the report, NEFCO is a joint venture of relatives some of whom have served in the Federal Government and Puntland government.

Its founder, Isse Haji Farah is the brother of former Puntland minister Shire Haji Farah both of who are cousins to Federal State Minister of Finance Mohamud Hayir Ibrahim and Ahmed Osman Farah a senior employee of NEFCO. It is notable, according to the report that Ibrahim was an employee of NEFCO prior to his appointment as minister.

According to the report, the three in collusion with Fisheries Minister Abdullahi
Bidhan Warsame, senior fisheries advisor Abdirahman Osman and fisheries director-general Mohamoud Sheikh Abdullahi Abdirahman have been in cohorts in illegally issuing fishing licenses including for trawling which is illegal under Somali Fisheries Law.

“NEFCO had a well-placed entry point into the federal government: the FGS State Minister of Finance, Mohamud Hayir Ibrahim, a Puntland native and cousin of NEFCO director Captain Isse,” the report notes.

NEFCO, per the report, owns five vessels namely; Butiyalo One (formerly Ixthus 7), Butiyalo Two (formerly Ixthus 8), Butiyalo Three, Haysimo One (formerly Ixthus 9; sunk in August 2018) and Haysimo Two (formerly Beak Yang 37).

In establishing the nexus between the FGS and Puntland government, the report picks instances where the latter illegally issues licenses to NEFCO’s vessels and are endorsed by the Federal Ministry of Fisheries, thanks to the network in Mogadishu.

“In essence, it appears that the FGS Ministry has continued to act as a factory for manufacturing paperwork for private commercial interests, much as it had five years earlier when it had issued correspondence to vouch for the Somali flag registries of the Butiyalo/Haysimo fleet to Omani authorities,” the report says.

Once the most pirate-infested region on the planet, the waters off the coast of Somalia are now home to a different maritime crime - illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, according to a new report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The presence of IUU fishing was also one of the factors that once spurred piracy off the Horn of Africa. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)The presence of IUU fishing was also one of the factors that once spurred piracy off the Horn of Africa. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)“The waters off Somalia are some of the richest fishing grounds in the world and are still largely untapped,” the report said. “Following the steady decline in attacks by Somali pirates since 2012, foreign fishing fleets have gradually returned to Somali waters”

Most commonly, the fleets hail from Iran, Yemen and as far as Southeast Asia. However they do not work alone, and are often only able to function thanks to support from Somalia’s notoriously corrupt state institutions, the organization said.

“IUU fishing in Somalia is in effect a public-private partnership in transnational crime,” Global Initiative explained. “Private fishing operators vie for capture of state bodies in order to lend legitimacy to their IUU fishing operations.”

Four decades of civil war has left the East African nation’s institutions weak and disorganized. Having the support of one office is no guarantee that it will be respected by another.

“Decisions and authorizations issued by one state body are often countermanded by other agents of the state who are under the influence of a different set of private interests,” the report said.

The presence of IUU fishing was also one of the factors that once spurred piracy off the Horn of Africa.

“Domestically, the prevalence of foreign IUU fishing vessels has been frequently cited as a justification for acts of piracy by Somalia-based gangs,” the report said. “Somali pirates have instrumentalized this perception, casting themselves as defenders of Somali waters against foreign exploiters.”

Encouraging piracy, either by the fishermen themselves or to combat them, is far from the only ill-effect IUU can have on a society, according to a report by Interpol in December. It also spawns a large network of organized criminal activity…

“Money laundering, labour exploitation, corruption and forgery are a small sample of serious crimes commonly committed during IUU fishing today,” Interpol said. “Fishing vessels are often also used to smuggle people, drugs and firearms, as well as to carry out piracy or terrorist attacks.”

Somalia is no exception.

“Rampant corruption within Somali state institutions continues to foster a dynamic whereby foreign fishing actors will have little incentive to purchase legitimate fishing licences from the state when their competitors are able to secure the same rights through extra-legal channels,” the report said.

“So long as this dynamic persists, it will contribute to the environmental destruction of Somalia’s marine resources and undermine the long-term ability of the state to generate legitimate revenue from fisheries,“ it concluded.

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Curious there was no fishing in the disputed maritime zone but now that Somalia “won” most of this zone am guessing this will now be plundered by foreign vessels!

This is a state and government sanctioned activity for which certain individuals get derisory kick backs. I would hazard a guess that this Somalia main income generator and so will not end anytime soon.

“For everyone’s information, these are only officially licensed vessels by that can be tracked. There are dozens of other unlicensed vessels mainly (trawlers- prohibited by law) fishing very close to shore either secretly licensed by federal and state authorities…”

The irony is most Somalis know and turn a blind eye to this decade long state sanctioned plundering but they care more about Muse Bihi’s next land grab :wink: