bu Samar Qaed
Saturday, July 07, 2012
Piracy in the coastal areas in Yemen has resulted in a decrease of fish production. The price of fish has increased and, according to Dr. Waed Ba Dheeb, the Minister of Transportation, Yemeni fisherman lost an estimated $150 million in 2009-2010 due to piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
Although the Yemeni government considers the fishing industry to be a vital source of income, the increasing number of Somali and Eritrean attacks on Yemeni ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea has fomented anxiety amongst fishermen. The government is also concerned due to Yemen’s proximity to one of the busiest sites of piratical activity in the world; apprehensions focus on the impacts of such activities on Yemen’s security and economy.
Akram Ahmed, a fisherman from Al-Hodeida governorate, told the story of his encounter with pirates. “We were attacked by pirates while fishing in the waters to the east of the Hanish Islands [in the Red Sea]. They drove us to Eritrea. We were gathered together in one big boat in which there were already arrested fishermen. We didn’t object when they captured us for fear of punishment. Thirty people were forced into a space designed to accommodate ten. They took us to the coastal district of Al-Khawkha in south west Hodeida as a penalty.”
Ahmed added that “There were six of us on the boat, which we used to provide for ourselves and our families. We lost the boat which was worth over three million rials. Our situation became worse. Now we rely on others for work; sometimes we find none at all.”
Despite his best efforts, Ahmed did not manage to regain his boat. He said, “We notified the Ministry of Fishery Wealth and the Fishermen’s Union. We suffered a lot. Those in charge took no action to resolve our problem. I have been following this problem for four years.”
The Eritrean-Somali piracy has heavily and negatively impacted on thousands of fishermen as well as maritime movement. The revenue that Yemen receives from maritime trade arriving at the country’s ports has continued to decrease due to the sharp decline of the amount of incoming vessels. According to Abdullah Ba-Sonbol, Deputy Minister of Fishery Wealth, the movement of Yemeni fisherman has also been severely restricted.
Altogether, this has resulted in an increase in insurance overheads on ships coming to Yemen which contributes to higher prices of goods in the market, according to Ahmed Saeed Shamakh, a Yemeni economist. “The losses resulting from piracy reach to the level of the family. Lots of fishermen have lost their jobs,” he said.
Shamakh added that “piracy causes the loss of a means of living for many people. It has also slashed fishery exports in spite of the diversity of the sea life in Yemen, which is estimated at 350 kinds of fish. Only 50 kinds have been exploited. The Yemeni exports of fish roughly made up over $300 million until 2009.”
Abdullah Ba-Sonbol has stated that cost of piracy cost to the global economy is more than $12 billion annually. Yemen is considered to be one of the most badly affected countries by piracy, with Yemeni fishermen exposed to 379 piracy cases from 2004 until 2011.
Yemen is currently experiencing an economic recession in the fishing industry. This has been particularly noticeable following the close of the Saudi embassy in Yemen, and the deprivation of visas from the drivers who transport fish to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the single largest market to receive Yemeni fish.
Qasim Al-Khudari from the Fishermen’s Union said “we have statistics indicating that only five percent of applicants were issued visas. Consequently, the market will witness recession, and the fisherman will gain no profit. The Saudi market functions as a resource of income for the national economy.”
Somali pirates in the Yemeni waters
The governorate of Al-Mahra is considered full of fish. 90 percent of its locals depend on fishing to eke out a living. Its shoreline is an estimated 550 kilometers, a third of all of Yemen’s coasts. Ali Saeed, head of the Fishermen’s Union in Al-Mahra, said that the fishermen from Hawf region in Al-Mahra were subject to Somali piracy.
“Traditional fishing, particularly tuna, has expanded over 90 miles of coast,” said Saeed. “However, the spread of piracy has forced the intimidated fisherman to withdraw over a distance of five miles. Fish production has decreased in over 24 fish locations in the coastal areas.”
Asood Mussa, the head of Hajoor Fish Association in Al-Mahra, said that his region “lies close to a very popular part of the sea for fishermen; they are liable to Somali piracy. The coastal areas in Al-Mahra were safe. Yet a month ago, there were three attacks on fishermen. The fishermen are unsafe and their source of income is unstable. If no government efforts are implemented, the situation will worsen.”
Saeed explained the number of assaults on fishermen in Al-Mahra. “Two fishermen from Al-Shahir district are currently detained. In May, the pirates occupied over two miles of coast Ras Barja district. The fishermen were out in their boats when they were randomly fired upon.”
He denounced the silence of the authorities, saying “this indicates the clear lack of security in the coastal areas and the ineffective job done by the coastal forces.”
The residents of coastal Hadramout governorate also rely on the sea to earn a living. Omar Salem Qambit, head of the Fishermen’s Union in Hadramout, talked about the suffering of the governorate because of Somali piracy. “We suffer from two kinds of piracy: we are disturbed by both Somali piracy and marine international forces. There were 64 acts of piracy from 2010 to 2011 that cost the governorate an estimated YR 72 million.”
Eritrean attacks in Al-Hodeida
Statistics conducted by the Fishermen’s Union indicate that 826 boats have been detained by Eritrea between 2006 and 2012. The engines and equipment were confiscated as well. The Yemeni fishermen detained by Eritrea reached to 24 since the outset of 2012.
Approximately 230 Eritrean boats arrive each month to different ports in Yemen.
Yemen has signed an international agreement stipulating that the Republic of Yemen must provide the Eritrean fishermen with ice, fuel and food stuffs in addition to allowing them to sell their products in the Yemeni markets. Al-Khudiri said that this agreement is implemented unilaterally; Yemeni fishermen cannot go beyond Socotra Island.
The number of jobless of fishermen has risen to over 7,500 because of the daily difficulties they face in their work. He added that the Eritreans intentionally enter Yemeni waters without permission from the Yemeni government. He condemned the coastal forces saying “seemingly, they don’t know what is happening in the Yemeni waters. They don’t do their job.”
Al-Khudari went on to assert that there is solid evidence that Eritrea carries out attacks on Yemeni fishermen through the process of systematic piracy. “Eritrea sends Marine soldiers to our islands using a number of boats taken from Yemeni fishermen. It’s organized piracy,” he claimed. “Their government distributes hijacked boats to unemployed men in Eritrea.”
The Embassy of Eritrea in Sana’a declined to comment on Eritrean attacks against Yemeni fishermen.
International forces offensive
There is a large international marine force stationed in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, in order to combat piracy and terrorism. Fishermen were initially happy about its presence, with its promises of protection them from pirates. However, just the opposite takes place, according to the Yemeni Fish Association.
Al-Khudari stated that the marine international forces attack fishermen. “They usually do not make sure whether the boats are fishermen’s or pirates’ before they attack,” he said.
Qambit has the same opinion. He said the marine international forces attack, assault and torture the fishermen. The resulting losses have reached to over YR 62 million, he indicated.
Saeed pointed out that the marine international forces intimidate the fishermen and sometimes disallow them from approaching particular fishing areas; the authorities in charge were notified but without result. He said that Al-Mahra locals are ready to be recruited to back the coastal forces protect the shores.
The ineffective absence of the coastal forces
All denounce the insufficient efforts of the Yemeni coastal forces. Some even describe it as an agency controlled by the Eritreans and Somalis with no government sponsorship.
Shuja’a Mahdi, manager of the Coastal Forces Authority, justified the inefficiency of the Authority saying that it was established in 2002. “We have not been effective in the coasts of the Red Sea, the Arab Sea and the Gulf of Aden,” he admitted. “It is difficult to protect the sea borders while our resources are limited. There must be qualified staff and equipment. We need government support because we shoulder the responsibility of protecting national security.”
Simple government solutions
Ba-Sonbol said that the Ministry of Fishery Wealth is conducting studies to acquire accurate statistics about attacks on fishermen and detentions. He added that the ministry compensated some fishermen with money; however, only few people have benefited from this scheme due to Yemen’s current political crisis.
Mahdi explained “the coastal forces plan to launch a campaign of information directed at fishermen, such as distinguishing themselves by flying Yemeni flags, carrying English identification cards and so on. The fishermen should have fishing licenses with them.”
These procedures could help counter the destructive operations of the international maritime forces and reduce the numbers of deaths and injuries. The project is called Marine Security Education in which the Ministry of Fishery Wealth, the Coastal Forces and the Fishermen’s Associations will all participate.