Two sides to every story


A fascinating article in this week’s Observer sheds some light on the extent of the piracy problem in Somalian waters.

Apparently, many pirates claim to be protecting their country’s resources from foreign exploitation. Under maritime law, a country’s EEZ, or Exclusive Economic Zone, extends up to 200 miles offshore, and foreign ships may pass through but not fish in these waters.

Yet at any one time there are up to 500 foreign-registered boats fishing in Somalia’s rich waters, according to the Seafarers’ Assistance Programme. European boats catch tuna or shrimp; vessels from the Far East catch sharks for their fins. Almost all are fishing illegally. Often, pirate attacks are not even reported to maritime authorities: the ransoms are regarded as
perfectly legitimate fines, by both the pirates and the ship-owners.

Andrew Mwangura, an expert from the Mombasa-based Seafarers’ Assistance Programme told the Obsrver, ‘One way to stop the piracy is to stop the illegal fishing, that way there will be nowhere for the pirates to hide.’

A pirate typically earns between $10,000 and $30,000 for a year’s work, which amounts to a fortune in Somalia. The bosses funding the attacks from the United Arab Emirates or Kenya, and sometimes even as far afield as Canada, London or Hong Kong, can make several million dollars from a single strike.

“Once the pirates’ bosses have the ship’s name they immediately use the internet to research how much money they can make,” said Mwangura. “These guys really know what they are doing.”

Most owners pay up quickly, and the crews are seldom harmed. When older, less valuable trawlers – often from Taiwan or China – are captured, the demand is not cash but the temporary use of the boat. The owners promise not to report their vessel missing, and it becomes a temporary ‘mother ship’, allowing attacks on vessels further offshore than would usually be possible.

Read the full article.