Background: ‘Toxic Waste’ behind Somali Piracy

April 15th, 2009 - by admin

Najad Abdullahi / Al Jazeerah – 2009-04-15 10:08:22

SOMALIA (October 11, 2008) — Somali pirates have accused European firms of dumping toxic waste off the Somali coast and are demanding an $8 million ransom for the return of a Ukranian ship they captured, saying the money will go towards cleaning up the waste.

The ransom demand is a means of “reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years”, Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirates, based in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, said.

“The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas.”

The pirates are holding the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and military hardware, off Somalia’s northern coast. According to the International Maritime Bureau, 61 attacks by pirates have been reported since the start of the year.

While money is the primary objective of the hijackings, claims of the continued environmental destruction off Somalia’s coast have been largely ignored by the regions’s maritime authorities.

Dumping Allegations
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy for Somalia confirmed to Al Jazeera the world body has “reliable information” that European and Asian companies are dumping toxic waste, including nuclear waste, off the Somali coastline. “I must stress however, that no government has endorsed this act, and that private companies and individuals acting alone are responsible,” he said

Allegations of the dumping of toxic waste, as well as illegal fishing, have circulated since the early 1990s. But evidence of such practices literally appeared on the beaches of northern Somalia when the tsunami of 2004 hit the country.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reported the tsunami had washed up rusting containers of toxic waste on the shores of Puntland.

Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, told Al Jazeera that when the barrels were smashed open by the force of the waves, the containers exposed a “frightening activity” that has been going on for more than decade.

“Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there,” he said. “European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a tonne, where waste disposal costs in Europe are something like $1000 a tonne.

“And the waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.”

Nuttall also said that since the containers came ashore, hundreds of residents have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and abdominal bleeding, skin infections and other ailments.

“We [the UNEP] had planned to do a proper, in-depth scientific assessment on the magnitude of the problem. But because of the high levels of insecurity onshore and off the Somali coast, we are unable to carry out an accurate assessment of the extent of the problem,” he said.

However, Ould-Abdallah claims the practice still continues. “What is most alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste that is potentially killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean,” he said.

Toxic waste
Ould-Abdallah declined to name which companies are involved in waste dumping, citing legal reasons.

But he did say the practice helps fuel the 18-year-old civil war in Somalia as companies are paying Somali government ministers to dump their waste, or to secure licences and contracts.

“There is no government control … and there are few people with high moral ground … [and] yes, people in high positions are being paid off, but because of the fragility of the TFG [Transitional Federal Government], some of these companies now no longer ask the authorities – they simply dump their waste and leave.”

Ould-Abdallah said there are ethical questions to be considered because the companies are negotiating contracts with a government that is largely divided along tribal lines. “How can you negotiate these dealings with a country at war and with a government struggling to remain relevant?”

In 1992, a contract to secure the dumping of toxic waste was made by Swiss and Italian shipping firms Achair Partners and Progresso, with Nur Elmi Osman, a former official appointed to the government of Ali Mahdi Mohamed, one of many militia leaders involved in the ousting of Mohamed Siad Barre, Somalia’s former president.

At the request of the Swiss and Italian governments, UNEP investigated the matter. Both firms had denied entering into any agreement with militia leaders at the beginning of the Somali civil war. Osman also denied signing any contract.

‘Mafia Involvement’
However, Mustafa Tolba, the former UNEP executive director, told Al Jazeera that he discovered the firms were set up as fictitious companies by larger industrial firms to dispose of hazardous waste.

“At the time, it felt like we were dealing with the Mafia, or some sort of organised crime group, possibly working with these industrial firms,” he said. “It was very shady, and quite underground, and I would agree with Ould-Abdallah’s claims that it is still going on… Unfortunately the war has not allowed environmental groups to investigate this fully.”

The Italian mafia controls an estimated 30 per cent of Italy’s waste disposal companies, including those that deal with toxic waste.

In 1998, Famiglia Cristiana, an Italian weekly magazine, claimed that although most of the waste-dumping took place after the start of the civil war in 1991, the activity actually began as early as 1989 under the Barre government.

Beyond the ethical question of trying to secure a hazardous waste agreement in an unstable country like Somalia, the alleged attempt by Swiss and Italian firms to dump waste in Somalia would violate international treaties to which both countries are signatories.

Legal Ramifications
Switzerland and Italy signed and ratified the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which came into force in 1992. EU member states, as well as 168 other countries have also signed the agreement.

The convention prohibits waste trade between countries that have signed the convention, as well as countries that have not signed the accord unless a bilateral agreement had been negotiated. It is also prohibits the shipping of hazardous waste to a war zone.

Abdi Ismail Samatar, professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota, told Al Jazeera that because an international coalition of warships has been deployed to the Gulf of Aden, the alleged dumping of waste must have been observed.

Environmental Damage
“If these acts are continuing, then surely they must have been seen by someone involved in maritime operations,” he said.

“Is the cargo aimed at a certain destination more important than monitoring illegal activities in the region? Piracy is not the only problem for Somalia, and I think it’s irresponsible on the part of the authorities to overlook this issue.”

Mohammed Gure, chairman of the Somalia Concern Group, said that the social and environmental consequences will be felt for decades.

“The Somali coastline used to sustain hundreds of thousands of people, as a source of food and livelihoods. Now much of it is almost destroyed, primarily at the hands of these so-called ministers that have sold their nation to fill their own pockets.”

Ould-Abdallah said piracy will not prevent waste dumping. “The intentions of these pirates are not concerned with protecting their environment,” he said. “What is ultimately needed is a functioning, effective government that will get its act together and take control of its affairs.”


Isaac Abodunrin
United States 14/10/2008


It’s a real shame that something like this is allowed to happen. Yes, it costs only $2.5 to dump a ton of waste in Somalia compared to the $1000 in Europe and America. But the Somalis are paying the remaining $997.5 with their health and lives.

Ruben Abreu
United States 15/10/2008

Toxic waste dumping

A global effort is necessary to stop toxic waste dumping and establish a meaningful clean-up program. Pirates and dumpers must be brought before the World Court.

United States 16/10/2008

Toxic waste

Well, if this is happenning in front of the coast of Somalia, imagine what s going on at hight seas all over the world my friends…

WebSpeak Ezine
United States 13/10/2008

Toxic waste behind Somali piracy

This is going on all over the world. The Somolian pirates are hardly making things any better. Surely there just be some way to hit the world courts with this injustice. You see innocent people all over the world will pay for the ignorance of a few. The people dumping this waste seem to be ignorant that they and their future generations may reap the benefits of their ignorance. Don’t you just love it?

Norway 13/10/2008

Coalition of the greedy

The impact this has on peoples health, their livelihood and the environment, is a catastrophy that could and should have been avoided if the European companies lived up to the standards of the wealthy countries. An additional tragedy is how the liason of corrupt politicians in Somalia and the greedy companies undermines the chance of the democratic west ever being trusted to support the “right” side in the conflict in Somalia. Policies of economic liberalism gives political liberalism a bad name

Canada 14/10/2008

justice demands those dumpers to be EXECUTED

Do not do to others what you would not like to be done (by others)! As simple as it is.. Any nation that is found involved in this act MUST PAY (MUCH more than it costs to clean/treat those who got sick due to this dumping) AND MUST BE OUTLAWED from ANY further DEALINGS!

Dhoruba Bin-Wahad
United States 18/11/2008

Toxic European Racism

This practice has been carried out by Europeans for decades, often with a nod from the elites who inhabit African governments like maggots eating at the fragile envinronment, African “businessmen” contract deals with Europeans to import and dump toxic waste.This only happens to poor nations. The same Europeans who send their navies to protect the flow of oil – send their toxic waste to protect Europe. Garbage is welcome in Africa but Africans aren’t welcome in Europe.

United States 19/11/2008

Somali pirates

So since they’ve captured millions of dollars thru piracy, I imagine we can expect to see that money being used in a very public way to stop or begin the cleanup of the toxic waste, right?

United States 19/11/2008


Well maybe if those idiots down in Somalia would stop killing each other they would have a stable government that would be able to stand up for itself. The US under UN mandate tried helping them in the earlier 90’s and im sure youre all familiar with the “black hawk down” incident. When you shoot at the people who are trying to give you food and restore peace your not going to get any sympathy from the world.

Somalia 19/11/2008

How Somali pirates begin this Hijacking?

In my idea, in the last 10 years Some industial countries were dumping tixic waste in Somali coasts, so many peoplewre dying that remaiing Nucleasr wastes and many fishes also, therefore after that years there’s Pirates estabilshed their own and began to hijacked ships in Gulf of aden. I beleive If there’s no Tixic waste there wouldn’t be any Pirates.

James Seekie
United States 19/11/2008

waste dumping

I think that’s how it’s suppose to be. That’s how it has been. Africa is the refuse for wastes. Who told you guys that the corrupt U.N doesn’t know about all this? How can you blame those stupid ministers who are taking bribes for something that affects themselves as well as posterity. If Africa don’t unite now and protect the what they have left then they should get ready for real cataclysm. I am in America and the aim of those waste dumpers is to kill everyone in Africa slowly without weapon.

Guinea 19/11/2008

Toxic Waste Behind Somali piracy

If you believe the crap about “black hawk down” you probably believe the invasion of Iraq was to stop Saddam’s WMD program. Somalia has been intentionally destabilized by the US & the West to insure pro-western control of the vital Horn of Africa. The African pawns of this destabilization are Ethiopian, Kenyan, & Somalis business men &clan leaders paid by the U.S. in its so called war on terror. The UN mission was opposed because hunger was used to cover proselyting Christian Aid agencies.

United Kingdom 19/11/2008

piracy in somalia

and they hard a strict policy about the piracy infact there was no piracy during the rule of the islamic courts in somalia – but the united states was not happy with islamist and they decided to topple them using the ethiopians. and today what is the result? the waters of somali have become the most dangerous waters in the world…… good luck to the usa and their policy and remember when you close one window another one opens.

India 19/11/2008

Toxic waste behind Somali piracy

good work Al-jazeera.. U hav shows the real fact & the rialitySomali piracy beacoz of the toxic waste.. Good keep it on.. Mke this colm as headline..

frankie edmond
Bahamas 19/11/2008

its sad to think that the united nations and news media is letting this go in in todays time but this does not give the civilian the right to turn to piracy to let the word know what is going on. i think that these pirates are just evil greedy men that want to line their pockets with cash while telling the people they are doing it for the betterment of the country and to stop the polluting, they are no better that the persons who are dumping the waste in the ocean

United States 19/11/2008

comments made by” josh”-united states

Josh you sound very arrogant. What do you know about Somalia? What do you know about Somalis’? “Those idiots”? It sounds to me like you need an education. You shouldn’t speak that way about people who’s voices you’ve never heard. Let me tell you something You have to be human first,You are talking about human souls,People just like you.They eat and sleep just like you.If you didn’t have you head so far up your rear end you might understand this.Understand a nations people before you judge.

Kenya 20/11/2008


i think that the pirates are doing a good job by defending,patrolling and guarding the coastline of somalia. and i am urging somali pirates to carry on piracy untill somalia becomes stable or the dumping of toxic waste be eradicated.

Australia 20/11/2008

toxic waste

Sink the supertanker and show them what toxic waste really looks like.

United States 21/11/2008


See what happens to your GDP when these companies not only fight back but begin to preemptively attack pirates on Somali soil.

Austria 21/11/2008

Somali Pirates as Coast Guards?

I think it´s terrible that Western companies dump their toxic waste into the Somali sea and that the people behind this should be put before court. However, I´m not buying the argument about the pirates just hijacking ships for the good of their environment. If they really care about the environment, why do they threaten to blow the “Sirius Star”? Would a tanker losing millions of litres of oil not be a further contribution to the destroying of the Somali coastline?

Ernest Saenz
United States 21/11/2008

Toxic waste” behind Somali piracy

With this “dirty money” the Somali pirates have acquired, are they hiring people to analyze this toxic waste, toxic waste disposal teams, hiring doctors to tend to these victims of this toxic waste and contacting agencies to help stop the said international community of these alleged practices? Or are they using the toxic waste dumping as an excuse and sqandering the money on themselves?

Roger Waters
New Zealand (Aotearoa) 25/11/2008

Toxic waste dumping

There’s 3 groups responsible for this attrocity: 1) The people responsible for destabilizing Somalia and turning it into a failed state. 2) The pirates who contribute to the lawlessness, which makes it impossible to research the problem. 3) The human scum who dump their toxic crap everywhere on the planet.

Somalia 18/11/2008

No dispute

I wonder why the world watches only pirates and they’re not looking inside a country where the people eat stones and drink blood. I would say “help the dying Somali people then there won’t be pirates!”

Dr. A.F. Dualeh
Denmark 18/11/2008

Piracy Contra Nuclear 6 Chemical wate

Combatting piracy off the somali coast is step one of the 1994 EU-UN master plan to recolonize Somalia, and the UN is playing a major part of this criminal plan. For a complete and in depth analisy, read my article regarding the specific of planning by the Uk to recolonize Somalia, Sudan and Burma (Mianmar). The late UK foreign minister Douglas Hurd, declared that plan in 1994!

Finland 19/11/2008

selfish and greedy

Look what is happening in the hands of world powers!. Once somalia was peaceful under UIC after a continous clan-based warlords supported by the west.then when they used neighbouring coutry which is very poor to go to war on behalf of them.still unsuccesful. this is being done because the west wants to destablise somalia and dump wastes into somalia ocean so that they can be as they wish where there is no effective control. what is wrong then with pirates compared to what the west does?

Joseph Heckel
United States 18/11/2008

Toxic Waste behind Somali Piracy

If you think this waste is not effecting your life, consider where the hurricanes originate. These tropical depressions carry these things with them including radioactive water. This is an international problem and requires international attention. Look at the oceanic currents and you will see the alarming proximity to somalia with major tropical storms.

Lama Abdul Samad
Lebanon 19/11/2008

Environmental Hysteria

Somalian Piracy constitutes yet a fraction of the international piracy problem and that of fisheries. The European toxic waste dumping and toxic ship breaking, all signatory to the Basel Convention, constitute the bulk of the problem. Considering the socio-envo-political Somalian situation and the cost of toxic waste treatment in Europe of that ship, maybe $8M will never be enough of a ransom but surely has highlighted the crises internationally.

Egypt 19/11/2008

Toxic Waste

A new kind of “Green Peace”! We weolcome such “self governace”, as Somalia is known to have no real government in place for years. The new generation has to act and clean up the mess. Well done to the pirates!!!

Singapore 19/11/2008

Somali pirates

The current piracy actvities in the Somali coasts is the result of the Bush admnistration policies towards Somalia. A policy that lacks of solid knowledge and understanding of the Somali conflict. Its time for those who refused to let the Somali people live in peace pay the price for thier crimes of destabilizing Somalia. The last two captures by the pirates shows that some one is providing them with intelligence information. I beleive that some countries are trying to justify a foreign milit

United Kingdom 19/11/2008

Somali pirates

Josh, when u say somalis have been ungrateful, “black hawk down”what u didnt/dont know is that the only reason americans went into the country was for their benefical. To help a country doesnt mean to kill their ppl. Yes somalians are killing each other but we need better solution. the pirates just protecting their sea cost, since there isnt no gov. Its about time someone is doing something about it…AFRICA isnt a bin for european waste…

China 19/11/2008


well done pirates,-for more then 18 years Somalia was dying because of diseases unknown and UN and whole world forget Somali problems so they do to day .Now the doctors told the Somali people should take a number of ships as tablets ,and there is no other way to recover

United States 19/11/2008


Does anyone with brain really think that these pirates are going to donate the ransom money to cleaning up the Somali shore? … if so, I have a bridge to sell you. These pirates have multi-million dollar estates, drive around in Mercedes. It is also convinient that an ACTUAL investigation could not be conducted because of ” the high levels of insecurity onshore and off the Somali coast” So they can’t investigate because of the Pirates… how Ironic

United States 19/11/2008

Toxic Waste in Somalia

I wonder what sorts of legal problems Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah could possibly be talking about for identifying the offending companies to the media. If there is evidence, let’s have it, and let’s bring an end to waste dumping anywhere. I would personally boycott the offending companies, as would most Americans. If he wishes something to be done, he must help.

United Kingdom 19/11/2008

Pirates – toxic Waste

The pirates might nor donate the ransom money to a clean-up effort, but their actions will discourage more dumping of toxic waste and the illegal fishing off the coast of Somalia. Lets face it, if its wasn’t for the pirates nobody would be commenting on these issues.

Afghanistan 19/11/2008


Wow. I agree with the pirates. If this was happening off the coast of ANY OTHER COUNTRY it would be a declaration of war. But Americas and the rest of the world are so racist towards blacks and Muslims they turn a blind eye. May we get what we deserve.

United States 20/11/2008

Bad excuses

I’d love to see the proof of dumping on Somali shores. If a company know they’re doing something illegal, such as dumping, why would they pay $2.50 and have proof of their actions in stead of dumping in international waters “for free”? No matter what, if someone throws garbage in my yard, it doesn’t justify me going out mugging some other random person.

United States 20/11/2008

somalis toxic waste piracy

Bush policies? U.S. imperialism? Good grief! sounds like desperate people taking desperate actions. But planned out actions by more organized groups. The U.S. conspiracies? ok good! U.S. pull out of everything everywhere! to heck with rest of world. fools! We have bad people too, but most trying to help! I am sure wherever you live your leaders are sooo good and benevolent.that’s called sarcasm. wake up! open your eyes! Which side do you take in Somalia? are you sure? who is right? nope wrong

United States 20/11/2008

Toxic waste and Somali coast guard

Its a beyond the human imagination how is Somalia became nuclear dump ground and NO Body said something about it included those around the red sea especially Saudi Arabia I congratulate those courageous Somali coast guard!

Somalia 20/11/2008

To: Thomas,,

“If a company know they’re doing something illegal, such as dumping, why would they pay $2.50” are you serious? Did you consider the cost of transporting the waste including the salary, transportation, etc. That’s where the $2.50 come from if you were stuck with it.. To those who are saying Pirates are not paying to clean up the waste, it’s true and there’s not justification for piracy, however, the pirates themselves are victims of such toxins. BTW, the income boosts our GDP.

Canada 20/11/2008

Toixc Waste.

Brilliant writing by N. Abdullahi, and Alj you should by congradulated for “printing” such an indepth article. The way the auther hooked with the piracy issue, blending it with toxic waste, I was intrigued from the starte. Half way through the piece, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. HUMAN CATASTROPHY you got that right, for Mr HECHEL from the US has an excellent point. also Thank you to Dr. AF Dualeh.

South Africa 21/11/2008

Somali piracy

Why the hell did the US ousted the UIC clerics who restored peace & stability in the country? it’s ’em the US + the west powers behind the destabilisation, the starvation & the bombardment of those innocent somalis who suffered terribly. The Somali pirates are 100% right to retaliate!

Australia 21/11/2008

poisoning the seas

It’s not “Somalia’s” water that’s being poisoned – it’s the WORLD’S waters that are being poisoned. It just happens to be off Somalia’s coast – because they are able to keep watch and stop the dumping. But radioactivite waste will poison marine life and the fish we eat for thousands of years to come. It will spread around the world. So regardless of whose to blame, it must be stopped immediately, and any clean up that’s possible must start immediately!

nick in cali
United States 25/11/2008

I laugh…

All of the people who dream up these conspiracies make me giggle. I fully expect them to tell me I’m wrong, stupid or nieve. Truth is, you have no PROOF to anything except that Somolia is in a civil war, someone has dumped toxic waste and there is supposed “reliable information” as to who did it. The UN is defunct and should be disbanded, because even with proof of who did this, they cannot MAKE anyone do anything, like clean-up. It’s not a government plot, it business our of control.

Afghanistan 28/11/2008

these men are not pirates-they are coastguards

your voice won’t be heard untill you do something about it. If i was in Somalia and i wanna go to the sea, i would just get sick. Does the Amnesty or UN knows that i got sick because of the western firms dumping chemical wastes, nuclear wastes etc in Somalia?

United Kingdom 28/11/2008

Long Live Somaliaaa

nick in cali – in western countries, business are not out of control, they have law to obey.

Canada 30/11/2008

Pirates understood what works in this world: force

They sure found how to get the world’s attention and I cant blame them. Why the world doesn’t help? Get real, the West helps Africa kill its economy and support dictators. If they wanted to help they would helped Somaliland where there is no clan factions or warlords, a country with democracy, law n order. While the south was busy with dividing itself, they were uniting the North and healing the wounds created by S. Barre. Hopefully, Somalild will be recognized by Obama n peace will go South

Canada 14/12/2008

What next

The UN envoy to Somalia confirmed the dumping. What next UN? WTO? WHO? Somali Pirates are the Robin Hoods of Somalia.. trying to protect their country with small boats that were used for fisihing!! Yes Somalia does not have a stable government, but they do have Somali citizens…people with flesh and blood who need to earn a living to feed their families.. Global warming is a sufficient indicator.. To Future generations of earth.. we’re sorry.

United Kingdom 23/12/2008

Toxic waste

The dumping of toxic waste is really damaging the coastline of Somalia.I’ve been to Somaliland ( formerly Northern Somalia) and there are some beautiful Coral off the Red sea coast and they are now in jeopardy. Coastal Somalis live off fishing and this is poisoning their livelihood.