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Published On: Sun, Mar 20th, 2016

Somaliland:Ex-Tory MP accused by UN of encouraging pirates back to sea

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Firm set up by fisheries minister Tony Baldry criticised by United Nations Security Council for deal that allows foreign fishing vessels into waters off Somaliland


By Colin Freeman

A former Government minister has been accused of tempting Somali pirates back into action after setting up a firm that gives foreign fishing vessels licences to operate off their coastline.

Sir Tony Baldry’s company has been criticised in a report by the United Nations Security Council over a deal with local officials that allows him to sell licences on their behalf in return for a 60 per cent cut.

Critics of the deal point out that the presence of foreign fi shing vessels in Somali waters was one of the root causes of the piracy crisis, with local fishermen hijacking foreign vessels in revenge for “stealing” their fish.

Mr Baldry, who was a fisheries minister in the Major government, has struck the ten-year deal with the government of Somaliland, a breakaway region of north-east Somalia that has had self-rule for the last 25 years.

He insists the agreement will help the Somaliland develop their fledgling fishing industry and will benefit the country’s people.

But the terms of the contract, which The Telegraph has seen, have been described as “terrible” by fishery conservation experts, who say it gives little back to the government, and offers no detail on how fish stocks will be properly conserved.

They fear it will lead to a repeat of the problems over the last ten years in neighbouring Somalia, where government officials have often lined their pockets by offering licences in exchange for bribes, leading to an influx of foreign vessels poaching fish.

That led to local fishing communities forming vigilante groups that sowed the seeds of the piracy crisis, with hundreds of vessels hijacked during the peak years between 2005 and 2012.

piratesPiracy has largely been stamped out in the waters off Somalia, but there is a ear it could return  Photo: AP

The threat has eased off since then after ships began carrying armed guards, but recent months have seen a new spate of attacks – mostly on Iranian fishing vessels thought to have bought dubious “licences” issued by privately by corrupt officials in Somalia.

Mr Baldry, who stepped down as a Conservative MP for Banbury ahead of last year’s elections, is a former chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Somaliland and Somalia. The government of Somalia made him an honorary citizen two years, and he is also a passionate advocate of Somaliland’s right to independence.

However, Anglo-Somaliland Resources (ASL) which operates from an office in Sussex, was singled out for criticism in a UN Security Council report written for it by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, which monitors piracy, terrorism and arms smuggling in the region.

Referring directly to the ASL deal, the report said: “The Monitoring Group is highly concerned that that the granting of exclusive fishing rights to a foreign company may cause resentment among local fishermen and coastal communities.

“As in other regions of Somalia… such resentment has the potential to lead to the outbreak of violence between foreign fishing crews and local residents, and even to acts of piracy.”

With the Gulf of Aden rich in tuna and other valuable fish, licences to exploit its stocks can fetch several hundred thousand pounds at a time. ASL’s contract gives 40 per cent of licence revenue to the Somaliland government and envisages a total allowable catch each year of 250,000 tonnes.

Robert Mazurek, a marine biologist with the US-based environmental charity Secure Fisheries, wrote to ASL last year to express concerns about the terms of the contract, which he also believed allowed for twice as much fishing as was safe.

“Nobody has good enough understanding of these coastal stocks to create effective total allowable catches, and from what we do know, they have set it to a level that could lead to even worse overfishing and decimate fish stock.

“Theoretically, the reason for the company to take such a high percentage is that it is offering monitoring control and surveillance of the fleet, but that is the bit that is difficult to control, and there isn’t any detail on the limits of the number of vessels, or gear type or anything else.”

Steve Trent, director of the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation, added: “These are troubled waters, to put it mildy, and there is little in the agreement about who will detect and prevent illegal fishing and no definition of what vessels will be allowed.”

“We want to attract only responsible operators to Somaliland.”

Sir Tony Baldry

The comments were strongly disputed by Mr Baldry, who said the contract was not to carry out actual fisheries management, but to help market licences abroad, which the Somiland government itself had difficulty doing.

He declined to say how much the licences cost, but said since the deal’s signing in August, he had failed to sell a single one because foreign firms still had security fears about operating in Somaliland, where the Foreign Office warns of a high threat from terrorists and kidnappers.

“If we wanted to sell licences to cowboy operators, we could easily have done so, whereas in fact we have sold none – I think that shows you that we want to attract only responsible operators to Somaliland,” he said.

He said that the figure of 250,000 tonnes was based on UN estimates, but that he has happy to discuss it further any NGO that raised a concern. He added that it was “patronising” to suggest that the Somaliland government was not capable of competent fisheries management on its own.

“Somaliland is done incredibly well and is functioning peacefully,” he said. “Their government is entitled to say that they are competent and can run their own fisheries.”

Source: The Telegraph

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