Egyptian trawlers identified fishing within Somalia’s protected coastal zone

Press release

For immediate release: 24 March 2021

Contact:  Director Abdizaz Hajj Bashir

Ministry of Fisheries Marine Resources, Somalia

Email: fishmcs@mfmr.gov.so

Web: https://mfmr.gov.so

Mogadishu, Somalia, 24 March 2021...Between October and December 2020, thirty-seven Egyptian flagged or operated trawlers were sighted close to the Somali coast fishing illegally. Images captured by European Union Naval Force – Operation Atalanta patrols in the region show industrial vessels using trawl gear in prohibited zones and packaging fish for commercial re-sale.

Under national legislation, the area within 24 nautical miles (nm) of the coast is reserved for Somali vessels, whilst the zone within 12 nm is restricted to small-scale vessels: Egyptian trawlers were identified in both zones. Under Somali law, trawling is banned within all Somali waters due to the damaging nature of this fishing method.

The discovery of these vessels comes just months after remote monitoring revealed evidence of at least 112 Iranian fishing operating illegally in the Somali exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

None of the vessels sighted have applied for, or been granted a license under the Federal Government licensing system established in 2018. This system requires that the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) of the Federal Government of Somalia control all fishing activity in Somali waters. All license applications from foreign-flagged vessels are processed in a transparent manner and revenue generated from this system is subject to an Interim Agreement on Revenue Sharing that benefits all six federal member States and Banadir Regional Administration, which form the Federal Government.

Licenses or permits issued outside of this agreement have no validity, meaning that all fishing is considered illegal and in contravention of Somali law.

The Federal Republic of Somalia requires Egyptian flagged and operated vessels to use the correct channels and processes to obtain permission to fish in Somali waters. The law and procedures are clear. Unlawful agreements made with unofficial and/or illegal entities or networks that lack legal title or authority to issue fishing licenses in Somalia will be wholly unenforceable, in either Somali or international law.

Egyptian vessels have a long history of operating in Somalia, particularly in Somaliland with a 2015 report from Secure Fisheries identifying between 34 and 36 trawlers operating in the period 2003-2007, with a total annual estimated catch of approximately 13,000 metric tonnes. Current analysis by the regional FISH-i Africa Task Force suggests that a similar number of vessels continue to fish in the Somali EEZ. Location analysis places them close to the shore in zones where industrial vessels are banned, but none of the vessels transmit positional data making confirmation of the size and location of this unauthorized fleet hard to establish.

Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources of the Federal Government, HE Abdilahi Bidhan Warsame calls for swift action from the Egyptian authorities, “These vessels are not welcome in Somalia. Illegal fishing is damaging to our country as our fish are stolen and our environment is damaged. Trawlers fishing close to the shore have a particularly devastating effect on the fish stocks that provide food and livelihoods for our Somali people.”

The MFMR request that the Arab Republic of Egypt assists our investigation into this matter by providing:

  • A list of all Egyptian flagged or owned vessels known to operate in Somali waters;
  • Copies of any fishing licenses issued for all Egyptian flagged operated or crewed fishing vessels operating within the Somali EEZ;
  • Confirmation then the vessels have flag State authorization to fish outside of Egyptian waters; and
  • Copies of the agreements relating to the above-stated licenses.

The MFMR also demands that the Arab Republic of Egypt take control of its fishing fleet and ensure that every illegal vessel leaves Somalia immediately and only use the legal portal of MFMR when applying for licenses in the future.

All fishing vessels that operate in Somali waters are obliged to comply with Somali and international law, to abstain from reliance on illegal and legitimate channels, to obtain fishing licensing in Somalia to undertake fishing or related activities at all times under the authority of a valid and applicable license issued by the MFMR and to comply with the license conditions and requirements for reporting through Vessel Monitoring Systems and by submitting 48-hour catch reports, trip reports and transshipment reports in a transparent manner. Application forms and information are available on the Ministry’s website (https://mfmr.gov.so/en/).

Director of Fisheries and Marine Resources of the Federal Government, Abdiaziz Haji Bashir, says “It is perplexing to see countries like Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan ignoring Somalia’s sovereignty and participating in organized crime to secure food for its own people at any price.  This becomes particularly concerning when one considers the need for food security for the Somali people.”

Notes to editors:

The Federal Government of Somalia licensing process

In February 2018, an Interim Agreement on Revenue Sharing for the issuance of fishing licenses was signed by Somalia’s National Security Council. Under the terms of this public agreement, the MFMR was given responsibility for the issuance and management of offshore fishing licenses (beyond 24 nautical miles from the coast), to allow Somalia to raise revenue from offshore fisheries resources in its EEZ, particularly tuna and tuna-like resources.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding, 31 Chinese flagged tuna longline vessels were issued with a license to fish for tuna and tuna-like species in the EEZ. Due diligence was undertaken to review the applications for these vessels by the Ministry, with the assistance of FISH-i Africa.

The first licenses were issued in November 2018 and the issuance of these licenses allowed Somalia to raise over USD 2.5 million in revenue for the country up to now. This MOU marked the first time in more than two decades that licenses were issued legally and transparently by Somalia.

For more information go to https://mfmr.gov.so/en/2019/03/15/somalia-issues-fishing-licenses/#_ftn2

European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia –Operation Atalanta

 As part of the Comprehensive Approach to Somalia, in December 2008 the EU launched the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia –Operation Atalanta. EU NAVFOR operates within the framework of the European Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and in accordance with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) and International Law in response to the rising levels of piracy and armed robbery off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean.  For further information see: https://eunavfor.eu

FISH-i Africa Task Force

The FISH-i Africa Task Force is a network facilitated by Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF). It is made up of eight countries of the Western Indian Ocean that collaborate to stop illegal fishing. For more information go to www.fish-i-network.org

Somali Law

In addition to the international regime set out in UNCLOS, the following extracts set out the relevant articles of Somalia’s Fisheries Law 2014[1] which we believe have been violated.

Part 2 – Article 3 – Length of Somali Coastline:

  1. The restricted zone reserved for Somali fishermen living on the coast and prohibited any other fishermen is 12 nautical miles.
  2. The protection zone that protects coastal fishermen and in which fishing vessels are not permitted to enter is up to 24 nautical miles. Only coastal fishermen can fish within 24 nautical miles.
  3. Beyond 24 nautical miles, licensed vessels can access up to a length of 200 nautical miles of the Indian Ocean & Red sea.

Part 2 Article 4 – Responsibilities of the Ministry

  1. The Ministry (Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources) shall be responsible for the management and development of the marine resources in Somalia and for the administration of this Law.

Part 4 Article 15 – Fishing and permits of entry into Somali territorial waters

  1. The foreign fishing vessel cannot fish, attempt to fish or participate in fishing operations in Somali waters without a valid license issued under this Law.
  2. Any fishing vessel that enters Somali waters without having a valid license shall be presented to the Courts and will be subject to Somalia fisheries law.
  3. Any fishing vessel that enters Somali waters and founded him violating Article 11 of this Law shall be considered guilty and will be prosecuted under this Law.
  4. All foreign fishing vessels seeking the legitimacy of fishing rights in Somali waters should have a permit released from the Ministry of Fisheries and Natural Resources.

Part 4 Article 24 – Obligations of fishermen

Any person granted a fishing license shall:

  1. Abide by the laws of the country and regulations of the Ministry; and
  2. Submit regular reports regarding fishery activities, quantities, and types of sea-creature caught accidentally.

Part 7 Article 33 – Prohibited Fishing Methods

  1. Fishing vessels engaging trawl fishing methods are forbidden to fish in the waters of the Federal Republic of Somalia.

International Law

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines the rights and responsibilities of coastal States and flag States with respect to their use of the world’s oceans.

The Federal Republic of Somalia and the Arab Republic of Egypt are a party to UNCLOS.

  • Article 2 allows the coastal State full sovereignty over its territorial sea.

 

  • Article 56 addresses the coastal States’ rights in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The sovereign rights of the Federal Government of Somalia over the EEZ are exclusive for conserving and managing fisheries resources.

 

  • Article 62 (4) requires that nationals of other States must comply with the coastal State’s laws and regulations including licensing fishermen, fishing vessels, and equipment. The Federal Republic of Somalia has implemented specific and transparent legal procedures for the issuance of fishing licenses to foreign fishing fleets, and all agreed contracts for fisheries access are published.

 

  • Article 73 empowers the coastal State to take enforcement measures in its EEZ that ensure compliance with its laws and regulations. Somalia has implemented relevant laws as described below under “Somali Law”.

 

  • Moreover, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has recorded a number of Egyptian fishing vessels to date operating in the Somali territorial waters and EEZ (between 0 to 200 nm). Annex 1 provides evidence from air patrol sightings in October, November, and December 2019.

 

  • Article 19 (2) provides that any unauthorized passage of a foreign ship within Somali territorial waters shall be considered prejudicial to the peace, good order, or security of Somalia as the coastal state if as in the case of the Egyptian vessels in the territorial sea of Somalia, it engages in any of the following activities:
    • Any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of the coastal State, or in any other manner in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.
    • Any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind.
    • Any fishing activities.

 

  • Article 21 empowers the coastal State to adopt laws and regulations relating to innocent passage through the territorial sea to prevent infringement of its fisheries laws and regulations.

 

  • Accordingly, those Egyptian vessels transiting Somali territorial waters are doing so in a manner that is prejudicial to the peace, good order, and security of Somalia and in contravention of Article 19(2)(i) UNCLOS and in violation of Somali laws and regulations, and such transiting shall at all times be considered to constitute non-innocent passage.

 

  • Under UNCLOS and jurisprudence of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, there is a duty on flag States to exercise their effective jurisdiction and control over their vessels.