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Charcoal Smuggling Finances Somali Terrorist Groups

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Boarding teams from HMS Argyll inspect a dhow (undated file image courtesy Royal Navy)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-01-16 11:42:34

Terrorists are making over $7 million a year by smuggling charcoal illegally out of Somalia, according to estimates by the Royal Navy.

Terrorist organizations like Al-Shabaab in Somalia, where there has been a United Nations Security Council ban on exporting charcoal since 2012, tax and smuggle an estimated 3.5 million bags of charcoal a year, which is often marketed as legitimate to buyers in Gulf nations.

At a conference for the multinational maritime security coalition Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), Royal Navy Commodore Steve Dainton said the estimated wholesale value of smuggled Somalia charcoal is in the range of $150 million a year.

“It is important we stop the illegal trade in charcoal,” Commodore Dainton said. “Not only will that cut off a source of funding to Somali terrorists, but it will also slow down the deforestation of part of Somalia.”

If charcoal smuggling continues unabated, it is possible that there will be no trees left in Somalia by the year 2060. One-and-a-half million acacia trees are felled in the loosely-governed nation every year.

The conference discussed ways the CMF can disrupt the illicit trade and seize suspicious dhows, a type of vessel common to the Middle East.

“This conference is a starting point for further discussion and relationship building in our effort to counter this source of terrorist financing; it is our shared interest to achieve . . . a safe and prosperous Gulf," said Captain Saleh Alfodary KCG, Commander of Combined Task Force 152.

A second conference called Shared Awareness and De-confliction (SHADE) was also held looking at anti-piracy and the illegal smuggling of narcotics and weapons.

“SHADE provides the perfect opportunity for the maritime community to meet and discuss the on-going and combined efforts of our counter piracy operations," said Commodore Dainton. “Information sharing and collaboration are key to ensuring maritime security.”

The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Dragon was involved in four drugs busts last month, including two in 48 hours, along an area of the Gulf known as "Hash Highway." The warship seized a total of 13.3 tonnes of drugs during the first three months of her deployment.