Iranian flagged fishing vessels identified operating illegally in Somali EEZ

By Stop Illegal Fishing:24th Jun, 2020: FISH-i Africa

Revelations of the continuing presence of unauthorised vessels operating illegally in Somali waters comes as the Federal Government of Somalia have made significant progress in instituting a system for licensing and controlling foreign flagged fishing vessels. Since 2018 over USD 2.6 million has been raised through licence fees; this revenue is shared to benefit all states and will provide much needed financing to further develop a national fisheries processing industry.

As part of this monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) system the increased monitoring of the Somali exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has revealed the continuing presence of a fleet of unauthorised, Iranian flagged fishing vessels. Using a combination of automatic identification system (AIS) tracking, satellite remote sensing imagery and radar images Somali authorities have estimated that at least 200 vessels have been fishing illegally during the 2019-2020 fishing season.

Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources of the Federal Government of Somalia, HE. Abdilahi Bidhan Warsame commented, “Having worked so hard to develop a transparent licensing system it is very concerning to see that foreign fleets are not prepared to go through the legitimate channels to gain access to fish in Somalia. We call on all distant water fishing nations to ensure they are controlling their flagged vessels and to respect our management regime. Our focus is on developing a safe, sustainable and fair fishing industry to benefit our nation.”

Stop Illegal Fishing, FISH-i Africa, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Bank have been supporting Somalia in strengthening their fisheries and MCS systems and enabling them to spot the Iranian vessels active in their EEZ. A recent report developed by Global Fishing Watch and Trygg Mat Tracking, provided additional evidence of the presence of the Iranian fleet. Between January 2019 to 14 April 2020, approximately 112 Iranian fishing vessels were identified transmitting on automatic identification system (AIS) transponders from within the Somalia EEZ for a total of 2533 days.  This is a significant amount of fishing effort and is likely to be conservative due to the poor signal strength of the AIS transponders on these vessels.

In addition to the fishing vessels, 83 AIS net markers were also linked to Iran. 43 could be matched to vessels transmitting on AIS however 17 transmitted a vessel name that was not matched to a vessel, AIS and the remaining 33 were not broadcasting a discernible name. This suggests that the Iranian fleet operating inside the Somalia and Yemen EEZ consists of at least 192 vessels.

While these numbers are large, the AIS analysis of the AIS net markers and data from remote sensing techniques suggests the foreign fleets operating inside the Somalia EEZ is significantly larger than seen from the AIS alone.

Satellite remote sensing imagery, from April 2020, was used to verify the AIS information, confirming the presence of vessels broadcasting on AIS and indicating the presence of additional vessels, not broadcasting on AIS. This finding was further supported by the use of synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) which matched 16 Iranian vessels with their AIS signal and detected an additional 44 vessels.

The vessels identified include the FV ARESH, an Iranian flagged fishing dhow arrested in April 2015 by the Galmudug Coast Guard and fined USD 100,000 for illegal fishing and the FV SIRAJ and FV JABER both hijacked by Somali pirates south of Hobyo, while they were operating close to shore in March 2015. A total of 39 crew members were captured between the two vessels.

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