Foreigners Are the Real Pirates,
Says Former Somali Fisherman
by Tristan McConnell in Berbera,
www.commondreams.org/, June 12.
The first time Farah Ismail Eid set out
to hijack a ship off the coast of Somalia his boat was easily
outrun. On the second occasion he kept pace but his boarding ladder
was too short. On the third attempt he was captured.
Eid, 38, from Eyl on the Somalia coast,
is one of an estimated 1,500 fishermen-turned-pirates who have
made the seas between the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean the
most dangerous shipping route in the world.
"I believe the title of pirates should
be given to those who come to our waters illegally," he told
The Times after shuffling into a room at the British colonial-era
Mandheera prison, 40 miles south of Berbera, wearing plastic sandals,
a T-shirt and a length of printed material wrapped around his
Eid may have not proved himself much of
a pirate, but others have attacked at least 114 ships this year,
29 successfully. About 20 ships and 300 crew are being held hostage,
while dozens of international warships now patrol the Gulf of
International forces have been wringing
their hands over how to deal with captured pirates. In many cases
they are simply released after their equipment is destroyed -
but Eid and his four-man crew were tried and given 15-year prison
terms. "When we capture the pirates we bring them to justice,"
said Ahmed Ali, the deputy head of the ill-equipped Somaliland
Mandheera prison is straight out of a
spaghetti western: hot wind blows dust devils across a scorched
plain surrounded by rocky, scrub-covered hills. A few eucalyptus
trees offer scant shelter from the 40C (104F) heat. Barred windows
in the 6m (20ft) walls let little light into the sweltering cells
that are home to 633 prisoners, including the five pirates caught
in September last year. Another 31 have been captured and brought
Eid blamed foreigners for the rise of
piracy. He said he had a couple of boats and a fish-trading business
in Eyl until illegal trawlers ruined the fishing: "The fish
we caught used to be enough for the local people and enough to
sell, but now there is not even enough to eat."
Foreign ships started dumping toxic waste
in Somali waters, he said, and one day he found shoals of fish
floating. "We thought we were lucky. We collected the fish
and stored them in refrigerators, then later we discovered they
were like plastic.
"These problems fell on us like rain,"
he said, his right leg twitching as he chewed on a mouthful of
qat, a narcotic leaf enjoyed by many Somalis.
Eid said that fishermen bought guns and
set out to exact informal taxes on the foreign owners of illegal
trawlers. The kidnapping business proved lucrative, with ransoms
of hundreds of thousands of dollars regularly paid out - and any
noble motives were soon forgotten as pirate gangs launched attacks
on cruise liners and cargo ships, including those carrying food
for Somalia's starving millions.
He justified the attacks as a way of highlighting
their concerns. "We are quite aware that what we are doing
is wrong, but this is a way of shouting to the world," he
said. "The world should ask: 'Are these people wrong or were
they wronged themselves?"
Eid has his own solution to the problem.
"The international community should come and talk to us;
they should compensate us for the problems caused to our waters
by illegal fishing and toxic waste," he said. "Then,
until the government is in place in Somalia, we could protect
the ships as they cross our waters."
The international community is unlikely
to take him up on the offer.
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