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Somalia releases 33 Iranian fishermen amid potential diplomatic thaw

Monday March 25, 2024

Mogadishu (HOL) – Somalia has released 33 Iranian fishermen and sailors imprisoned in the country, Ali Gholampour, Iran's ambassador to Kenya and Somalia, reported on Sunday. The move signals a thaw in the frosty relations between Iran and Somalia and comes amid a broader crackdown on illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing within Somali waters.

Gholampour believes that the release could pave the way for renewed diplomatic efforts and dialogue between the two nations, disrupted since 2016 following Somalia's accusations of Iranian interference in its domestic affairs.

These developments follow Somalia's intensified crackdown on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Last year, the Somali Attorney General's Office charged 36 foreign nationals—including the 33 Iranian fishermen—for illegal fishing activities, reflecting the nation's stern approach to safeguarding its marine resources. They were convicted by a Banadir court and received hefty fines exceeding $10,000. They unsuccessfully appealed their conviction last July.

For decades, foreign vessels, including those from Iran and Pakistan, have been caught fishing without valid permits, exacerbating tensions and underlining the challenges faced by Somali marine governance.

The Iranian fishermen arrested in the summer of 2023 were part of this broader narrative of conflict over maritime resources. They faced accusations of operating without the necessary licenses, leading to their conviction and imposition of significant fines. The presence of foreign fleets, exploiting the lack of a functioning government and weak maritime security, has severely impacted the local fish populations and livelihoods of Somali fishermen.

In this context, the release of the Iranian fishermen is seen not only as a gesture of goodwill but also as a step towards addressing the complex issues surrounding fishing rights and maritime boundaries. Ambassador Gholampour proposed drafting a fishery cooperation agreement between Iran and Somalia to prevent a repeat of this incident.


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