Officials and residents in Somalia’s Puntland region say they saw a large ship off the country’s coast explode and gradually begin to sink Monday.
Witnesses in the coastal town of Muranyo describe the ship as looking like a warship, although it was not possible to immediately identify the vessel. They say two other ships in the area came to the aid of the sinking ship and rescued its crew.
The region is frequently patrolled by the European Union Naval Force Somalia to disrupt piracy and protect vulnerable shipping, including World Food Program vessels.
“The ship sank around sunset on Monday. Then, two warships came. Locals saw them evacuating the crew. No one has contacted us and we had no ability to extend a rescue at nighttime,” said Ali Shire Osman, the chairman of the northern Somali port town of Alula.
One witness described the scene to VOA’s Somali service: “A huge explosion happened, which sent plumes of smoke mixed with waves of water into the air. It was a deafening blast and then the ship started to gradually sink,” said Mohamed Ahmed. “Then two white warships came to the scene and are still there.”
Local fishermen said they returned to shore after the explosion, fearing the impact of the blast. “We are worried that what has happened might affect us and our fishing environment,” said Abdirahamn Omar, a fisherman in the town.
The town near where the incident happened is 44 kilometers east of Alula, which has been one of the pirate hubs in Somalia.
In April, observers warned that piracy could be making a comeback along the coast of Somalia, after gunmen hijacked two ships in 48 hours.
At the peak of the piracy crisis in the early 2010s, Somali pirate gangs were responsible for hundreds of attacks on commercial ships traveling in the Gulf of Aden, the western Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.
According to annual reports compiled by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), Somali pirates hijacked 49 ships in 2010 and took more than 1,000 crew members hostage. The pirates and their backers sometimes split windfalls of more than $5 million for the release of a ship and its crew.
But Somali piracy virtually disappeared just three years later, after international navies began regular patrols of shipping lanes and ships took new security measures, in some cases carrying armed guards on board.
New market means increased economic opportunities for one Somali town
In Somalia’s Puntland region, Bossaso’s local market provides a source of income for local traders. For women, however, the market is especially important.
After years of conflict, many households are reliant on money generated by women to survive. In some households, women contribute more than 70 percent to their families’ income.
And the majority of women in Somalia earn money from informal sectors – including working in local markets.
Unfortunately for traders in Bossaso, selling their goods in the city’s main market was no longer an option. In 2012, a fire severely damaged Bossaso Market – a place many women traders depended on for their livelihoods.
With funding from the Government of Japan, UNOPS oversaw the construction of a new market with improved facilities to support women entrepreneurs in Bossaso.
“We’re grateful for the support of the Government of Japan and UNOPS, who worked closely with us to implement the project,” said Engineer Yazin Mire, Bossaso’s mayor. “Many businesses will benefit from this market, which will help several different communities, including Yemeni refugees and returnees who fled from the conflict in Yemen.”
Giving women a say in their future
Before the construction of the new Bossaso Market began, information was collected from female traders during an extensive consultation process. This allowed them to be actively involved in the design and planning of the new site, ensuring their needs were taken into account from the beginning. In all, nearly 2,000 market traders, both male and female, participated in the data collection process. That data was used to define the scope of the construction of the new market.
An extensive community needs assessment was also conducted to encourage a sense of community ownership of the project, as well as to contribute to the long-term sustainability of the new market.
Training for the future
The new Bossaso Market will enable traders, particularly women, to become economically self-sufficient. In addition to the new market, local entrepreneurs also received training – carried out by the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention – aimed at teaching them new skills to help their businesses thrive. More than 200 traders – nearly 90 percent of them women – either received business skills training or business start-up kits.
“The Government of Japan is delighted with the success of this project, which contributed to stabilization of the region through the empowerment of women, in collaboration with the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention,” said the Embassy of Japan. “The Government of Japan is confident that those who got vocational training will play an important role in leading the local economy and society.”
Asiya Ali Farah owns a kiosk in Bossaso. She participated in a training session on microfinancing. “One day, I hope I will become a lender,” Asiya said. “So that I can give loans to Somali women who need help starting up small businesses to feed their families.”
“Microﬁnancing is not new in Somalia, but there are not many female traders with access to it yet,” explained Japan Center for Conflict Prevention Secretary General Yukiko Ishii. “The training was intended to help participants access emerging, locally available microﬁnancing schemes to boost their small business.”
The new skills learned as part of the training sessions will help market traders generate a higher income. This in turn can help increase economic development in the region – and encourage stability.
Somalia’s Puntland Region Declares State of Emergency Over Drought
Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland declared a state of emergency Tuesday and appealed for food and water because of shortages triggered by a severe drought.
Drought has gripped large parts of the Horn of Africa country this year and the United Nations says children face acute malnutrition.
The crisis is compounded by al-Shabab’s Islamist insurgency that seeks to topple the central government that is backed by African Union peacekeepers and the West.
Al-Shabab militants carry out bombings in the capital Mogadishu and other regions. Militants killed more than 500 people in the capital in an attack last month.
Puntland’s government said 34,000 households across the region are affected by the drought due to the failure of successive rainy seasons.
Puntland “launched a wide-ranging humanitarian appeal to secure food, water and other resources for the affected region,” a government statement said. It said 70 percent of the area faced extreme drought and was unlikely to receive rain for five months.
Militant attacks in Puntland are rare compared to the rest of Somalia mainly because its security forces are relatively regularly paid and receive substantial U.S. assistance.
But this year there has been an upsurge in violence as al-Shabab and a splinter group linked to Islamic State have attacked government troops.
Islamic State thriving in Somalia: UN report
An Islamic State faction in Somalia has grown significantly over the past year, carrying out attacks in Puntland and receiving some funding from Syria and Iraq, a report by UN sanctions monitors said Friday.
The faction loyal to Sheikh Abdulqader Mumin was targeted by US drone strikes last week in the first US operation targeting IS in the Horn of Africa, US Africa Command said.
In the report, the UN monitoring group for Somalia said the IS faction, which was estimated in 2016 “to number not more than a few dozen, has grown significantly in strength” and may “consist of as many as 200 fighters.”
Phone records from Mumin showed he was in contact with an IS operative in Yemen who acts as an intermediary with senior IS leaders in Iraq and Syria “though the exact nature of this contact is unclear,” said the report.
Former members of the faction who defected in December said the Mumin group received orders as well as financing from Iraq and Syria, the report said.
The group captured the town of Qandala in Puntland’s Bari region in October 2016, declaring it the seat of the Islamic Caliphate in Somalia before being pushed out two months later by Puntland forces backed by US military advisers.
In February, IS gunmen stormed a hotel in Bosaso, the economic capital of Puntland, and in May the faction carried out its first suicide attack at a police checkpoint near Bosaso, killing five people.
“The group showed signs of increasing tactical capabilities during its first attack target a hotel,” said the UN monitors.
– Haven for foreign fighters –
The UN report raised concerns that the Bari region could become a potential haven for foreign IS fighters as the extremists are driven out of their strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
The IS group in Somalia “presents more natural appeal to foreign terrorist fighters than Al-Shabaab,” whose aim is to establish a state government by Islamic law, it added.
Al-Shabaab, another Islamist militant group, is affiliated with IS’s global rival Al-Qaeda.
The Bari region has attracted a limited number of foreign fighters including Sudanese national Abu Faris who is on the US terror list for recruiting foreign fighters for Al-Shabaab.
While the faction is expanding, its fighters appear to be poorly paid or not paid at all.
Unmarried fighters receive no salary, while married militants receive $50 per month plus $10-$20 per child, depending on the age.
The report estimated that the salary payments were between $3,000 and $9,000 per month, allowing IS leaders “to fund its insurgency on a limited budget”.
UN monitors said the faction will likely face frequent defections from poorly paid fighters, a problem that also affects Al-Shabaab.