REPORT: Illegal Chinese fishing trawlers aided by prominent Puntland politician

Friday December 24, 2021
Liao Dong Yu trawlers at port in China. Photo: Liaoning Daping Fishery Group corporate website

REPORT: Illegal Chinese fishing trawlers aided by prominent Puntland politician

Mogadishu (HOL) - A damning research report published on Wednesday by an international NGO dedicated to fighting global crime revealed that a Chinese fishing company operating a fleet in Somali waters has engaged in a comprehensive list of crimes - both in Somalia and China - that include forced-labour, fishing restricted species and using illegal fishing equipment all while operating without a proper license. The report also alleges that a high-profile Puntland senator-businessman with ties to the region’s highest office played a crucial role in facilitating the illegal fishing racket.

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) report entitled ‘Death and forced labour at sea as Chinese fishing trawlers pillage northern Somalia’ disclosed that the Dandong-based Liaoning Daping Fishery Group, which operates the Liao Dong Yu fleet, has been active in Puntland since 2020 with at least 12 trawlers.

"Among the alleged violations of Somali law were fishing without valid licences, operating within the 24-nautical-mile zone reserved for local fishermen, and the fishing of restricted species, including leatherback turtles, bottlenose dolphins and whale sharks. Crucially, the fleet appears to have been engaged in bottom trawling, which is prohibited under both Somali federal and Puntland law.”

GI-TOC emphasized that it is a challenging endeavour to track the movement of these vessels because the Liao Dong Yu fleet intentionally tries to obscure their location by switching off their AIS transponders - a maneuver known as ‘running dark.’ Furthermore, the vessels aren’t registered with the International Maritime Organization.

A March 2019 agreement between Somalia’s federal and regional governments stipulated that foreign fishing vessels cannot fish within the 24-nautical-mile limit. It is reserved for local use, and only federal member states can issue licences to the local fishers. GI-TOC revealed that the Liao Dong Yu fleet - a foreign vessel - is not currently operating with a permit from the federal Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. Instead, it has obtained fishing licenses from Puntland authorities through questionable means.

According to the GI-TOC, Puntland businessman and federal senator Dahir Ayanle Said reportedly facilitated fishing licenses for the Liao Dong Yu vessels.

Puntland businessman and senator Dahir Ayanle Said, who reportedly secured approval for the Liao Dong Yu vessels to fish in Puntland. Photo: Twitter

Said was described as a close ally of Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni.

“The GI-TOC received independent evidence corroborating Ayanle’s connections to Liaoning Daping Fishery Group. Documents obtained by the GI-TOC demonstrated that, between May and September 2021, Ayanle had multiple communications with a representative of Liaoning Daping who identified herself as ‘Lily.’”

In July 2021, GI-TOC published a research paper alleging senior officials, among them ministers at Somali Federal Government and Puntland State Government, were central to facilitating illegal and unregulated fishing in the country’s waters.

GI-TOC says that the federal government has made some effort to reign in the illegal trawlers.

“The federal Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources lodged a strongly worded protest with the Chinese embassy in Mogadishu concerning the IUU fishing activities of six Liao Dong Yu vessels, following which the fleet temporarily retreated from Somali waters.29 A senior official at the fisheries ministry told the GI-TOC that Liao Dong Yu vessels had been illegally operating in Somalia since 2019, and that the ministry had urged the newly appointed Chinese ambassador to Somalia to take action against the vessels during a meeting in late 2021.”

In addition to its alleged violations of Somali fisheries
law, Liaoning Daping Fishery Group also appears to
have circumvented Puntland’s internal regulations.
A source within the Puntland Ministry of Fisheries
and Marine Resources told the GI-TOC, on condition
of anonymity, that the licences for the Liao Dong Yu
vessels had not been issued through the ministry, as
is proper practice, but through central authorities in
Puntland’s capital, Garowe.15 Nor were the licence fees
themselves paid to the fisheries ministry.16 Thirdly,
the licenses issued to the vessels were valid for over
one year, far longer than the standard three-month
duration.17 The fisheries official summarized the
Puntland administration’s arrangement with the vessels
as ‘daylight robbery’.18

Ayanle is one of
11 senators representing Puntland in the federal
parliament of Somalia; he was elected unopposed by
Puntland’s regional assembly in August 2021 after his
only opponent withdrew from the race.
The candidature of each senatorial hopeful had required
the prior approval of President Deni.