Saturday, October 31, 2009

Somali pirates: Western boats 'loot' Somali fish

Somali pirates: Western boats 'loot' Somali fish

Ahmed Gadaf, who says he's a spokesman for the pirates, said the group holding the couple hostage off Somalia's coast was made up of "voluntary guards" — not pirates.

"The Western forces continue to loot our natural resources. They continue to harass local fishermen and destroy their fishing nets, so we want them to taste the consequence," Gadaf said by satellite phone from the coastal town of Haradhere.

The British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, are safe and will not be harmed, Gadaf said. They will be released once the ransom is paid, he said.

The Chandlers were headed to Tanzania in their boat, the Lynn Rival, when a distress signal was sent Oct. 23. The British navy found their empty yacht on Thursday, and both have been in sporadic contact with the British media since.

Illegal fishing off the coast of Somalia stirs strong passions in the country. The prime minister of Somalia's transitional government, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, said in a speech Wednesday that many pirates are former fishermen "responding to the loss and disappearance of their livelihoods."

"Many of these pirates were once profitable fisherman and would be so again given the chance," he said at the London-based Chatham House think tank.

"I shall not name names, but suffice to say many countries are fishing illegally in Somali waters," he said. "We estimate that the value of the fish being taken from our waters is perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It is wholly unacceptable for these countries, many of whom claim they want to help Somalia, to turn a blind eye to this theft. Particularly when that theft robs thousands of Somali people of a way out of poverty and a way out of piracy," Sharmarke said.

Rachel Chandler told her brother in a telephone call broadcast by ITV News on Friday that the pirates were "hospitable people," a message that Sharmarke underscored in his London remarks.

British officials held a meeting on the hostage situation Friday in the government's crisis briefing room. The Foreign Office said a team from across several government departments was involved. Both the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defense declined to comment on whether any potential rescue was under consideration.

Pirate attacks have increased the last several weeks after the recent end of the monsoon season. An international armada is patrolling the region to try to stop the attacks.

Source: AP, Oct 31, 2009

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