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Somalia interdicts shipload of bombs and guns

November 16, 2014

First time for everything. Thanks to a UN resolution authorizing searches and seizures of ships by Somali security forces, one fewer Gulf-backed arms shipment is making its way into the arsenals of al-Shabaab. The resolution will also make it somewhat harder for al-Shabaab to profit from the illegal export of charcoal from Somalia into the ports of the Arabian peninsula.  From Sabahi Online (hat tip to Chris for sending this in):

Tightened security off Somalia’s coast aims to bankrupt al-Shabaab

The recent seizure of an illegal arms shipment off the Somali coast signals the government’s increasing ability to manage maritime security, analysts say, but it also highlights the need for more effective ways to degrade al-Shabaab’s access to weapons and money.

Somali security forces seized a shipping container filled with weapons and explosives October 28th, just days after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorising the inspection and seizure of vessels in Somali waters suspected of carrying prohibited items.

Under the resolution, states and regional partners can search ships in Somalia’s territorial waters and on the high seas when there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect they are transporting illegal arms or charcoal, a key source of funding for al-Shabaab militants.

Despite an international ban on charcoal exports, the illegal trade has increased, with al-Shabaab holding on to approximately one-third of the $250 million annual trade, according to a report by the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea released in June.

“Charcoal is giving Al-Shabaab a lifeline,” said British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant after the resolution passed October 24th.

Grant said Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud had written to the Security Council October 8th, requesting assistance. “Today we have responded to that call for help,” he said in a press statement, stressing that the fight against al-Shabaab was at the heart of the resolution.
Resolution provides welcomed support to Somali security agencies

Somalia’s security apparatus is not yet capable of monitoring and controlling all maritime traffic to the ports under its control and could use the help from its international partners, said retired Colonel Sharif Hussein Robow, a former intelligence officer during the Mohamed Siad Barre regime.

Robow praised the government for seizing the container of contraband weapons and explosives at Mogadishu Port last month, but said there are many more shipments carrying prohibited items that fall through the cracks.

“The entry of these types of weapons and everything else that is illegal in a country depends on the government’s capacity [to stop it],” he said.

Currently, security at Somalia’s ports is weak because personnel are not properly trained and officers lack motivation because they are not paid regularly and lack strong supervision, Robow said.

Nonetheless, the UN resolution will help Somalia’s international partners stop the flow of illegal weapons into Somali ports, he said. It can also help stop the export of charcoal, a key source of revenue for al-Shabaab.

“One of the ways [al-Shabaab] gets money includes collecting taxes from traders who bring charcoal from the forest,” he said. “The second way is they could actually own the charcoal that is being exported, and third, they extort money from the big businesses in the charcoal trade.”

Daud Abdi Daud, secretary general of Somali Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture, a non-profit organisation that aims to expand and improve media coverage of key issues from climate change to civil insecurity, said he welcomed inspections carried out by international partners off the coast of Somalia.

“Taking such a step to stop Somali charcoal exports is a good thing because this issue poses a big problem for both the Somali people and the environment,” Daud told Sabahi. “Cutting [trees for] charcoal has resulted in desertification in Somalia and the migration of wildlife out of Somalia because the trees they would have sheltered under are being cut.”

“Cutting trees is also a big part of the widespread drought and famine in Somalia because deforestation leads to a lack of rainfall, which ultimately results in droughts,” he said.

“When the government took control of Barawe, it was a crippling loss for al-Shabaab’s finances because the millions of dollars al-Shabaab earned from charcoal exports came from charcoal that was exported from the Barawe port,” Daud said.

However in its October report, the UN Monitoring Group said more than one million bags of charcoal are still being shipped out of Kismayo Port each month, even though the Somali government resumed control of Kismayo in 2012…

And Kismayo is just one of several ports being used for illegal charcoal shipping.

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