Politics and policy

Is the EU protecting illegal fishing vessels in Somalia waters?

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A boy carries a sword fish on his head from the Indian Ocean waters to a market in Mogadishu. The waters off Somalia’s shore are still rich with several tuna varieties and other fish species that are on the endangered list and which are highly priced in international markets. Photo/REUTERS

A boy carries a sword fish on his head from the Indian Ocean waters to a market in Mogadishu. The waters off Somalia’s shore are still rich with several tuna varieties and other fish species that are on the endangered list and which are highly priced in international markets. Photo/REUTERS 

By IPS

Posted  Friday, June 18  2010 at  00:00

Modern German justice had never handled a case of piracy until June 11, when 10 Somali seafarers, including children, were presented at a tribunal in the city port of Hamburg, some 300 km west from Berlin, on charges of robbing cargo in the Indian Ocean.

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The accused are the first Somali people to be prosecuted in Germany as part of Operation Atalanta, the European Union’s military surveillance of the Indian Ocean officially established “to help deter, prevent and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia”.

According to the Hamburg prosecutor’s office, the Somali seafarers on April 5 attacked the German container ship Taipan.

The cargo was liberated the same day by Dutch soldiers serving in Operation Atalanta.

The EU claims that the operation’s objectives are “the protection of vessels of the World Food Programme delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia, of vulnerable vessels cruising off the Somali coast, and the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast”.

To that effect, since Dec 2008 EU war ships and planes and several hundred soldiers patrol the Indian Ocean to chase what the EU calls “Somali pirates”.

However, critics of the operation suggest that its hidden mission is to protect European vessels accused by Somali seafarers and international organisations of another form of piracy: illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste, including radioactive material, in Somali waters.

One example of the EU’s protection of vessels fishing illegally in the waters of the Horn of Africa is the Spanish tuna fishing boat Alakrana.

In Oct 2009, Somali pirates seized the boat, arguing that it was fishing illegally in Somali waters.

Almost two months later, the Somali pirates released the boat for a ransom of some four million dollars after several attempts by the Spanish army to free the Alakrana had failed.

The Somali allegations that the Alakrana was illegally fishing in the Indian Ocean were never investigated.

For Jack Thurston, a London-based activist monitoring EU subsidies for European companies, “it is almost certain that the Alakrana was fishing for species that are on the endangered list or not far from it”.

Thurston, founder and managing director of Fishsubsidy.org, a watchdog group that researches the EU’s subsidies for fisheries, told IPS that “the construction of Alakrana was part-funded by EU taxpayers to the tune of more than 4.2 million euro”.

Allegations that EU companies have been fishing illegally and dumping toxic waste in Somali waters have been frequent since a tsunami in Dec 2004 washed ashore containers full with medical, radioactive and chemical waste on the coast of Somalia.

This casual discovery was later confirmed by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

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