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Somali Pirates Now Turn To Protecting Illegal Tuna Fishing Vessels

Somali Pirates, notorious for violent hijacking crimes in the Indian Ocean are now taking to providing armed protection for ships illegally fishing tuna in Somali waters, after increased security on vessels from international naval patrols resulted in them witnessing a string of failed capture attempts.
After a recent trend that saw dozens of ships and hundreds of hostages taken yearly by Somali pirates, the pirates have developed a new “ business model” which is to act as ‘security’ teams on board illegal tuna vessels from Oman, Yemen, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. They help the vessels to cast their nets without being disturbed and open fire on other fishermen in order to drive away competition. A U.N. report said: “The prize is often lucrative and includes large reef and open water catch, notably tuna.”


Some Indian Ocean purse seiners are currently protected by security offered by the Spanish naval operation ‘Atlanta’, defending vessels in an area that has been targeted by piracy, but Somali pirate gangs in search of new revenue are now providing armed protection for ships illegally fishing Somali waters within the Indian Ocean. A typical “ protection racket “, intending to convince more illegal vessels to accept the pirates’ protection services, thus ensuring illegal income to both sides.  
The Indian Ocean tuna fishing fleet has suffered for years with the problem of piracy in Somali waters. In 2011 it was reported that two Somali pirates who were found guilty of 36 counts of illegal detention and robbery with violence were sentenced to 439 years in jail each for their involvement in hijacking the Spanish tuna seiner ‘Alakran,’ in which 36 crew members were held off Somalia for 47 days. But after decreasing cases of kidnap recently in this region, the issue has been noted to have moved to the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, with more than 30 attacks reported of late. The Somali piracy was a lucrative business, with the hijackings of 149 ships between April 2005 and the end of 2012 said to total an estimated USD 315 million to USD 385 million in ransom payments.
The rise in security, through armed private security firms and navy marines on board tuna vessels, and extensive patrolling by the international navy fleets,  has resulted in the decrease in this activity, and the need for Somali pirates to search for other methods of making money. The report confirmed: “the private security teams”  on board such illegal vessels are normally provided from pools of demobilized Somali pirates and coordinated by a ring of pirate leaders and associated businessmen operating in Puntland, Somaliland, The United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen and Iran.”
It is expected that there are up to 180 illegal Iranian and 300 illegal Yemeni vessels fishing in the northern Somali region of Puntland. International naval officials verify the occurrence of these illegal vessels in the Puntland waters of which now some are protected by gangs of Somali pirates who sometimes refer to themselves as ‘saviors of the sea.’
The nearly 500-page U.N report also accuses Somalia’s government of wide-ranging corruption, and in response the Somali presidential spokesman said that the paper contains “numerous inaccuracies, contradictions and factual gaps.
“We are pleased to see the huge reduction in piracy, and yet equally concerned by the reports of increased criminality. We have much work to do to create legitimate livelihoods and deter Somalis from crime.”
However it is thought that fisherman who have participated in piracy might argue that the attacks were merely bringing back money stolen from Somalis from illegal fishing. A 2005 British government report estimated that Somalia lost USD 200 million in 2003-2004 alone due to huge problems with illegal tuna and shrimp fishing in Somali waters.
In 2009-2010 piracy reached record heights in this area and 46 vessels were hijacked over that time, decreasing since and seeing a reported zero attacks so far for this year.