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To turn the tide on piracy in Somalia, bring justice to its fisheries

A coalition force tasked with fishery protection would address a root cause of the crisis.

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In the past few weeks, a failed state that was forgotten for more than a decade once again made the world take notice. While Somalia's weak transitional government fails to assert control on land, a band of highly organized pirates have taken firm control of the country's sea lanes.

The pirates' recent seizure of a Ukrainian ship transporting military hardware and a Saudi oil supertanker has prompted the world to take action, with many countries sending warships to patrol the area around the Somali coast and Gulf of Aden. A longer-term solution may prove simpler and less costly: Forget about freight and focus on fishing.

Beyond the immediate need to temporarily send warships to police the troubled waters, a coalition force tasked with fishery protection should be deployed. It could be done under the auspices of the United Nations, African Union, or a coalition of willing states. This option will address a root cause of the piracy problem, rob the modern-day buccaneers of their legitimacy, and be more acceptable to the region as an enduring part of the solution.

First, this option will address the very problem that originally sparked this rise in piracy. The problem of piracy in Somalia originated about a decade ago because of disgruntled fishermen.

The headless state had no authority to patrol its tuna-rich coastal waters and foreign commercial vessels swooped in to cast their nets. This proved a slap in the face for Somalis, who saw these vessels as illegal and raking in profits at the expense of the local impoverished population. To make matters worse, there were reports that some foreign ships even dumped waste in Somali waters.

That prompted local fishermen to attack foreign fishing vessels and demand compensation. The success of these early raids in the mid-1990s persuaded many young men to hang up their nets in favor of AK-47s. Making the coastal areas lucrative for local fishermen again could encourage pirates to return to legitimate livelihoods.

Second, a fishery protection force will eliminate the pirates' source of legitimacy. The pirates' spokesman, Sugule Ali, told the international press last month that his men executed attacks to prevent illegal fishing and dumping in their waters.


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