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Somalia claims more than 100 Iranian vessels illegally fishing in its EEZ

By Staff reporter , Garowe Online
An Iranian fishing dhow and a US Navy rigid inflatable boat (RIB) with an embarked visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) team in the Arabian Sea (Photo: US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joshua Keim)

MOGADISHU, Somalia - More than 100 Iranian vessels have been sighted fishing illegally in Somalia waters, authorities said, arguing that the actual number would be higher due to the fact that Automatic Identification System [AIS] could not detect all at once.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Ministry of Fisheries said that the vessels originate from several parts in Iran along the Persian Gulf, adding that the illegal fishing has been going on for a couple of months.

“Between January 2019 to 14 April 2020, approximately 112 Iranian fishing vessels were identified transmitting on automatic identification system (AIS) transponders from within the Somalia EEZ for a total of 2533 days,” the ministry said in a statement.

Preliminary investigations also show that 83 AIS net markers linked to Iran were also sighted, with the ministry insisting that for the past one year, over 192 vessels have been operating illegally inside Somalia and Yemen's Special Economic Zones.

Abdullahi Warsame's Somalia's fisheries minister, asked Iranian authorities to cooperate, adding that illegal fishing on Somalia's waters was "totally unacceptable". He asked Tehran to respect international boundaries, arguing that any provocation will not be tolerated.

Illegal fishing, he noted, is a threat to Somalia's food security, economic well-being, and sovereignty of the country's territorial integrity. Iran, he said, "must act in speed and withdraw all the vessels for the sake of harmony".

"The situation related to the presence of the Iranian fleets in Somalia waters, remains a longstanding concern of the Federal Republic of Somalia,” noted Warsame, adding that Somalia is committed to enhancing mutual diplomatic relations with all countries.

According to signals picked by the AIS, the vessels appear to be originating from and using a number of ports in Iran including the port of Konarak, Ramin, and Port Tiyab, within the territory of Iran, which is not a stranger to diplomatic squabbles with other nations.

A report by the campaign group Secure Fisheries in 2017 said up to 2.4 million tones of fish have been caught in Somali waters illegally in the last 60 years, with the culprits taking advantage of weak government systems due to unending conflicts in the Horn of Africa nation.

Somalia formally licensed 31 Chinese fishing vessels in November 2018 at a cost of $2.5 million under the new fisheries law. Fishing has been one of the leading foreign income earners for Somalia, which is now fighting to get its economy on track.

Currently, Somalia is also at loggerheads with Kenya over the Indian Ocean maritime dispute, which has seen the two nations move to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The case will be mentioned next year in March after being postponed thrice.

Besides fishing, Somalia is keen to explore oil and has since announced official bidding for seven oil blocks along the shores of the Indian Ocean. Both ExxonMobil and Shell have already expressed interest in the business.


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