Once a global phenomenon raking in millions of dollars in ransom, piracy off the coast of Somalia has significantly gone down and almost unheard of in the recent years.
A combined effort by international naval forces in the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden Indian Ocean waters coupled with local campaigns in Somalia has dealt a disastrous blow to the once thriving industry.
Despite this progress, illegal fishing along the Somali waters is threatening the comeback of pirates who had initially taken to the activity to fend off illegal foreigners whom the government says had illegally encroached Somali territory.
Ahmed Mohamed Iman, General Director of Ministry for Fisheries in Somalia, said piracy is now at its lowest ebb, but the increase in illegal fishing is threatening to reverse this trend.
“We have enjoyed relative peace for about three years with little or no reports of piracy. However, illegal fishing is at its peak now. We fear that pirates might come back in the guise of defending Somali marine territory,” Iman told Xinhua in Mogadishu.
Iman said piracy started on a small scale with fishermen fighting off illegal boats near their fishing territory, but soon it evolved into a money making venture which went out of control with the support of external financiers.
Mahamud Mohamed Maroko, a former marine’s captain in Somali Navy and now an expert on marine issues, shares a similar sentiment.
Maroko contended that piracy has reduced in Somalia to almost negligible levels, but warns of a possible resurgence because of increasing illegal fishing.
“At the moment there are many foreign boats and ships in the Somali waters which fly fake flags, pretending to be cargo ships on transit but they are busy fishing,” Maroko said.
“If the Somali government could increase surveillance especially through satellite it could be easy to track down these ships. But since the government seems not to be in a position to do so, local fishermen might take up arms and piracy with restart, ” he added.
Maroko noted that despite little public knowledge on the correlation between piracy and terrorism, there is sufficient ground to believe that the two could easily mutually co-exist, meaning a renewed source of funding for militant group Al-Shabaab.
Iman said the government of Somalia in collaboration with UN agencies has developed effective programmes to rehabilitate and incorporate former pirates back into society.
“We worked with Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to come up with alternative income generating projects for those who left piracy. This involved licensing and giving them nets and boats to start a new life. We also monitored them closely to ensure they did not go back to piracy,” said Iman.
A former pirate who spoke to Xinhua said he had left piracy after sustained pressure from government and anti-piracy offensive in the Somali waters.
“I escaped one day from a group of my friends and slowly found way to the village. I informed the elders of my surrender and the government authorities helped me get a source of income. Now I am a businessman man in Mogadishu,” he said.
He was however reluctant to disclose how much money he earned from piracy, only stating that he did not want to be associated with piracy again.
In February, four Thai nationals who had been held captive since 2011 were released in Somalia, following interventions from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. However there was no information as to whether any ransom was paid. Enditem