Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pirates or Patriots?

News calls them pirates....the men in the boats say they are acting as a coastguard to protect Somalia from illegal fishing vessels and waste dumping. Even with so much news available it is often hard to figure out what is really going on.

The ransom demand is a means of "reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years", Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirates, based in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, said.

"The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas."

In a September 08 interview Sugule Ali, the spokesman for the Somali pirates said, "We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits [”sea bandit” is one way Somalis translate the English word pirate]. We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard."

July 26, 2008: The UN sounded the alarm on behalf of the people of Somalia, saying, the combination of illegal dumping and illegal fishing, and now open piracy, has made the Somali coast one of the most dangerous on earth." Ironically, the most prized catch for fishermen, the yellowfin tuna, is being caught in waters that have proved to be unsafe to humans due to high levels of toxic chemicals including lead, cadmium, mercury and radioactive uranium. Because of the secretive nature of illegal fishing( and the fact no one would buy fish known to be from Somali waters), these contaminated fish are sold, and consumed across Europe, to uninformed buyers. The same lack of regulation that allows European Fishermen to steal from Somali waters, also allows contaminated fish to be sold on the market without mentioning the origin.

This is far from being a new problem, in an article from 2001 the writer calls Somalia the **World's Most Attractive Illegal Hazardous Waste Dumping Site** and the pollution at that time was already over a decade old. Experts estimate that it costs about $2.50 to sink a ton of toxic waste off the African Coast compared to $250 that would have to be paid in Europe.

Going back even further, this abstract from 1999 tells about a meeting in 1991 that discussed how difficult is was to patrol 3333 km of coastline. At the time over 400 huge ships were illegally fishing the coast of Somalia to the extent that the local fishing industry was near collapse. It has since completely collapsed leaving the locals with no source of food or income. Illegal dumping was also discussed, and "2 Companies were named as perpetrators include an Italian firm (Progresso) and Swiss firm (Achair Partners)"

A story from 2002 names Achair Partners of Chapelle-sur-Moudon, in Switzerland as "authorized to build and operate a facility near Mogadishu for dumping or incinerating up to half a million tonnes of hospital and industrial waste per year for the next 20 years." The person who "authorized" (and profited to the tune of $80 Million) from the deal is Nur Elmy Osman, who called himself minister of health in the 'government' of Ali Mahdi Mohammed, leader of one of Somalia's warring factions. As a result of the UNEP's investigation, the contract was declared null and the facility was never built. Still it became apparent to the UNEP's director Dr. Mustafa Tolba that the firms of Achair Partners and Progresso were set up specifically as fictitious companies by larger industrial firms to dispose of hazardous waste.

During the Christmas tsunami of 2004, dozens of rusty barrels washed ashore. Since then, hundreds of local people have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and abdominal bleeding, skin infections, and other ailments. Many of the barrels dated back to 1992 when a group of European companies recruited Swiss company Archair Partners and the Italian company Progresso, both specialized in the export of undesirable waste.

The very company hired in 2005 to patrol the coastline has been linked to government contracts sold by the ousted Somali Transitional Federal Government(STFG), which is temporarily based in Nairobi, to escort ships traveling through Somali waters. The ships they were escorting seem to be the same ships that are carrying waste from Europe. What little government is left is supporting itself by selling dumping rights and poisoning the people they claim(from Nairobi) to be representing. In truth, much of the waste was being carried from Italy aboard fishing vessels belonging to a company called the Somali High Sea Fishing Company, working out of Yemen harbors, supported by big money deals between the Italian Mafia aka "The Pirates of Rubbish" and the STFG.

There are no fish left to catch, the ones that can be caught in the traditional ways are poisoned, the water poisoned and the land is at war. No wonder the Somalian people are ticked off enough to become "pirates!"

Oil tankers do not double as fishing vessels, but since there are no safe fish to catch, tankers provide the next best thing---CASH. Piracy makes up 35% of the GDP of Somalia and without it, up to half of the people would starve to death. European(and World) politics created this problem and like other problems resulting from blind greed, this particular problem has grown into a Monster. Shipping companies can either pay the ransom or pay the people of Somalia to clean up the mess directly and pass the cost onto their customers. One way or another, someone is going to pay for years of neglect and corruption.

More Recently, stories have been emerging that point to the Ivory Coast as being the new "Best Place to Dump"

The ship Probo Koala, a former oil tanker that has been used more recently for waste disposal, dumped waste into an Ivory Coast lagoon in September of 2006 after deeming European disposal methods too expensive. The ship was chartered by the Holland-based oil trading firm Trafigura.

UPDATE 7/23/2010:

A Dutch court has found multinational Trafigura guilty of illegally exporting toxic waste from Amsterdam and concealing the nature of the cargo.

In 2006, Trafigura transported waste alleged to have been involved in the injury of thousands of people in Ivory Coast. Trafigura denied any wrongdoing.

It expressed disappointment in the ruling and is considering an appeal.

The firm was fined 1m euros (£836,894) for its ship, the Probo Koala, transiting Amsterdam with its cargo.

The ship then went on to unload its cargo in Ivory Coast.

One of those who fell ill after waste was dumped, Ivorian Guy Oulla, told the BBC: "I believe it is a very good decision because people should pay for what they do, you know. So, I agree with that decision. You know, we live in Africa and it could happen again because in Africa people do everything for money."


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