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Iranian ships conducted 'world's largest illegal fishing operations' in Somali and Yemeni waters

Nearly 200 fishing vessels were found to be unlawfully operating in Somali and Yemeni territorial waters, report says
Iranian vessels have been operating in Somali waters for more than a year (Charles Kilgour/Global Fishing Watch)

At least 192 Iranian boats illegally fished in Somalia and Yemen's territorial waters last year, depleting food supplies in countries where millions are facing acute shortages of food, a new report has said.

Global Fishing Watch (GFW) and Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT) said in a report published on Monday that the "activity taking place is likely one of the largest illegal fishing operations occurring in the world".

The organisations said that Iranian vessels had been illegally operating in the countries' territorial waters between January 2019 and April 2020, with the scale of the operation only uncovered after the ships began using a collision-avoidance system that allowed their locations to be susceptible to tracking.

GFW and TMT both noted that the illegal operations were made possible due to insufficient maritime security, making patrolling the vast maritime territory difficult.

'Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Somali waters constitutes a significant threat to the food security… of Somalia'

- Abdillahi Bidhan Warsame, Somalia's fishing minister

"Both Somalia and Yemen have had their maritime security capacity weakened by unrest and civil war, which makes their waters susceptible to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing."

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The report said that a smaller subset of vessels from Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka were also reported to be operating in the waters.

According to local media, the Somalia government raised the issue with Iran last week, calling on Tehran to investigate.

"Illegal fishing will not be tolerated by Somalia. The situation related to presence of the Iranian fleets in Somali waters, remains a longstanding concern of the Federal Republic of Somalia," Abdillahi Bidhan Warsame, Somalia's fishing minister, said in a statement.

"Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Somali waters constitutes a significant threat to the food security, economic development, sovereignty and maritime ecology of Somalia," Warsame continued.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 2.7 million Somalis are facing crisis levels of food insecurity, while a further 2.9 million are food stressed.

Meanwhile in Yemen, around 15.9 million people go hungry every day. In the absence of food assistance, the figure could rise to 20 million.

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